19 August 2008


19 August 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon to both of you.

**Secretary-General at Baghdad Bombing Ceremony

The Secretary-General paid tribute today to the UN staff who died or were wounded five years ago during the terrorist attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 people, saying that, over the past five years, the United Nations has continued to help the people of Iraq -– and others throughout the world -– who suffer from violence, disease and want.

“This work is often dangerous, but it must go on,” the Secretary-General said.  “Those who died on August 19th, 2003 would have it no other way.”

He emphasized the work that continues to be done to strengthen UN staff security, and added that protecting staff requires more than barricades and shatterproof glass.  The Secretary-General said, “We must continue to explain, clearly and consistently, what we do and who we are.”  And we have his comments upstairs.

Today’s ceremony included a wreath laying and a minute of silence in honour of fallen staff.  Afterward, the Daedalus Quartet, a classical music group, performed a piece composed by Steve Heitzeg for the occasion.

** Georgia

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres arrived today in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi at the start of a four-day mission to Georgia and the Russian Federation.

He will assess UNHCR’s humanitarian operations in both countries and will meet people displaced by last week’s conflict in and around the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia.  Mr. Guterres will meet with Georgian and Russian authorities and discuss any further aid they might require.

According to the refugee agency, the High Commissioner will again press for the protection of the civilian population, especially those newly displaced, and for safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to the areas of displacement.

UNHCR also reports that its first humanitarian flight to Batumi in western Georgia was organized today.  Aid supplies for more than 50,000 people have been flown to Tbilisi but road convoys cannot reach western Georgia, where some 15,000 displaced people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.  And you can read more about the humanitarian situation in the UNHCR briefing note available in the Spokesperson’s office.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs yesterday afternoon announced a consolidated appeal for more than $58 million with regard to the situation in Georgia.  The majority of that money will go to providing food, shelter, and health items for nearly 130,000 people. 

OCHA notes that since yesterday, several villages in Georgia, including the city of Gori, are now accessible for the first time in two weeks.  According to the resident coordinator in Tbilisi, however, there is still no access to South Ossetia.  You can find more information in the Geneva briefing notes.

We also have upstairs a message from UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura condemning the recent killing of at least three journalists. 

** Somalia

Under the mediation of Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, the Transitional Federal Government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia yesterday agreed to cease all armed confrontation between them.  They also agreed to refrain from inflammatory statements and to create a follow-up mechanism to effect this agreement.

These were among a number of measures adopted by the parties as part of the terms of reference for the implementation of the Djibouti Agreement.  The UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) says that they also discussed practical ways of making the agreement a reality.

This was the first meeting of the high-level committee and the joint security committee of the Djibouti Agreement.  It was attended by representatives from the African Union, the European Union, and the League of Arab States, among others.

** Sudan

Regarding Sudan, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID, today was one of the Missions around the world that observed a one-minute silence in honour of the UN colleagues who were killed in Iraq in 2003.

UNAMID, meanwhile, also reported today that several camps housing internally displaced persons in Darfur experienced flooding.  At least five people reportedly lost their lives and about 1,500 homes were reportedly destroyed.

While an assessment of the damage caused by the floods was under way, non-governmental organizations were already in the area trying to provide basic needs such as water, food and sanitation, and the Chinese Engineering Unit was being contacted to find out what could be done to assist the victims of the flooding.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning has been discussing Timor-Leste, and Atul Khare, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, said that the Government there continues to make strides in addressing some of the priority challenges which emanated from the 2006 crisis.

He added that some progress has been made in the conduct of the Timorese-led comprehensive review of the security sector.  Yet Khare noted some concerns about abuses by security forces, particularly the military, during the response to the 11 February events.  And we have his remarks upstairs.

The Council will follow its open meeting with consultations, also on Timor-Leste.  After that, the Council may go into a formal meeting about the UN Mission to that country, and it may also hold a formal meeting to consider a draft presidential statement on Mauritania.  Council members heard yesterday afternoon from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios about the coup earlier this month in Mauritania.

The Council began its work this morning by voting to extend the authorization of the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, by six months.

** Afghanistan

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, today spoke to the press in Kabul to appeal to donors to commit resources to the $404 million appeal to help Afghans overcome the impact of high food prices.  He also called for a halt to the attacks that have been taking place against food convoys.

Eide said, “When we see that food convoys are attacked and food is stolen, it is not, first of all, stolen from the food convoys; it is stealing from those who need food most.  It means stealing from the poorest.”  And we have his remarks to the press upstairs.


The Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Greece-FYROM talks, Matthew Nimetz, will travel to the region later this week.  He has meetings scheduled Thursday in Skopje and Friday in Thessaloniki. 

**World Water Week

On World Water Week, more than 2,000 water experts from around the world are gathered in Stockholm, for the eighteenth annual World Water Week.  Several UN agencies are also participating.  UN-Habitat is appealing for a global sanitation drive so that an additional nearly 1.5 billion people will have access to basic sanitation before 2015.

UNICEF, which is conducting several seminars on water, sanitation and hygiene, notes that simple behavioural changes can help reduce mortality rates related to certain diseases by nearly 50 per cent.  The agency is part of a global initiative to promote the use of hand washing with soap in developing countries.  As part of that campaign, Global Hand Washing Day will be marked on October 15th. And there is more information upstairs.

** West Africa

Rising flood waters across West Africa are increasing health risks for millions of people, the World Health Organization said today.  WHO also said that the floods are exacerbating the impact of the food price crisis.  It appealed for international aid to help curb the risk of malaria, diarrhoea and other potentially fatal communicable diseases.

Flooding has caused widespread damage to bridges, roads, railway lines and other infrastructure vital for delivering health services and humanitarian supplies.  Seasonal rains have also caused damage in Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  And Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Togo have also been affected and need urgent assistance.

**Secretary-General Appointment

I have an appointment to announce.

The Secretary-General is appointing Peter Taksøe-Jensen of Denmark as the new Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs.  Mr. Peter Taksøe-Jensen will replace Mr. Larry Johnson of the United States.

The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Johnson’s committed service to the United Nations and for his contribution to the cause of the Organization through his long tenure in various capacities related to the rule of law and international justice.

As Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs and Head of the Legal Service in the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Taksøe-Jensen has been the principal legal adviser to the Danish Foreign Minister on all international law matters since 2004.

**Secretary-General Statement on the Death of the President Of Zambia

And I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the death of the President of Zambia.

The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of His Excellency Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, President of Zambia and Chairperson of the Southern African Development Community.  He conveys his profound condolences to President Mwanawasa’s family, and to the people and Government of Zambia, at this difficult time.

As Vice-President and later President, Mr. Mwanawasa was at the forefront of Zambian politics at a time of exceptional challenges and change in his country and in the southern African region as a whole.  His periods in office ranged from Zambia’s crucial role in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, to his firm stance, as SADC Chairman, on the post-election crisis in Zimbabwe.  In the latter context, the Secretary-General greatly valued his frequent interaction with him over the past few months.  The Secretary-General wishes the people of Zambia and the region courage and fortitude in the time ahead.

And that’s it for me.  If there are any questions?  Okay George?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Since you mention Legal Affairs, do you have any idea when Ms. [Ingrid] O’Brien will be coming here; will be arriving in New York?  And do you have any idea when Monsieur [Alain Le Roy] will be arriving?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe Mr. Le Roy is coming closer to the end of this month.  As for Ms. O’Brien, I believe we announced in her appointment that she would be coming around here in September.  I’ll try and get a more precise date for you if I can get that.  Yes, Matthew.  [He later indicated she would begin her duties around the start of September.]

Question:  You mentioned Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.  There has been this incident in Somalia which a number of civilians have been killed by the side of the road; there was a roadside bomb and it is said that Ethiopian troops opened fire and there were some 16 civilians dead, according to the BBC.  I am wondering whether in his capacity as envoy to that issue, he has had anything to say on the topic.

Associate Spokesperson:  He has not issued any comment on that yet.  If he does issue any statement on that, we will certainly distribute it from here.

Question:  I notice that there is also a statement about the Ethiopians blaming, that the people who planted the roadside bomb for the civilians were in turn shot....  Does the UN system have anything to say?

Associate Spokesperson:  We clearly have our concerns and Mr. Ould-Abdallah monitors events throughout.  However, as you know, the UN has very little first hand presence on the ground in Somalia.  So we are not able to get a lot of first-hand information right away.  What we would need to do is gather information as it comes.  We do have our political office on Somalia, but it is based out of Nairobi and it will continue to monitor the situation and make comments as appropriate.  Khalid?

Question:  I am sorry I came a few minutes late and I was wondering whether there was a reaction on the bombing in Algeria that killed 43 people.

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have a statement on that so far.  If something comes along later we will notify you by intercom.

Question:  And on the attack on the French soldiers in Afghanistan?

Associate Spokesperson: No, no statement on that at all.

Question:  I am just wondering, on the follow-up on the Algiers bombing of the UN premises; the second report, the so-called accountability report, the Brahimi report, what was the deadline for it to be done and where does it stand?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, there was a two-month deadline from the start of that body’s work; Ralph Zacklin, as you know, is the head of that body and he and that group are proceeding with the work and as far as I am aware, the report is not finished yet.  It’s still in the process of being finalized.

Question:  Do you have any updates on the water issue in Sudan?

Associate Spokesperson:  In Sudan?  Yes.  We mentioned that at the start of the briefing.  I won’t read the whole thing again, but I’ll just let you know that the basic point was that at least five people reportedly lost their lives and about 1,500 homes were reportedly destroyed according to information received by UNAMID.  NGOs are already in the area trying to provide basic needs and the Chinese engineering unit was contacted to find out what could be done to assist the victims of the flooding.  Yes?

Question:  Were any Palestinians invited for the programme on terrorism which is going to happen on 9 September?  Are you inviting any Palestinians to testify regarding... they were victims, some of the Palestinian victims...

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know whether you were for the briefing; but there was briefing just an hour ago held by Mr. [Kiyotaka] Akasaka and some other guests about this.  If you weren’t there, you can get the transcript.  But he spoke at length about the arrangements.  There are about 20 to 30 people being invited.  I believe Mr. Akasaka provided some information at the time.

Question:  Last week I had asked, and you’d answered, about this interview that the Secretary-General gave with all around criticism by the Foreign Ministry of Sudan; about his comments about the ICC [International Criminal Court].  I have noticed on this website that they put up now a transcript, which they call revised transcript.  I wanted to know what’s the basis of the revision...?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not revised so much as we provided them the English original.  I think what I told you stands; which is there may have been a slippage either when it was translated from English into Arabic or from Arabic back into English.  In any case, we wanted to give the original since his answers were originally given in English and we provided to the Mission English answers.  So that is what they have.

Question:  And the revised text?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s the original English language answers that they were provided by the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  On Georgia, the UN aid that’s coming in, if I am not mistaken, you said 50 some odd thousand tonnes?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think that was referring to UNHCR.

Question:  Okay.  Is UNHCR having some difficulties getting access to the country?  I mean, we know that there are difficulties in transporting it, as you said, but are there other difficulties dealing with the Russians or the Georgians or...?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, there have been some access problems and Mr. Guterres is there to assess what those problems are and to push for access.  One of the things I mentioned at the top of the briefing is that, as OCHA reported to us, several villages in Georgia including Gori, the large city there, are accessible for the first time in two weeks.  So there have been improvements.  But Mr. Guterres is on the ground to try and push for further improvements and access.

Question:  And is it a UN plane that’s delivering it, or is it a US plane with military personnel delivering that aid?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, at least some of the activity is being done by the UN, including aid supplies.  UNHCR reported that its first humanitarian flight to Batumi was organized today.  So some of these flights are UNHCR flights and other UN flights.

Question:  On Myanmar, the National League for Democracy says that although they welcome Mr. Ibrahim Gambari’s visit, previous visits have not really accomplished, from their point of view, anything.  And they have also said that they haven’t received any invitation to meet with him during his visit.  What sort of either opposition or formally-elected parties in Myanmar is he going to be meeting with while he is there?

Associate Spokesperson:  As I think we mentioned yesterday, Mr. Gambari expects to meet with all relevant parties to the national reconciliation process, including all those whom he has met on previous occasions.  And as you know, on previous occasions he has met with opposition leaders as well as with Aung San Suu Kyi.  Okay, and with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.