25 August 2008


25 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Statement on Beijing Olympic Games

I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, on the Beijing Olympic Games.

The Secretary-General congratulates the Government and people of China on their unprecedented effort and success in hosting the historic Olympic Games in Beijing.  China can be proud of hosting a spectacular Olympiad, which brought together athletes and people from all over the world in celebration of the Olympic spirit, cooperation and goodwill.

The 2008 Summer Games provided an important opportunity for the promotion of international peace and harmony through deepened dialogue and mutual understanding within the international community.

** Sudan

Turning to Sudan, the United Nations is gravely concerned about the reports it received this morning of Sudanese police vehicles surrounding Kalma camp housing internally displaced persons in South Darfur.  Subsequent reports of the attacks that followed within Kalma have resulted in injuries and deaths of civilians.  Such actions severely threaten the safety and security of civilians, who have a right to protection under international humanitarian law.

The United Nations urges restraint and calls for the immediate establishment of a humanitarian corridor so that the injured may be evacuated.  Kalma is home to 80,000 internally displaced persons, most of whom are women and children.

And that is in a statement by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan.  And we are expecting a press release from the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

UNAMID has sent police and military patrols to the camp location to confirm the incident and lend any assistance needed.  The UNAMID leadership is extremely concerned by this serious incident, which circumstances will be investigated.  It is closely monitoring the situation and calls on all parties to exercise restraint.

Meanwhile, UNAMID also reports banditry by Janjaweed militias at two other internally displaced persons camps in West Darfur and intertribal clashes in a village in South Darfur.

** Afghanistan

And turning to Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has issued a statement on reports of civilian casualties in western Afghanistan.

Dated Saturday, the Special Representative says he learned of conflicting reports that large numbers of civilians may have been killed during military operations in the Shindand district of Herat Province.

“It is vital that this incident is investigated thoroughly and quickly to establish the facts of what has happened before we jump to any conclusions,” he says.  “The United Nations has always made clear that civilian casualties are unacceptable, that they undermine the trust and confidence of the Afghan people.”

He said he instructed his office in Herat to offer every assistance to the provincial authorities, as well as to establish and verify the facts.  “Any civilian casualty is one civilian casualty too many,” he says, “and every effort that can be made -- must be made -- to ensure the safety and welfare of the civilian population where military operations are conducted.”  That statement is available upstairs.

** Somalia

We also have a statement from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who says he is saddened by the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians and the resulting displacement of residents of the town of Kismayo.  He believes that control of the port of Kismayo and the revenues it generates are the main reasons behind the brutal fighting.

He said that he was deeply saddened by the large number of casualties in the 16 and 17 August gun battles in Afgooye and Mogadishu.  The fighting displaced some 2,000 people.  The Special Representative calls on all parties to the conflict in Somalia to respect international human rights and humanitarian law, and to stand by their commitments under the Djibouti Agreement.  And we have that weekend statement available for you upstairs.

**Gambari – South-East Asia

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, concluded his six-day visit to Myanmar, and today he was in Bangkok and met with the Prime Minister of Thailand, where they held extensive and constructive exchanges of views on the current situation in Myanmar as well as the way forward in support to the Secretary-General’s good offices.

In the afternoon, Gambari also met with the Thai Foreign Minister.  He is currently en route to Indonesia, where is he scheduled to meet the President and Foreign Minister there.

** Nepal

And on Nepal, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has called on the Nepalese authorities and Maoist Army to immediately free all children previously associated with the Maoist forces.  Last year, the Mission in Nepal and UNICEF identified more than 2,900 children under the age of 18 in the ranks of the Maoist Army.  Ms. Coomaraswamy said that these children are still in the Maoist cantonments and must be released immediately, in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  And copies of her statement are also available upstairs.

** West Africa -- Peacekeeping

Today in Guinea-Bissau, the heads of UN peacekeeping missions in West Africa are meeting to review regional and national challenges to the implementation of their mandates.

They will also discuss the latest developments in the subregion since their last meeting, and will take up recommendations of last week’s Monrovia meeting of UN Force Commanders in West Africa.  And the guest speaker at the meeting will be the President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

** Chad Floods

An estimated 30,000 people have been affected by floods in southern Chad, where 10,000 people have lost their homes.  And that’s according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  OCHA says it is working with the Government to bring life-saving assistance to those in need as soon as possible.

So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has delivered an initial stock of emergency medical supplies.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping with mosquito nets, as well as water kits and high-protein biscuits.  And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is working to assess the damage to agricultural production.  And there is more information in a press release upstairs.

**Climate Change -- South Asia

And all this week in Bangladesh, more than 300 experts and policymakers are meeting to discuss ways South-Asian countries can incorporate adaptation to climate change into their national development agendas.

The event is organized by the World Meteorological Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), among others.  And there is more information on that.

**Swearing-In Ceremony

Here at UN Headquarters today, five senior officials were sworn in this morning during a special ceremony in the Secretary General’s office.

Patricia O’Brien, the new Legal Counsel and Head of the Office of Legal Affairs; Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; Warren Sach, now in charge of Central Support at the Department of Management; Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support; and the new Controller, Jun Yamazaki, took their oaths of office this morning.

**International Telecommunication Union Wins Emmy Award

And our congratulations go to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which has won an Emmy award.  The prize honours the ITU and two other international standards organizations for their work on producing an advanced video-coding standard.  That technology enables high-quality video to reach everything from mobile telephones to high-definition televisions.  The prize was awarded Saturday in  Hollywood.  And there is more information in a press release upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by the Ambassador of Georgia on the situation in the country.  And that’s all I have for you.

Let’s start over there on that side.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, it’s been more than a month and a half since the Government of Pakistan requested and the Secretary-General agreed to probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.  What is the progress on that?  I have a follow-up on that also.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any updates on that for you today, I am expecting something shortly.

Question:  There are reports in the Pakistan press that the Secretary-General has been advised to refer this request to the Security Council, whereas at that time the Foreign Minister of Pakistan had said that the Secretary-General could decide this himself.  What is the situation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I don’t have anything for the public as of today.  But as soon as I do get something more definitive, I will make sure that you get it.  Masood and then Matthew.

Question:  Marie, you know, I have been asking this question for… (inaudible) about this, the growing tension between India and Pakistan at the border and you keep on saying that you don’t have any comment as yet.  But the thing is, will the war break out then the Secretary-General will respond?  I mean, the situation is getting bad over there.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Masood, I am aware of your question.  The Secretary-General is following the situation.  But I don’t have anything further than that as of now.

Question:  Okay. How should…? Sorry, go ahead.

Question:  Just following up, Marie.  Has he been in touch with the leaders of Pakistan and India after this situation deteriorated?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the fact that the Secretary-General is following the situation closely.

Question:  Okay, Marie, this is a housekeeping thing.  There is a website and there is a letter going round with the Secretary-General’s name on it, Ban Ki-moon, and it is soliciting funds or telling people that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has released, with his photograph, has released so much, so many millions of dollars for you, and that if you send your name, address and telephone number, we’ll send you the money.  Do you have anything in response? (Laughter)

Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t you bring that to our attention so that we can bring it to the attention of the Legal Department?  Matthew?

Question:  Should I send money? (Laughter)

Question:  Sure.  Now that Ibrahim Gambari has left Myanmar, can it be answered one way or another whether he didn’t meet with Aung San Suu Kyi because she rebuffed him or because the Government didn’t allow it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It was Mr. Gambari’s intention to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, as he did on all previous visits, and the Government made arrangements for such a meeting.  To his regret, the meeting did not take place.  We’re not going to speculate as to why she was not able to attend the meeting.  But Mr. Gambari did meet her party, the NLD [National League for Democracy] party, twice.  Mr. Gambari impressed on both the Government and the NLD the need for early resumption of dialogue, and made specific suggestions to that end.

Question:   Thank you, that’s helpful.  If, as several NLD people say, she rebuffed him because she feels that the visits are no longer useful given the lack of movement on the Government’s side, what is the UN response to that critique?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I just mentioned to you that we do not want to speculate at this time.  As you know, Mr. Gambari is in transit now, he is still completing his visit and he will be briefing the Secretary-General on the outcome of his visit.  And in terms of how we… What was the second part of your question?

Question:  Regardless of whether she met with, whether reason for not meeting with him was this, there is this critique out there that says that his visits are not accomplishing anything and so, I guess, does he feel that…?  Did he accomplish something?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Gambari has told us that he has had extensive and open discussions with the Government and other interlocutors, which in itself is necessary in order to broaden and deepen the process as expected by the Secretary-General.  We have been saying all along that the Secretary-General’s good offices is a process, not an event.  One should not make a judgement on the process based on each individual visit.  The Secretary-General himself has made clear upon returning from his own visits that he expects his good offices to deepen and broaden through the continued engagement of his Special Adviser.

Question:  Thanks, and this will be the last one, I mean at least for me.  Does the outcome of this visit make it more or less likely that Ban Ki-moon will go there in December, as Gambari was quoted by the NLD as having said?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The answer to that question, I think, I answered last week and that has not changed.  The Secretary-General has expressed his intention to go back when conditions are right.  As we said, the Secretary-General made clear that he expects his good offices to deepen and broaden through the continued engagement of his Adviser and that is also part of Mr. Gambari’s mission -- to prepare for any future visits by the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  The senior officers that were sworn in this morning, are they going to come to talk to us here in the near future?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, the…?

Question:  The officers who were sworn in this morning.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, yes.

Question:  Are they planning to come and talk to us here in the near future?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I hope so.  As you know, they just took up their positions.  But as soon as they are, you know, they are up and running, we’ll bring them down here for you.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, the Georgian President again today, in The New York Times and several other places, has stated that he is determined to bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia under Georgian control.  And in view of the fact that there has just been a huge, well, crisis, as a result of that, do you know if the Security Council will be dealing with this in the near future?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry I didn’t mention it, but there are no meetings or consultations scheduled as of now in the Security Council for today.  There is a troop contributors’ meeting this afternoon.  But tomorrow, the Security Council luncheon is tomorrow, and that is the monthly luncheon where the Secretary-General and the Security Council discuss a wide range of issues.  So that’s scheduled for tomorrow.  Benny and then Tarik.

Question:  I didn’t understand the answer about Aung San Suu Kyi.  You said that the Government agreed for Gambari to meet her and Gambari expressed his intention to meet her.  She’s under house arrest.  What other reason could there be other than her not wanting to meet him?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the most important thing I said, Benny, was that, to his regret, the meeting did not take place and we’re not going to speculate as to why she was not able to attend the meeting, but that Mr. Gambari did meet with her party twice and that we will not have anything further until the Secretary-General gets a fuller briefing from Mr. Gambari on the outcome of his mission.

Question:  My question relates to the word “speculate”.  How could you “speculate” anything other than a woman under house arrest, if somebody wants to see her and that all-powerful Government allows that person to see her -- that’s not speculation?  That’s the only deduction I could think of, unless you have another one.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you missed the very beginning.  It was his intention to meet Aung San Suu Kyi as he did on all previous visits and the Government made arrangements for such a meeting.  To his regret, the meeting did not take place.

Question:  I was wondering if you have any updates on the list of the people invited to attend this seminar on terrorism on 9 September.

Deputy Spokesperson:   No, I don’t, but based on the briefing that we had on Friday, I am sure our Office will get it as soon as its ready and we will make it available for you.  Masood?

Question:  Maybe I missed it, Marie, did you have a statement by the Secretary-General on the bombing in Iraq which killed 34 people today?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a specific statement on the bombing in Iraq as of now.

Question:  One follow-up, I guess, on that terrorist question, can we also get a readout on how much the conference is going to cost and how much those three countries are giving?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Maybe we can try to get you a briefing or background briefing on the upcoming event.  We’ll ask for you.

Question:  There have been calls in Kirkuk for [Special Representative of the Secretary-General Staffan] de Mistura to resign and that he has been biased against “Arab residents in Kirkuk”.  Is the UN aware of those calls and does he disagree that he’s…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of those calls, but I can certainly check with the Mission and de Mistura for you.

Question:  And I just wanted to ask one other thing.  There are these reports or these calls by Israel into Lebanon, to people’s cell phones, they’re getting calls saying: “Do you know where the Israeli soldiers are?”  And one of the reports says that the Lebanese Minister for Telecommunications has sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon protesting these messages saying that they are a violation of resolution 1701 (2006), somehow, I am not sure what the theory is.  But, are you aware of such a letter, and does the UN think that these calls would violate 1701?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me look into for you.  I don’t have anything on that, okay?  With that, have a good afternoon, thank you very much.

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