28 August 2008


28 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.

**Security Council

Here at Headquarters, the Security Council began consultations on the situation in Georgia at 11 a.m. this morning.  And yesterday afternoon, for the record, the Council concluded an all-day, open debate on its working methods.  In all, 45 speakers took the floor.

**Georgia -- Humanitarian

And on the humanitarian front in Georgia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that the town of Gori has been a gathering place for people fleeing a buffer zone between Georgia and South Ossetia, as well as for those trying to return to villages in the volatile area.

By late yesterday afternoon, more than 1,200 people had registered as internally displaced with local authorities in Gori, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says.  The agency’s new office there has been providing assistance.  It has already erected 100 family tents in a football field on the town’s outskirts.

The new arrivals tell similar tales of intimidation, beatings and looting by militias in buffer-zone villages, according to UNHCR.  A UNHCR team tried to reach those villages but was turned back at a checkpoint and told that the security situation did not allow for movement in that zone. 

The UN Population Fund, for its part, has been providing basic personal hygiene kits for families.  It has also mobilized members of the Georgian Medical Students Association to stuff plastic bags with soap, shampoo, towels, toothbrushes and paste, sanitary napkins, shaving kits and other supplies.  And there is more information on that upstairs.

** Darfur

Out as a document, on the Internet at least, is the Secretary-General’s latest report on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  The report covers the month of July.

July has seen an extremely worrying increase in violence in Darfur, the Secretary-General reports, and notes that continuing air strikes in all three states of Darfur, even during the days surrounding the President’s visit to the region, cast a shadow over the conciliatory message the President delivered during his visit.

In the report, the Secretary-General urges all parties to recognize the urgent need to end the suffering of innocent civilians and immediately commit themselves to an unconditional ceasefire.

He also reiterates his appeal to Council members to urge troop- and police-contributing countries that are in a position to provide these desperately-needed supplies to do so without further delay.  In spite of our efforts, deployment will take many more months during which UNAMID will continue to experience serious shortfalls in communications, logistics, medical evacuation and treatment, and air support.

The Secretary-General says the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to seek an arrest warrant for the President has altered the political landscape, although it is too early to assess the impact it will have on the peace process.

Without prejudice to the decision of the ICC [International Criminal Court] on the Prosecutor’s application, the international community should continue its engagement and support of the parties’ efforts to achieve progress towards resolving the crisis in the Sudan.

The international community also has the responsibility to seek agreement on the equal importance of peace and justice in trying to meet the needs of the people of Darfur, he says, and urges Member States to spare no effort to reach a consensus on how to move forward on both goals in order to achieve a comprehensive political solution in Darfur.

** Darfur Today

Meanwhile, UNAMID today reports the arrival of the AU-UN Joint Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, who has arrived in El Fasher to re-energize the Darfur peace process.

In an interview with UN Radio earlier today, the Chief Mediator said, “We are trying to find a good approach…We need to improve this dialogue and to do so we have to discuss with everybody on the ground.”

And UNAMID Force Commander General Martin Luther Agwai visited the Zam Zam camp for displaced and welcomed the recently arrived Egyptian Engineering and Signal Company.

A UNAMID joint patrol team consisting of military and police was deployed to Kalma camp to monitor and assess the situation following this week’s attack by the Government of Sudan.

**UNHCR -– Afghan Situation

And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, today completed a three-day visit to Pakistan, during which the Government agreed to revise its Afghan repatriation strategy beyond 2009.

After arriving in Islamabad earlier this week, Mr. Guterres met with Pakistan’s leaders.  They reached a strong consensus on projects to develop refugee-hosting areas in Pakistan.

Highlighting that Pakistan, as UNHCR’s biggest partner and host of the world’s largest refugee population, has shown incomparable generosity towards its neighbours, Guterres called for more support from the international community for the country’s efforts.

**Social Injustice

Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale, a research commission from the World Health Organization (WHO) said in conclusion to a new study released earlier today.  The study found that bad policies, economics and politics are in large measure responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy good health.  To cite some examples, a child born in a Glasgow, Scotland suburb can expect a life 28 years shorter than another living only 13 kilometres away.  A girl in Lesotho is likely to live 42 years less than a girl in Japan.  And while 1 out of 17,400 Swedish women die during pregnancy or childbirth, in Afghanistan, the odds are 1 in 8.  And there is more in a press release upstairs.

** Haiti

Turning to Haiti, the UN Mission there is working with Haitian authorities across the south of the country to bring relief to those affected by the torrential rains and heavy winds from tropical storm Gustav.  UN peacekeepers are helping to evacuate thousands of people by boat or truck.  They are also working with Haitian police to evaluate access to roads and bridges in the most affected regions, and to assess the damage. 

The Mission says that preparations are complete to provide immediate assistance for up to 3,000 families.

** Philippines -– WFP

And the World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling up food assistance to more than 220,000 people displaced by conflict in southern Mindanao, delivering nearly 1,000 metric tons of rice to civilians caught up in the fighting between the Philippine Government and troops and forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

WFP Philippines says it is responding to a request from the Government to provide food assistance to meet urgent needs among the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the sudden upsurge in violence in southern Mindanao.

Despite the challenge of working in a conflict zone, WFP has so far dispatched some 650 metric tons of rice to 160,000 displaced families.  A further 250 tons of rice is being delivered to approximately 60,000 people who have been newly displaced by the conflict.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

**ECLAC Report

In the latest survey, the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) and the Caribbean says the region is on track for a sixth consecutive year of economic growth, capping its best period in 40 years.  GDP [gross domestic product] is expected to rise nearly 5 per cent in 2008, fuelled by India’s and China’s demand for exports.  Poverty is also down nearly 10 per cent since 2002.

ECLAC expects slower growth next year, however, because of rising inflation and a deteriorating international economy.  But countries in the region will not suffer as deeply as in the past, given their greater economic strength.  And you can read more about that in a press release and a report upstairs.

**UNHCR -- Olympics

And with the Olympics over, the UN refugee agency says its “Giving is Winning” campaign has been a resounding success.  During the Beijing Games, the Office of the UN refugee agency and the International Olympic Committee collected 30,000 items of sports clothing from Olympic athletes to give to refugees.  That’s on top of 50,000 items collected over the past year.

During the Games, biodegradable plastic bags and information leaflets were placed in every athlete’s room in the Olympic Village so that they could make individual donations.

UNHCR has noted that, for the many refugees who spend years languishing in bleak camps, the gift of sportswear associated with famous athletes can be an enormous morale booster and a sign that the world cares about their plight.


And I have one announcement today, an appointment.  The Secretary-General today announced the appointment of Leila Zerrougui of Algeria as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Deputy Head of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

Ms. Zerrougui has had a distinguished career in the strengthening of the rule of law, in particular through the administration of justice, and in human rights. 

Before her appointment to Algeria’s Supreme Court in 2000, Ms. Zerrougui served as a judge on the first instance Tribunal from 1980 to 1986, and on the Court of Appeals from 1986 to 1997.

She has been a member of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention under the United Nations Human Rights Council since 2001 and served as the Working Group’s Chairperson-Rapporteur from 2003 until May 2008.  So you can have more on that in a bio that will be available for you upstairs.

** Western Sahara

Before I complete my briefing, I’ve had a number of questions this morning regarding press reports by Peter van Walsum.  The Secretary-General appreciates the work done by his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum.  Over the past three years, Mr. van Walsum has worked with the parties, neighbouring countries and other stakeholders to convene four rounds of negotiations.

The Secretary-General remains committed to offering the parties his good offices, as they prepare for the fifth round of the negotiations this fall.  He firmly believes that there is a need to revitalize the negotiation process in order to attain a peaceful solution in Western Sahara.  An announcement of the new Personal Envoy will be made soon.  And that’s what I have for you today.  Any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Who has initiated the departure of Mr. [van] Walsum?  Himself or the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  (Inaudible) in response to questions I just read what I have on this subject today.  I have nothing further than that.

Question:  It looks like it’s obvious that POLISARIO wanted Peter [van] Walsum to resign and they’ve officially made that, so it would be good -- we would be grateful if you can clarify to us in what circumstances exactly…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The clarification was made in what I just read to you.  The Secretary-General remains committed to offering the parties his good offices as they prepare for the fifth round of negotiations this fall.  He firmly believes that there is a need to revitalize the negotiation process in order to attain a peaceful solution in Western Sahara.

Question:  That’s not the question I asked.  My question is, who asked Peter van Walsum to resign?  Was it he personally who asked to resign?  Was it the Secretary-General who asked him to resign…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have details on that, but I have this statement for you in response to your question.

Question:  Two things, there is a report of UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] monitoring some fighting in Mitrovica.  Can you say both what the outcome was and what the UN did about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What I have from police service is that, during the last 24 hours, an incident considered having inter-ethnic nature that started with verbal insulting and stoning was recorded.  The case was recorded to have occurred around 23.00 hours in North Mitrovica.  Several persons were injured during the incident and two UNMIK vehicles were damaged, as well as firearm discharges were heard during the incident.  UNMIK police and Kosovo police intervened in putting the situation under control and dispersing both ethnic groups involved in stoning each other.  That’s what I have and there is a press release on it upstairs.

Question:  And there are reports of renewed fighting in eastern Congo involving General [Laurent] Nkunda as well as MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], and I wanted to know what MONUC’s -- first of all, it said something about MONUC attack helicopters are ready.  What are MONUC’s terms of engagement there, and have they in fact engaged with General Nkunda’s forces?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What I have on this is not yet a complete picture but what I’ve just gotten:  fighting broke out in the early hours of Thursday between CNDP and Congolese Army units near Rumangabo in Rutshuru territory.  It’s unclear who started the fighting or what provoked it.  The fighting has now ceased.  MONUC has not confirmed information regarding casualties or civilian victims.  MONUC has dispatched strong patrols to the area to ascertain the details and demand that both sides stop fighting and withdraw to their original positions.  UN humanitarian staff are meanwhile assessing the situation, and the Special Representative, Mr. Doss, has met at length with the Defence Minister, as well as with the Interior Minister; and the Force Commander has been in touch with the FARDC Commander; and MONUC is also in contact with the representative of the CNDP to the Mixed Technical Commission on Peace and Security.  And that’s everything I have on this subject, and you can pick it up upstairs.

Question:  Press accounts have said that MONUC was ready to intervene.  So this would have been on the side of the Government?  They would have fought Nkunda’s forces or whether it was…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  MONUC is there under the mandate given to it [by the Security Council] and you know what that mandate is.

Question:  Have you received anything from UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] regarding the shooting and killing of one Lebanese officer in the Lebanese capital?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that was a matter involving Lebanese forces, so the question should be addressed to the Lebanese [Army and authorities].

Question:  I understand there were joint exercises with UNIFIL.

Deputy Spokesperson:  [UNIFIL says] the matter should be referred to the Lebanese.

Question:  I understand that the State Department did not grant a visa to two representatives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Is there any, as far as the legal situation, is there any host country agreement that obliges America to give visas to such people?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d have to look into that particular situation after the briefing for you.

Question:  Do you know when it’s going to be known, the new appointment for the Sahara?  The new Personal Envoy?  How many days the Secretary-General has for deciding that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we said it would be soon.  So as soon as we know, we’ll announce it.

Question:  When exactly did the Secretary-General decide not to renew the mandate of Mr. [van] Walsum?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the press report that you have all read mentions the date as 21 August.  [His mandate came to an end on 21 August and was not renewed.]

Question:  Has Peter [van] Walsum communicated with the Secretary-General in writing, and would he be prepared to give a press briefing? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, if his contract has expired and he no longer…I think he gave a pretty thorough analysis in the newspaper [op-ed] today.  So that’s it.

Question:  Why was that announcement, 21 August by the United Nations that his contract was not renewed, why did we have to wait for the press reports?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I gave you the response that I have for you on the subject today.

Question:  How soon do you think the next round will be held, since the new appointee…you will have to announce a new Special Envoy; then he has to start consultations with parties?  Do you think the process of Manhasset is still viable or…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as the Secretary-General is concerned, yes.  They’re preparing for the fifth round this fall and he hopes to have an announcement of the new Special Envoy shortly.  With that, have a good afternoon.  See you tomorrow.

* *** *

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