3 September 2008


3 September 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Security Council

The Security Council adopted its programme of work for the month during consultations this morning.

The Council’s President, Ambassador Michel Kafando of Burkina Faso, will tell you more about it in this Room at 12:30 this afternoon.

** Cyprus

The Secretary-General today issued a message to mark the formal launch by the Greek Cypriot leader, Demetris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, of full-fledged negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.

In that message, which was delivered by his Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, the Secretary-General warmly welcomed the launch and commended the leaders for their seriousness of purpose, sense of compromise, and commitment to seeing the peace process through to a successful conclusion.

He added that the United Nations supports and encourages both parties as they take this historic step together, so as to reach a negotiated settlement to reunify the island for the benefit of all the people of Cyprus.

The Secretary-General also assured the parties that the United Nations will provide unwavering support to the process, as requested.

In a separate statement to the two leaders, Alexander Downer said, “You own this process and, as a result, your continuing leadership is the critical element to make it succeed.”  He added that a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue will be the leaders’ enduring legacy and an inspiration to a troubled world.  We have both statements upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo -– Plane Crash

The search for the passengers onboard the flight that crashed outside of Bukavu in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo continues today, 48 hours after the crash occurred.  However, given that aerial reconnaissance found that the plane suffered an extremely violent impact, the likelihood of survivors is low.

The recovery teams include MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] military contingents, Congolese civil aviation authorities, operations coordinator AirServ, the company that owned the crashed plane, and South African special rescue teams.  The teams have decided to combine ground and air recovery efforts.

The crash site is 10,000 feet above sea level, in extremely difficult terrain.  Combined with the current rainy season, rescue operations are facing a number of difficulties.  It is estimated that operations to reach and work on the site could take a few more days.  Earlier today, two MONUC helicopters carrying 25 MONUC military and South African special rescue teams left for the site.

** Lebanon

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is saddened by the accidental death of a member of its explosive ordnance disposal team.  The staff member died from an explosion earlier today while carrying out an unexploded ordnance clearance mission in the vicinity of Aytarun, in southern Lebanon.  UNIFIL medical and explosive ordnance disposal teams were immediately dispatched to the location and an investigation is under way.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today reports an increased presence of Government of the Sudan police near the Kalma camp housing displaced persons in Nyala.  According to UNAMID, on Monday, a UNAMID patrol in Nyala noticed an increased police presence, with more tents going up at their new location about five kilometres away from the camp.

UNAMID, meanwhile, has decided to deploy, on a permanent basis, a joint force of UNAMID military and police.  Until such a force is established, UNAMID police are present in and around the Kalma camp, 12 hours a day.  Daily UNAMID military patrols have also been reinforced since 25 August in the Kalma camp area.

The mission also reports that the UNAMID radio unit today started a one-month radio journalism training and capacity-building programme for 10 local radio journalists in El Fasher.

This is the first in a series of basic radio journalism training to be conducted for Darfurians in El Fasher and Khartoum between now and December.  The aim of the training is to develop capacity for a full-fledged UNAMID radio broadcast operation for Darfur.

**Peacebuilding Fund

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the Peacebuilding Fund is out as a document today.  In it, he notes that the Fund has established itself as a unique and strategic instrument that is supporting 37 projects in seven countries.  The Fund has attracted nearly $270 million in pledges to date, exceeding its initial target.

The Secretary-General notes that further investments and reforms are urgently required for the Fund to adequately fulfil its role.  These include a simplification of national coordination structures, more in-country training, a review of the emergency window to support larger-scale operations, and additional staffing and resources to build surge capacity.  He adds that an annual pledging conference should be held, in order to ensure donor support over the long term to the Peacebuilding Fund.

** Haiti

The United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) continues to assist local authorities in rescue and relief operations in Gonaives.  The city was hit by floods and mudslides triggered by Tropical Storm Hanna.  United Nations peacekeepers are assessing the safety of roads and bridges in the wake of the Storm, as part of the technical and logistical assistance to the authorities.  Meanwhile, a United Nations helicopter is carrying three tons of relief supplies to Bainet, a hard-hit area in the south-east.  And UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and WFP [World Food Programme] are providing life-saving assistance to thousands of people.  Peacekeepers have also distributed drinking water to some 10,000 people in the Cité Soleil neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.

And available today as a document is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Haiti.  In it, he says that the country’s stabilization process has suffered a significant setback due to political disturbances, a crisis in Government and the delay in selecting a new Prime Minister.  And there’s more in the report on the racks.

** Ethiopia

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is today wrapping up a three-day visit to Ethiopia.  He is renewing his call for a boost in humanitarian activities there.

Yesterday, Mr. Holmes visited the Somali region, which has been hard-hit by drought, high food prices and ongoing conflict.  At a refugee screening centre, Mr. Holmes met Somali refugees and Ethiopians desperately seeking aid.  He noted that the absence of humanitarian assistance has driven many Ethiopians to adopt the status of asylum seekers, in the hope of obtaining food, shelter and medical care.  We expect a press release from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] later today on the conclusion of Mr. Holmes’ visit.

** Sri Lanka

Still on OCHA, the United Nations in Sri Lanka today in a statement acknowledged the announcement by the Government of Sri Lanka of additional measures aimed at facilitating the freedom of movement of civilians who have been affected by fighting in the Vanni.

The United Nations remains fully committed to assisting the Government in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to those civilians who remain in the Vanni and to those civilians who will leave.  Stressing that measures must be taken to prevent displacing people from their homes and livelihoods, the United Nations has also raised with the Tamil Tigers its urgent concern that civilians be allowed maximum freedom of movement at all times.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The United Nations World Food Programme is launching a new emergency operation valued at approximately half a billion dollars to feed 6.2 million people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including many in previously inaccessible areas of the country.

The new emergency operation, expected to be approved in the coming days, will extend to areas in the country that were previously inaccessible, targeting the young, elderly and other vulnerable groups.  Nearly half of the beneficiaries will be in the remote provinces in the north-east that have been hard-hit by industrial recession and deemed most vulnerable to food insecurity.

WFP says the new operation is designed to make sure that the millions of people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who do not have enough to eat will, and adds that $8 million per week is needed to provide the level of food assistance required in the country.

**Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations Conference

The sixty-first annual DPI/NGO Conference got under way today at UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] headquarters in Paris.  This is the first time the event is taking place away from UN Headquarters.  This year’s theme is the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed in the French capital in 1948.

In a video message, the Secretary-General noted that human rights and freedoms continue to be a distant reality for too many people.  It is our duty to ensure that these rights are a living reality, he said, adding that he is committed to doing all he can to make the rights in the Universal Declaration a reality.

**Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force Report

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press briefing to launch the report of the MDG [Millennium Development Goals] Gap Task Force, entitled “Delivering on the Global Partnership for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”.  The Secretary-General will make opening remarks, and then questions will be taken by Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], who chaired the Task Force, and Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], who was the lead author of the report.  The Task Force, which was convened by the Secretary-General as an input to the high-level event on MDGs, examined gaps in achieving Goal 8, on aid, trade, debt relief and access to essential medicines and new technologies.  Press materials will be distributed under embargo; you’ll probably get them in my office later today.  That’s all I have for you, thank you.  And at 12:30 p.m., I have to leave the Room for the President of the Council.  Yes, Jonathan?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have a couple of questions.  One, on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, you mentioned increased activity there by the UN in terms of relief.  One report that’s being bandied about, and certainly there has been a lot of scrutiny now on stories that Pyongyang is trying to reinvigorate its nuclear programme.  And it raises a question about some of the things that we’re reading on the blogs about UNDP and claims that UNDP is now trying to open up its office and operations in Pyongyang.  Do you have any information on that?  And then, I have a follow-up question.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any additional information on that.  But we can ask, of course, and you can talk to the UNDP people yourself directly.  They can give you that information on whether or not they are planning to reopen.  This information was about the activities of WFP strictly on the level of food security and food aid.

[The Spokesperson later relayed UNDP's categorical denial that a UNDP team chaired by Deputy Resident Representative Vineet Bhatia had arrived in Pyongyang in mid-August and had started the re-opening of the office.  According to UNDP, “There is absolutely no truth to this.  Vineet Bhatia has been in New York since December 2007, and there are no plans for UNDP to return to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea without an explicit green-light from its Executive Board.”]

Question:  Okay.  And another thing that I read about on some of these blogs and around the Internet -– I’m sorry to raise these Internet stories, but they do have credence, obviously, often -– and that is that Secretary-General Ban reportedly during his discussions with the top officials of UN programmes and funds in Turin recently, gave a very strong speech calling for unity of the UN overall and calling for managers to make sure that they reinvigorate the system; get rid of dead wood and really try to do their best to try to improve the management and running of the UN and to clean house, essentially.  Very strong.  And I am trying to find out; number one, whether indeed the report that we’re reading on the Internet is in fact true and perhaps you could fill us in on some of what he is trying to achieve.

Spokesperson:  Well, I have to say that the speech that he gave -- he gave two or three of them and there was an exchange, it was an internal meeting of senior managers in Turin.  I was there; and the exchange was very frank, very open, and I think that what you read, that the Secretary-General said, he did say.  It is actually right now posted on the internal servers of the United Nations for all the staff to be aware of.  So there is nothing hidden about it.  It has to do with wanting change and this is what the Secretary-General has been saying all along, and that was one of the main topics in Turin.

Question:  I know that you’re going to give us a briefing on the terror victims conference on Monday, but I was wondering, I mean, why keep the names and the organizations and the people who are coming, you know, until this last minute while the conference is supposed to…(interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s very simple Khaled.  They don’t have visas yet.  Some of them don’t have visas yet.  We don’t have confirmation of all the people coming.  We cannot release a list that is incomplete.

Question:  Don’t you have an initial list that…(interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  No, we cannot release… You know, we’re talking about terror victims.  We cannot release an advance copy of who we have invited to come.  We have actually sent invitations to all countries, including observer States, to help us identify the people who should come and participate in that meeting.  We sent letters, the people were identified; they were sent letters to know whether they would agree to come.  Now we’re in the process of getting visas for some of those people.  In some cases, it is not easy.  So, Khaled, we cannot, in advance, give you that list.  But we will.

Question:  So you will give it to us one day before the meeting opens?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet.  We’ll try to give it to you as soon as we have confirmation.

Question:  Will they include any people who are victims of State terrorism?

Spokesperson:  State terrorism, as you know, is not included in the different conventions that exist right now.  So, as far as I know, this was still being discussed, but the issue of State terrorism, as you know, is not recognized in the existing conventions.

Question:  Michèle, today Pakistan has protested NATO’s strike inside Pakistan which killed about a dozen civilians, and so forth.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that as yet?

Spokesperson:  About the civilian casualties, this is something that we have been talking about steadily in the last few days.  So we don’t have anything to add except to reiterate the fact that we have asked over and over again that the number of civilians, what they call collateral damage, be really reduced.  Civilians have to be protected.  That we have been saying over and over again.

Question:  You’re aware of this specific…

Spokesperson:  I am aware of it, but, in this specific case, we don’t have a specific reaction.  It remains the same.

Question:  Just another question, Michèle.  Innumerable human rights organizations and Kashmiris have also appealed to the Secretary-General to intervene in Kashmir.  Has he seen those requests by the Kashmiri groups and human rights organizations?

Spokesperson:  He’s certainly aware of it.  I am sorry.  I have to go.  Yes, Betsy?

Question:  Really quickly regarding the symposium on the victims of terrorism, you said that there is a problem to get visas in some cases and that in some cases it is not easy.  I assume you’re talking about the United States issuing these visas?

Spokesperson:  Not only that.  It’s for them to get out of the country.  As you know, there are administrative processes in some cases where sometimes it’s the countries where they reside.  I’m not saying it’s one specific set of obstacles.  It takes time, and that’s what they’re trying to clear before they give the list.  Let’s continue, and then that’s my last question.

Question:  (In French.)

Spokesperson:  (In French.)

Question:  There are reports of the MONUC peacekeepers in the Congo firing into the crowd of civilians in a demonstration at Rutshuru.  Can you confirm that that took place and what MONUC’s rules of engagement with civilian demonstrators are?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, I know only that UN peacekeepers dispersed the demonstrators.  I don’t know whether they used, what type of intervention that was, but I can get more information for you.  The situation, as you know, is now calm.

Question:  Are they allowed to fire, I mean, are they supposed to fire live ammunition at civilians?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, no.

[The Spokesperson later added that MONUC categorically denied that any live munitions were used by United Nations peacekeepers to disperse the rioting crowd in Rutshuru.]

Question:  Michèle, one more question…

Spokesperson:  I really have to go.  Do you want the press conference by the President of the Council?

Question:  The Pentagon yesterday offered to share its findings on that attack in Afghanistan with the UN.  Is the UN planning to use that data to re-evaluate its numbers?

Spokesperson:  As you know, this discussion is in the hands of our Special Envoy, Kai Eide, over there, and I think I cannot have an answer now yet from him.  Betsy, I have to go.

Question:  I’ll make it really quick.  Yes, we do want a briefing from the incoming head of the General Assembly, of the Security Council, but we also really want a full briefing and an opportunity to ask questions and get answers.  Possibly in the future, would it be possible to set the guest up for a few minutes later so we can complete this part before we go into the next?

Spokesperson:  I agree with you, and that’s what I would wish as well.  But this was not the case.  The decision to have him at 12:30 p.m. was not mine; I was not even here.  I’ll do my best for this not to happen.

Correspondent:  It does happen often.  That’s why I thought I’d raise it.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  It does, because most of the guests want the 12:30 slot, as if there was a 12:30 slot always available.

Correspondent:  The President is not here.

Spokesperson:  He is not here yet?

Correspondent:  No.  He’s not here.  Let’s go on.

Spokesperson:  Okay, sure, let’s go on.  If he’s not here, let’s go on.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  On Western Sahara still, it has been reported that Morocco had forwarded a letter to the Secretary-General reaffirming its commitment to continue to cooperate with the UN with a view to achieve a political solution on autonomy and nothing else besides autonomy.  Does the Secretary-General intend to react to this letter?  Does he have any response so far? 

Spokesperson:  There will be no immediate response.  As I said -- I am sorry, I said it in French, but I am sure you understood Mr. Abbadi -– in the case of Western Sahara, right now the focus, the emphasis, is being put on choosing a new Special Envoy for Western Sahara; a Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General.  And right now discussions are under way to reach agreement on a name.

Question:  (In French.)

Spokesperson:  (In French.)

Question:  (In French.)

Spokesperson:  (In French).  I’m sorry, the President of the Council is here.

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