DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
1 March 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Our guest today is Éric Laroche, Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
**Peacebuilding Fund Statement
“The Secretary-General has announced that an allocation of $35 million will be made from the Peacebuilding Fund in support of Sierra Leone. The Peacebuilding Fund is funded through voluntary contributions, seeks to address critical peacebuilding priorities identified jointly by the Government and the United Nations and was created in late 2006 as part of the new peacebuilding architecture. It will benefit countries before the Peacebuilding Commission, as well as others in similar circumstances, as designated by the Secretary-General.
“This is the second such allocation made under the Peacebuilding Fund following an earlier one in support of Burundi, the other country currently under consideration by the Peacebuilding Commission. The allocation will now be used in Sierra Leone to fund projects in the areas of youth employment, democracy and good governance, justice and security, as well as public service delivery.”
The thirty-first annual UN International School–UN Conference is being held today and tomorrow in the General Assembly Hall. The theme this year is global warming. Addressing the gathering this morning, the Secretary-General said that the success of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth suggested that, even amongst the broader public, climate change was no longer an “inconvenient” issue. Rather, it was an inescapable reality.
The Secretary-General also said that, although the phenomenon had largely been viewed in isolation as an environmental issue, it was fast becoming increasingly clear, in North and South alike, that there was an inextricable, mutually dependent relationship between environmental sustainability and economic development. Because the issue transcended borders, the natural arena for action was the UN, he added. We have his full remarks upstairs.
And also on climate change, the UN Global Compact, together with the City of San Francisco and a wide array of Bay Area businesses, is today expecting to launch a partnership designed to provide steps that businesses and cities around the world can take to combat global warming. We have an embargoed press release on that in my office.
The UN Mine Action Office in Sudan reports progress made together with its NGO partners in the field of mine action.
These include clearance of some 600 dangerous areas, covering some 10 million square metres, destruction of 1,150 anti-tank mines, nearly 2,600 anti-personnel mines, more than 300,000 unexploded ordnance and more than 220,000 small arms ammunition. You can read more about their planned activity for this year in today’s bulletin from the UN Mission in Sudan.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, today in Nairobi briefed the international community on his trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he met with members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Fall told his audience that he has encouraged the OIC to actively support Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. He also urged OIC members to use their good offices to engage the Union of Islamic Courts and help persuade it to accept the Transitional Federal Charter and join the national reconciliation process. Fall also sought financial support for the Somali Government, relaying the latter’s request for $544 million for immediate expenditures.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti reports that UN peacekeepers yesterday completed another security operation in the Cité Soleil neighbourhood of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
The operation, planned and carried out in cooperation with the Haitian national police, led to the arrest of seven presumed members of the Belony criminal gang.
The Mission notes that no shots were fired and no casualties were reported.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and the European Union yesterday signed a joint declaration on community support to UNRWA, with the European Community pledging to contribute some €264 million over the next four years to UNRWA’s General Fund. We have more on this upstairs.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, one month after floods hit Jakarta, Indonesia, the general situation has returned to normal.
OCHA also says that flood recovery efforts, which are still continuing, just got a major boost from a private individual, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, who donated nearly $300,000.
The donation will help fund clean-up activities, as well as the provision of food, basic supplies and health services in hard-hit areas.
The UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan, Jan Vandemoortele, today said health coverage has been adequate during the winter months in the earthquake-affected areas of Pakistan.
Responding to the anticipated medical needs of the population, he said necessary medicines were pre-positioned in remote areas that were at risk of being cut off due to heavy snowfall.
Experts from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), which is a regional office of the World Health Organization, are working with health authorities in Paraguay to help control an outbreak of dengue fever.
The PAHO experts are currently working to provide technical assistance in areas including medical treatment, social communication, and health services organization.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 2.5 billion people worldwide are at risk from dengue fever.
The secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) is launching today an online game aimed at teaching children how to build safer villages and cities against disasters.
It is a free online game aimed at children aged 9 to 16 and can be downloaded from the Internet in less than three minutes. You can find it at www.stopdisastersgame.org.
Today we have an update on Member State contributions to the regular UN budget. As of the end of February, a total of 50 Member States have paid in full their assessments to the UN regular budget.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will officially open tonight an exhibit in the United Nations visitors’ lobby on the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. The event, sponsored by the Department of Public Information and the Caribbean Community Member States, in association with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, marks the International Day for the Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The commemoration itself is on 25 March. The exhibit, “Lest We Forget -- The Triumph over Slavery”, will last through 30 March.
The head of UNESCO will also be there tonight. You can have more on this upstairs.
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., the Brazilian Mission to the United Nations is sponsoring a press conference to launch the “International Biofuels Forum”.
Then, following the morning’s session of consultations, we expect to hear a briefing by the incoming President of the Security Council, Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, on the Council’s programme of work for March; and at 1:30 p.m., the Minister for Telecommunications of Lebanon, Marwan Hamadeh, and Walid Jumblatt, Member of the Lebanese Parliament, will hold a press conference in this room.
Tomorrow afternoon, CBS news anchor Katie Couric will moderate a side event for the Commission on the Status of Women -- “Girls Speak Out”. Six girls whose personal experiences have motivated them to become activists will talk about their experiences and their work. Among them are Madeleine, a former girl soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Sunaita, a girl-child labourer from Nepal; Memory, an HIV-positive girl from Zambia; and Alisha from Thailand, who will talk about trafficking and prostitution.
A briefing will be arranged with the girls, time and place to be announced.
Nina Cruscheva, Professor of Political Science at the New School University in New York, will brief correspondents in the UNCA Club on Friday, 2 March at 11 a.m. The topic: “Is the new Cold War Possible? Returning to the United Nations First.” This is all I have for you today. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Regarding the students’ meeting that goes on today and tomorrow, all kinds of presentations, in the end they will have a panel among themselves, would it be possible to arrange a press conference with the members of that panel after they have come to some sort of conclusions which would actually put it something like 3:30 tomorrow afternoon?
Spokesperson: Well, we’ll see about this, but tomorrow we already have a series of press conferences. You can try to inquire. I’m sure, you know, the audiences are public in the General Assembly, so you can get maximum information there. You want a press conference?
Question: My point was actually to have them after because you can’t just hold one of them individually. But you cannot get whatever summary. There has to be somebody there to prepare this for us, so they know, and make a decent effort…
Spokesperson: I can’t promise anything, because we have four press conferences scheduled tomorrow. Any other questions?
Question: Regarding what you just read about Pakistan, the conditions there, the situation there being adequate, does this mean that some of the UN camps which were on the road from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar, which didn’t have any latrines -- does that mean that they have been established? Do you have any details?
Spokesperson: No, I do not. But we can try to find out more or put you in contact with them.
Question: Aside from the briefing tomorrow by Walid Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadeh, seems like March is going to be a busy month for Lebanon. We have a report on 1559, a report on 1701 and the Brammertz report. Do you have any idea when these reports are going to come out, and are they going to be happening when the SG is on his tour to the Middle East?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t really know, because we have to see with the Security Council when they are going to be, those that are to be presented to the Security Council and we’ll have to find out. I’ll find out for you when it will be, roughly. Actually, you can ask Ambassador Kumalo tomorrow, when he has his press briefing.
Question: Alright. And with the SG’s trip to the Middle East, does he plan to be in Saudi Arabia with the summit on the 28th and 29th, the Arab Summit, being held? Is that in the planning?
Spokesperson: Yes, it is in the planning. However, we don’t know yet which countries he will visit around that meeting.
Question: Just with regard to Lebanon and sort of, not a day goes by where there aren’t more reports about the build-up of Hizbollah north of the Litani river. Has the UN seen any of this? Does the UN have any comment on any of this? Does the UN have any concern about these claims?
Spokesperson: Well, UNIFIL said they have not had any adequate reports and they have not seen any build-up.
Question: Well, did they look for it though? North of the Litani River?
Spokesperson: They did look for it, yes.
Question: How did they look for it north of the Litani River?
Spokesperson: We can check on that for you. I think there was a statement by UNIFIL on this. But I have it upstairs. Yes.
[The Spokesperson later added that UNIFIL’s mandate was limited to south of the Litani River. It had no mandate to check on reports of weapons build-up north of that river.
Question: Christopher Hill and the lead negotiator from North Korea will be meeting in New York next week. I wondered if there’s any chance they’ll be coming to the UN, and will there be a chance to speak with them or hear from them?
Spokesperson: At this point, they have no scheduled meeting with the Secretary-General and I haven’t heard of any public event taking place here. Yes, Benny?
Question: Yesterday, the head of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon asking him for a meeting regarding the Waldheim meeting that he had. Has the Secretary-General received that letter? Does he have anything to say about it? Does he plan to meet with Edgar Bronfman?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that information yet. I know that the letter was delivered yesterday afternoon. I don’t know whether the Secretary-General has had a chance to react to it yet. Yes, George.
Question: You mentioned that there was this recent grant of $35 million in peacebuilding funds to Sierra Leone, and on top, a prior grant to Burundi. Do you know offhand, just for reference, for comparison, what the balance is on that Fund, how much is left and was the Burundi grant a similar amount?
Spokesperson: We can find that. I don’t have the exact math in my head right now. But…
Question: Just for reference, how much of the Fund did they give out between these two grants?
[The Spokesperson later added that $35 million had also been allocated to Burundi. Thus, the total committed so far was $70 million.]
Question: A housekeeping question but a very disturbing one. According to some news accounts, there are rats, mice, even saltwater eels in the basement, where the raw material, food, are kept, or where they prepare food. Is the Secretary-General aware of this –- does he eat here? Is no one going to talk to the caterer, Aramark, about the situation? Because it’s a health hazard for a few thousand people here. It’s a big responsibility for the UN.
Spokesperson: I don’t think the Secretary-General takes care of this type of problem, but I will definitely transmit your concerns to the people who are in charge. I can understand those concerns.
Question: I don’t care whether the SG eats or not in the cafeteria. It’s not my concern. My concern is whether I can get hepatitis A, B or C or something. He doesn’t know anything about it, does he?
Spokesperson: No, he does not.
Question: He has not been told?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: Nothing about the caterer -- Aramark? (Inaudible) all these problems?
Spokesperson: Well, we can ask whether there have been any inspections down there again. We can get some information for you, but it’s not the Secretary-General who’s going to react to that. I can tell you.
Correspondent: If he’s eating here, it’s his concern too.
Spokesperson: He does eat here, yes. And often in the cafeteria.
Question: Still eating after this broke out?
[The Spokesperson later added that rodents were not a particular problem at the United Nations. Regarding extermination, kitchens are done every week. The United Nations does not have an issue with eels, she said.]
Question: Where are we on the Sudan letter?
Spokesperson: Still, we have not received anything.
Question: Have you had any… I don’t know how long it takes for the airmail to get from Khartoum to New York, but I had understood that the letter had been promised a week ago or so. So can we make an assumption that the letter has not been sent yet? I mean, I’m just wondering…
Spokesperson: We cannot make any assumptions. We can only say we have not received it.
Question: Do you think it might have got lost in the UN postal service system? I recently got an invite to something for 2004.
Question: Aren’t the letters usually delivered through the Mission?
Spokesperson: Yes. So, normally, it will come through the regular UN mail.
Question: In Côte d’Ivoire, four journalists have been locked up by President Gbagbo for offending the Head of State. So I’m wondering if the UN has had any comment and what the process is to select a new SRSG for Côte d’Ivoire?
Spokesperson: We don’t know. We don’t have any updating on the new person who’s going to be in charge. What I can say about the journalists, we don’t have a reaction from the Secretary-General yet, but I’m sure he has been following the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.
Question: Yesterday, the CEO of the Pension Fund, Bernard Cochemé, said something quite different; Farhan Haq had provided a response saying that the Pension Fund was not going to follow the OIOS report and this was going to be reported to the GA. Yesterday, Mr. Cochemé said that, on 15 February, the head of OIOS came to a meeting at the Pension Fund and told him that no disciplinary action was necessary. So, it’s been a contradiction and I’m wondering whether… I know that we have a standing request to get OIOS down. But to get some… it's totally at odds what your Office had said and what was said yesterday by the head of the Pension Fund.
Spokesperson: Well, the reason why we arranged that meeting with the Fund was essentially for you to get information. I don’t have anything else to add, Matthew, really.
Question: I guess then I’m going to say this. After the press conference yesterday, I got a call from UN Security asking why I had gone to the Pension Fund on 15 February to try to observe that meeting, and saying a complaint had been filed by the Pension Fund for seeking to be in the reception area outside the meeting. So, I’m wondering whether you can instruct the Pension Fund about press access to UN agencies? Or if you have any insight into… if you think that’s appropriate?
Spokesperson: You know, I’m just learning it from you right now. I have to inquire whether there is a policy. Yes, Benny?
Question: Something that was kind of lost. I’m not sure if we requested this before, but can we have OIOS brief us?
Spokesperson: We have asked, you know, and they told us that they were waiting for the report to go to the General Assembly and after this, they would come to the press. This is the answer I got. OK. But they are willing to do it. Yes?
Question: Do you have any reports on Kurdish protesters forcing their way into the Geneva complex to protest a jailing and poisoning of their leader? Have you heard anything about that in Geneva?
Spokesperson: No, I can inquire with Geneva. I don’t have anything on that.
Question: To follow-up on yesterday’s meeting with Mr. Dhanapala on disarmament -- does that mean that Mr. Dhanapala will rejoin the Board? And also, with regards to the departing USGs, does the Secretary-General plan to utilize their skills and expertise in order to achieve some sort of continuity?
Spokesperson: Some of them yes, some of them, no. I don’t have the exact number of people who will be kept on board and asked to do other duties or be envoys anywhere. I don’t have the details right now, but I’ll be glad to give them to you as soon as I have them.
Question: Mr. Dhanapala -- does he plan to join the disarmament…?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. (Inaudible comment by correspondent.) We’re talking about USGs. Yes?
Question: Do you have anything to tell us on Cyprus, because there are reports that the SG asked for the Minsters of Greece and Cyprus to come to New York?
Spokesperson: I will inquire about this. I don’t know about it.
Question: Can you find out for us?
Spokesperson: Yes, sure we can.
[The Spokesperson later added that she was unaware of any request by the Secretary-General for Greek and Cypriot Ministers to come to New York.]
Question: We didn’t mention for a long time, where does the talks with the name of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia stand and where are the UN activities right now?
Spokesperson: That I don’t know at this point. I can find out.
[The Spokesperson later added that, since 31 January 2007, when the Secretary-General Personal Envoy, Matthew Nimetz, had met with representatives from Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on this matter, no new initiatives had been taken.]
Question: A Haiti question -- there’s a report out that this gang leader, Belony, left Cité Soleil and is in a town called Saint-Michel, and there seems to be some criticisms of how this happened. Is there a way to confirm that some of the gang leaders from Cité Soleil are in fact moving to the countryside?
Spokesperson: Like you, I have read press reports about this. However, this was a trend that is not only affecting Saint-Michel, it is affecting other places. However, we don’t have exact numbers, nor do we have a report from the UN Mission about the extent of the problem.
Question: Do we know if the Mission has some sort of a plan to try to address the rural areas, not only the cities?
Spokesperson: As you know, the Mission is deployed everywhere. Of course, there are concentrated forces in Port-au-Prince because of the operations against the gang, but now that Cité Soleil, all the gangs have left Cité Soleil presumably, I’m sure the UN will pay more attention to the countryside, where they have always been stationed. They have never really moved out of the countryside.
Question: When there is a financial audit of a department at the UN, say DPI or others, does the press have access to the information?
Spokesperson: I mean, it has to be done first.
Question: Once it’s done, I’m saying…
Spokesperson: Once it is done, there will come a time that it will become, I assume, public record, but I can ask for you whether that will become public record, but there are ongoing evaluations of the budget. We are an intergovernmental body and we are evaluated on a regular basis.
Question: No, I understand, but my question was do we have access to them?
Spokesperson: I can find out for you, whether you will eventually, yes. I will invite our guest, Mr. Laroche to come to the podium please.
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For information media • not an official record
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