DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
25 May 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all. First, a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar:
The Secretary-General deeply regrets the decision of the Government of Myanmar to extend, once again, the detention under house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), despite his direct appeal to Myanmar’s senior leadership and the many public calls worldwide for her release. He strongly believes that the sooner restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Myanmar will be able to move forward towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights.
The Secretary-General is determined to continue working towards tangible progress in Myanmar through the use of his good offices mandate, as entrusted by the General Assembly. He has instructed his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, to energetically continue his dialogue with the Government and people of Myanmar.
** Lebanon - Humanitarian
On Lebanon, as of today, UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] has registered and helped relocate some 25,000 Palestinian refugees who have fled the fighting in the Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. Most of the displaced people have found refuge in the Tripoli region, in the UNRWA-operated Beddawi camp. About 2,500 people are in schools or women’s centres made available by UNRWA. While a casualty and damage assessment still being compiled, UNRWA staff members who lived in the camp say about a third of all houses have been damaged or utterly destroyed. Eyewitnesses interviewed by UNRWA spoke of several dozen dead, with two mass graves reportedly dug inside the camp to dispose of the bodies. With the help of regional governments, the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and Lebanese agencies, UNRWA’s efforts continue to provide emergency foodstuff to the displaced and those still inside the camp. UNRWA is providing water and sanitation supplies, along with hygiene kits and sleeping bags. An emergency appeal to cover estimated needs over the next 30 days is being prepared.
** Lebanon - Border Assessment
On Lebanon still, as was confirmed at the media stakeout yesterday by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team will be on the ground in Lebanon next week to begin its work in follow-up to the terms of Security Council resolution 1701, and pursuant to the Security Council’s Presidential Statement of 17 April. The team assembles on Monday in Beirut and is expected to be in the country for two to three weeks before returning and reporting on its findings to the Secretary-General.
The team is composed of five persons, with expertise in areas such as border security, police and customs and military issues. It will carry out consultations with Lebanese officials, as well as bilateral partners already assisting Lebanon in this area. The team will visit the border region and review existing border security arrangements in order to arrive at an assessment and to formulate recommendations for additional assistance, training and equipment to enhance the security of the Lebanese-Syrian border.
On Sudan, the Secretary-General just met with the Sudanese Ambassador and presented him with a letter and an advance copy of the joint African Union-United Nations report on the hybrid operation in Darfur.
The Security Council is holding consultations today on Sudan, the Middle East and other matters. Under Sudan, a presidential statement on the proposed African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur was being discussed. Under the Middle East, a draft resolution concerning a tribunal to try the suspected killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was circulated.
** Sudan - Human Rights
On Sudan, the UN Expert Group on Darfur, which was established by the Human Rights Council last March, met yesterday with high-level representatives of the Government of Sudan to identify practical steps to improve the human rights situation in Darfur. The Group will report on this meeting to the fifth session of the Human Rights Council on 13 June. We have more information on that upstairs.
On Somalia, WFP [World Food Programme] says that, although it is encountering problems finding ships to move food to Somalia, food distribution inside the country continues without incidents, despite the overall volatile security environment. Yesterday, the agency began a second round of food distribution for some 32,000 internally displaced persons in Afgoye, 9,000 people in Qoryoley and another 13,000 in Baidoa.
And still on Baidoa, UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] reports that some 650 families recently received Family Relief Kits, with another 6,000 kits allocated to those in need in Mogadishu and Merka. Meanwhile, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that some 90,000 people displaced by the latest violence have returned to the capital. The $2.9 million grant from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to WFP is covering the emergency rehabilitation of Wajid airstrip, air transport of relief items and cost-reduced passenger flights. Those allocations are part of the $10 million recently set aside by the Emergency Relief Coordinator for rapid response projects funded through the CERF.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
On the DRC, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the humanitarian situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province is deteriorating. In the last six months, continuing clashes have displaced 260,000 people. OCHA says it is very worried about the protection situation for the displaced, who have had to deal with murders, torture, arbitrary detention and looting. UN agencies and their partners are preparing contingency plans to cover the needs of the displaced. But the UN’s humanitarian appeal for this crisis remains only 19 per cent funded.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has wrapped up her visit to Rwanda, concluding a nearly two-week trip to Africa’s Great Lakes region. In a statement, Arbour hailed Rwanda’s determination to lift itself up despite the genocide that decimated its people little more than a decade ago. She expressed concern, however, about the Gacaca courts, whose judges possess little legal training and are planning, within the next year, to try 750,000 defendants who allegedly took part in the genocide. Such haste could jeopardize the integrity of the process, she said, adding that the country could not possibly sustain such a large number of prisoners.
** Africa Day
Today is Africa Day. In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General said he shared Africa’s pain and frustration at the persistent, widespread suffering caused by extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS, among other problems. He welcomed important steps toward consolidating peace, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire, but he noted the continuing tragic consequences of conflicts in other trouble spots, such as Darfur and Somalia. He called for renewed global efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals, including through more and better aid, debt cancellation and fairer trade, as well as the promotion of peace and human rights. We have a text of his message upstairs.
**Asian Group Concert
Tonight, in the General Assembly Hall, a classical concert will be held in honour of the Secretary-General. The concert, organized and supported by the Member States of the Asian Group, including China, Republic of Korea and Japan, is to express their hope and expectations for the new Secretary-General. The Asian Group Concert will feature pianist Ms. Son Yeol-eum, violinist Mr. Chen Xi, and the Asian Artists & Concerts, Inc. Orchestra. Tickets are still being distributed for this evening, and you can pick them up from the MALU office if you are interested.
A number of you have been asking to get the names of the Secretary-General’s senior staff. That staffing process is soon to be completed and we’ll announce it as soon as possible. There have also been a number of questions raised at the briefing about the number of people the Secretary-General brought with him from his home country, the Republic of Korea. As indicated repeatedly, there are five nationals from the Republic of Korea that came with the Secretary-General and are now working in the Secretariat. It is perfectly normal for an incoming Secretary-General to bring a small number of close advisers with him. The General Assembly gives the Secretary-General the explicit authority to appoint staff to his own office outside the regular procedures. The five professionals he brought are now United Nations staffers and, therefore, international civil servants with rights and responsibilities defined by the UN Charter.
** Holiday Weekend
This is the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Please be advised that our office will not be staffed this weekend. We do, however, have people on call throughout the weekend that can be reached at all times. The contact list is available upstairs and you can have it from my office. We also have for you the week ahead at the United Nations.
Tuesday will be the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. Not to be forgotten.
[It was later announced that at 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday in the Visitors’ Lobby, the Secretary-General is scheduled to lay a wreath as part of a commemorative ceremony. Then, at 5:30 p.m. in the Visitors’ Lobby, a reception and ceremony are planned for the opening of a photographic exhibition entitled “Courage for Peace”.]
Also, on Tuesday, the guest at the noon briefing will be Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who will brief on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
This is all I have. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have one follow-up on what you just said but I wanted to ask first: Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, her house imprisonment has been extended for another year, I don’t know if the Secretary-General or Mr. Gambari, what’s the United Nations reaction to that?
Spokesperson: This was my first statement today. You can have a copy.
Question: I missed it, I’m sorry. There’s also a report from Nepal that a United Nations vehicle visiting the Bhutanese refugees was stoned by Maoists and that the US Ambassador was in it. Have you heard that?
Spokesperson: I have no information on that.
Question: Okay. This will be pretty fast. There’s a report that the Secretary-General is going to name the CEO of Novartis as the head of a bioterrorism unit. Have you seen that report and can you confirm it?
Spokesperson: Well, I can tell you, there is no such thing as a bioterrorism unit that is planned. No one here has heard of it. There is no such unit.
Question: It was in a British thing called The Business.
Spokesperson: There is no such unit within the United Nations.
Question: Very good. And this is something that I asked you earlier about Côte d’Ivoire. There’s an interview now by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General saying that Mr. Stoudmann’s mandate is finished. Is that in fact the case? Mr. Mousa has given an interview in Abidjan saying that Stoudmann is done. Is that true?
Spokesperson: Well, we can confirm that for you, when his mandate is to be ended.
Question: This is an Erol question. There’s a report that Serbia has formally asked the Secretary-General to reopen a new round of discussions. I’m just wondering, has the Secretary-General received anything?
Spokesperson: You already had your answer, right Erol?
Question: Not fully, honestly, but I didn’t ask whether Serbia offered to open the new discussion. Discussion with whom?
Correspondent: They asked, I guess, to put off the Ahtisaari plan and to start a whole…
Correspondent: Oh, on Kosovo? No, that’s something different. That’s a question that is always going on and we are always interested in it… But the question is whether Serbia officially asked that, although I haven’t seen that report, but…
Spokesperson: Well, I haven’t seen that letter either so we’ll try to get some information on that.
[The Spokesperson later added that no such letter from the Serbian Government had been received. For his part, the Secretary-General still supports Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal, and the matter of Kosovo’s status is before the Security Council.]
Correspondent: One thing, I wanted to ask about the statement that you read, which I really appreciate, and nobody disputes that he can hire who he wants, just for what it’s worth, I just say that, but the idea that in his own office he can hire whoever he wants…
Spokesperson: This is the principle that the General Assembly has approved. However, all posts on the 38th floor were staffed through a competitive process. You’re well aware of it because you know those posts were advertised and we got more than 1,000 applications for them. So that process was done through a competitive process and you’ll get the full list once it is fully staffed, which is very early next week.
Correspondent: The only follow-up I have, and it’s something that I’ve tried to ask by e-mail is that one of the five is in the Department of Management. So I just wanted you to clarify. Does that mean that this individual is in Ban Ki-moon’s office on the 38th floor?
Spokesperson: No, the professional is in the Department of Management just as there is a professional in my office who is with the Department of Public Information.
Correspondent: But that GA process of being able to hire anybody he wants for his office and on the 38th floor, does that apply to putting people in, for example, to the Department of Management, or in their office. That’s what I don’t understand, that’s my question.
Spokesperson: It’s not putting people in. Those people went through a process also.
Correspondent: So for the Department of Management post, there was a process, it was put out, there were interviews, the whole process. Okay, that’s all I wanted to know.
[The Spokesperson later added that the five staff members from the Republic of Korea who were appointed by the Secretary-General were appointed to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG). Two of them, Choi Soung-ah and Kweon Ki-hwan, have been assigned to other departments -- the Department of Public Information and the Department of Management respectively. But they remain staff members of EOSG, and perform tasks that are closely related to EOSG work.]
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For information media • not an official record
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