|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on Afghanistan.
** Afghanistan Statement
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned over the level of insecurity in Afghanistan, as witnessed by events over the weekend in the south and south-west of the country. These included the senseless murder of an Afghan journalist, who was abducted by the Taliban; an improvised explosive device attack, which killed six Canadian troops; and the murder of six Afghan deminers; as well as the murder of nine civilians, including five children, by a suicide bomber. The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and the respective Governments.
The Secretary-General strongly condemns such acts of violence and calls upon the Government of Afghanistan and the international community, including ISAF, to redouble their efforts to ensure stability, combat impunity and ensure an environment of respect for human rights.
And also on Afghanistan today, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the number of Afghan refugees it has helped to return home voluntarily from Pakistan since 2002 has now passed the three million mark, making it the largest such operation in the refugee agency’s history. UNHCR notes, however, that more than two million Afghans remain in Pakistan, adding that the situation can only be resolved with continued international support.
Now, turning to Africa and to Chad and Sudan, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that the situation following brutal attacks in south-eastern Chad in late March is far worse than previously expected. More than 9,000 Chadians from 31 villages have now arrived at the new site for internally displaced people (IDPs), joining some 9,000 others who had fled earlier attacks in the region. Estimates of the number of dead have also increased substantially, and the UNHCR says that the range is between 200 and 400.
Because most of the dead were buried where their bodies were found -- often in common graves owing to their large numbers -- we may never know their exact number, says UNHCR. Many who survived the initial attack –- particularly those most vulnerable, such as the elderly and young children –- died in subsequent days from exhaustion and dehydration, often while fleeing.
The Secretary-General is seriously concerned about this deteriorating situation.
Some of you asked yesterday about the technical meeting held in Addis Ababa attended by the United Nations, African Union and the Government of Sudan on the UN’s heavy support package to the African Union force in Darfur, known as AMIS. That meeting was held, as you know, in accordance with the decisions taken at last month’s meeting held on the margins of the League of Arab States Summit in Riyadh with the participation of the Sudanese President, the Secretary-General, the AU Chairperson, under the chairmanship of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia -- and of course, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
A communiqué issued after yesterday’s meeting says that the meeting finalized agreement on the UN heavy support package for AMIS, with the exception of one element on which the Sudanese delegation hoped to provide “a positive and expeditious response”. The meeting also agreed to move forward expeditiously with the implementation of the package, and continued international engagement will be important to facilitate the implementation of this package, as well as preparations for the third phase of AU-UN plans to enhance peacekeeping in Darfur, namely a hybrid operation.
Now, as you know, the visit of AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Konaré to New York on 16-17 April represents an important opportunity to advance and finalize plans in this regard. The communiqué in full is available in today’s bulletin from the UN Mission in Sudan, which contains an update on security and humanitarian developments in Darfur.
Now, here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General this morning addressed the Advisory Board of the UN Democracy Fund, telling the Board that, although the Democracy Fund is a recent UN innovation, the United Nations democracy agenda is longstanding. In nearly every part of the world, the United Nations assists Member States conduct elections, improve governance, promote human rights and strengthen civil society. He told the Board that their work is vital to the Fund’s success, and the Fund’s success is vital to the UN mission. To date, the Democracy Fund has received a total of more than $61 million from 28 countries, with another $4 million in firm pledges. And there is a press release out with more details on the Fund.
The Security Council this morning held a private meeting on Georgia, which it is following with consultations on the same topic. The Prime Minister of Georgia and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jean Arnault, spoke at the private meeting. In his report to the Security Council on the situation in Abkhazia, the Secretary-General had welcomed the recent progress between the two sides but noted with regret that the situation along the ceasefire line has remained tense. He recommended the extension of the UN Mission in Georgia by another six months, until mid-October.
Also today, out on the racks today a letter from the UK Ambassador to the Security Council, which will serve as the agenda item for the Security Council’s open debate on 17 April. The letter concerns the relationship between energy, security and climate. And I believe the Security Council President mentioned that to you in his monthly briefing on the programme.
Turning to Somalia, the UN Political Office for Somalia and other members of the International Advisory Committee today held their first meeting with Somalia’s National Governance and Reconciliation Committee in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the planned reconciliation congress. Stressing the independent nature of its mandate, the Reconciliation Committee said that it continues efforts to bring on board all clans, each of which will be allocated quotas for all representative members of Somali society, including women and Somalis abroad. The Reconciliation Committee said it would be in a position to announce a final date and venue for the congress by April 16th and has proposed that Saudi Arabia be made a member of the International Advisory Committee.
And turning to Haiti, the UN Stabilization Mission there says it will be providing security and logistical support to the Provisional Electoral Commission in organizing the 29 April local elections there. Some 73 mayoral and municipal delegate seats will be up for grabs in 10 districts during the planned vote, and some 300,000 voters are expected to cast their ballots.
Meanwhile, UN peacekeepers and the Haitian police have detained some 51 presumed gang members in the ongoing security operations in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of the capital.
The UNHCR is also expressing concern about the humanitarian situation in southern Colombia, where heavy fighting between the Government and an irregular armed group has forced at least 6,000 people to flee their homes in the past two weeks.
And you can read more about that in UNHCR’s briefing notes.
And UNESCO is out today with a new report on the threat climate change poses to sites on its World Heritage List. The report looks at 26 endangered sites, including the Tower of London, which is threatened by rising sea levels and flooding. Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs around the world are at risk from rising sea temperatures. On land, the melting of glaciers is affecting the appearance of sites known for their outstanding beauty, while warmer temperatures may destroy the habitat of rare wildlife species. There is more in a press release from UNESCO on this upstairs
The World Food Programme (WFP) announces that its new Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, officially took up her duties today in Rome. She will divide her first month between WFP headquarters in Rome and in the field. Her first mission will be to Africa, which she will visit at least twice in her first 90 days, WFP says, and you can read more about that in their press release.
And then press conferences to flag for you. At 1:15 p.m. tomorrow, on the occasion of the fortieth session of the Commission on Population and Development, here to brief you on that will be Dr. Somnath Chatterji, the team leader of Multi-Country Studies at the World Health Organization, together with a senior researcher at the African Population and Health Research Center.
At 6:30 p.m. today at the Vienna Café, there will be an inauguration ceremony for the photo exhibit “In Remembrance of the Victims of the Conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia”, organized by the Mission of Georgia to the UN. The Prime Minister of Georgia will attend the ceremony.
That’s what I have for you. Anything for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I wanted to just ask you about the Reconciliation Committee for Somalia -- if Saudi Arabia could be a member. You also mentioned clans. Do you know if the Islamic Courts militia is part of it? And also, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)?
Deputy Spokesperson: I will have to check into that for you. I will let you know after the briefing.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that neither Saudi Arabia, the Union of Islamic Courts nor the Organization of the Islamic Conference were members of the Committee.]
Question: Could you tell us what the one element that the negotiators in Addis could not… that was not agreed on in the Darfur talks yesterday?
Deputy Spokesperson: My understanding is –- and you’ve probably seen in press reports –- that the one element involves tactical attack helicopters. But as I mentioned in my briefing, the Sudanese delegation is hoped to provide a positive and expeditious response to this, and we have been told that hopefully that will happen before Mr. Konaré comes to New York next week, when he meets with the Secretary-General.
Question: Regarding the exhibition today at 6:30 – was the exhibition announced together with DPI or any of the UN organs, or was it done by the Permanent Mission of Georgia?
Deputy Spokesperson: All exhibits here involve UN preparation, together with the Mission, so it involves …
Question: Will anyone from the DPI speak at the event, apart from the Georgian Mission?
Deputy Spokesperson: We can find out.
[Following the briefing, the Spokesperson’s Office announced that exhibitions held in non-public areas were not the responsibility of Department of Public Information and that the head of that Department would not be attending the event. For further questions, correspondents were invited to contact the Mission of Georgia.]
Question: On DPI, will we meet the new USG any time soon?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, let’s ask him.
Question: On this Rwanda exhibition, what is going to happen with it?
Deputy Spokesperson: As I mentioned, unfortunately, the standard review process was not followed this time, and so they are waiting for the standard review process to take place, reviewing the wording of many aspects of that exhibit, and I am waiting to hear from the head of DPI when the actual opening date will be. But yes, it has been postponed.
Question: I have one more question. In Nepal, I cannot really figure out the quote. It seems like Ian Martin said that the election of the Constituent Assembly cannot take place now, before 20 June, and then some have just expressed concern about it. Do you know what the UN’s position is?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not seen an announcement by Ian Martin about the election date, but I will try to find out where we stand on that.
Question: Has the Secretary-General announced any more senior official appointments, or does he intend to announce any soon?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know from when you are referring, but if there haven’t been any announcements, there haven’t been any announcements.
Question: [inaudible] there was a gentleman named Mr. Kim, and I believe he still works at the Secretary-General’s Office, and his designation is not clear.
Deputy Spokesperson: Mr. Kim is the Deputy Chief of Staff.
Question: The other thing is that, yesterday, it was asked about this small arms shipment being allowed by the United States to go to Ethiopia to be used in Somalia, and that is in clear violation of the Security Council resolution, which the United States itself [inaudible]. Now, is it obligatory on any Member State to explain its actions to the Member States?
Deputy Spokesperson: It is a Security Council matter, there is a Security Council Sanctions Committee. It is probably best to address this question to the Committee Chairperson, for starters.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a position on that?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, he does not.
Question: Co-Chairmen of the Alliance of Civilizations are supposed to meet the Secretary-General later on today. We haven’t heard anything on that subject for months, despite the fact that there was a report, also months ago, part of it action-oriented. Can you ask the secretariat of the Alliance to give us a briefing?
Deputy Spokesperson: Sure, we can ask if they will give you a readout after the Secretary-General’s meeting today with the Permanent Representatives of the two countries that are most heavily involved.
Question: Since you mentioned that the Secretary-General came up with a report recently on Abkhazia… Recently, Ambassador Churkin of the Russian Federation told us that one of the reasons that the President of Kosovo was not allowed to speak in front of the Council was because the official of Abkhazia was not allowed to come here and brief the Council. He stated, in particular, that he was not issued a visa. Who is that official, do you know? Why was he not issued a visa? And when was he invited to brief the Council? Or is this a permanent request somehow?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think you should address that to the Security Council membership since it’s their meeting and they are the ones who are organizing it.
Question: Given that Iran is proceeding with enrichment of uranium, are you concerned, or is the Secretary-General concerned, about the safety, since IAEA is not providing technical assistance at this stage, or limited technical assistance?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General was asked about the latest developments regarding Iran yesterday, and I think he told a couple of news outlets who spoke to him that he hopes that, even at this time, when the Iranian Government is undergoing Security Council sanctions, that they should engage in dialogue with the intention of communicating. It is very important for any member country to fully comply with the Security Council resolution, and he went on to say that he urged the Iranian Government to do so. So that’s the latest that I have and we have that upstairs for you.
Deputy Spokesperson: No.
Question: It’s just a follow-up on the exhibition downstairs. Before, I wrote a story, which ended up with the cancellation of the exhibition. I read carefully what was written there and it was accusing Turkey of genocide. Do you not think that the United Nations should be neutral on international matters?
Deputy Spokesperson: On the matter of the exhibit, I really think we gave our explanation yesterday. I repeated it now. I mean, the focus, as you know, of the exhibit was intended to be on the Rwandan genocide. The Secretary-General’s intention was to go to the exhibit so that the world would not forget the thirteenth anniversary of the occurrence of genocide in Rwanda. It is unfortunate that other issues have clouded this exhibition and the fact that it had to be postponed. My only comment from here right now is to be able to announce when we can announce the opening of this exhibit.
Question: I just wanted… if you could give us a little more clarification: when the United Nations is really using the term “global warming” and when it prefers to use the “climate change”?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, that’s a technical question that I would refer you either to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), or the UNFCCC in [ Bonn]. And we can certainly put you in touch with them, and if they are here next time, let’s put the question directly to the experts.
Question: But, for example today, when you said that UNICEF is saying about the climate change, so can you give us from the point of view of the whole of the United Nations -- any explanation of that, besides that we can go directly to that agency?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, UNESCO has issued this press release today, associating the phenomena of climate change and its World Heritage sites. So it’s not UNICEF -- it’s UNESCO, which is a specialized agency. There is a whole press release up there, so why don’t you take a look at that, see how they are explaining that in there, and then we’ll take it from there. We can approach the experts, if we need to.
Question: I wondered if the Secretary-General has any response to the large demonstration in Iraq yesterday, about asking for the withdrawal of occupying forces?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, he does not.
Question: Just one more about the exhibition. Is one of the reasons of the cancellation, or postponement of the exhibition, because the previous head of DPI had approved it and then the newcomer has not approved it yet?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, no.
Question: The Secretary-General’s report on Georgia talks about this joint fact-finding thing… the helicopter incident in the Upper Kodori Gorge… so this hasn’t been finished yet. Do you know when that… Does UNOMIG or DPKO -- when is this report going to be finished to find out who did [talkover]?
Deputy Spokesperson: There was a press release that came out, I believe, last week. There was an interim press release on the status of that investigation. So let us take a look at that. Maybe it will say when it will be completed. Also, I don’t know if [Special Representative for Georgia] Jean Arnault -– if you might want to catch him on his way out from the consultations, if that will be another way.
Question: There are indications that Ethiopians are imprisoning a number of Somalis. Is this legal under international law? And the fact that there is a legal elected Government in Somalia?
Deputy Spokesperson: I am not aware of the issue that you are referring to, so we will have to look into that and to get you guidance, if there is some.
Question: At 3 p.m., the Secretary-General is meeting with the Prime Minister of Georgia. Can we get a readout on that tomorrow?
Deputy Spokesperson: Of course.
Question: And do we know anything at all in advance? The topic that they will be discussing?
Deputy Spokesperson: That will involve Georgia. But I will get you…
Question: Nothing specific?
Deputy Spokesperson: I will see if -- the readout -– if we can get one for you today. Not to wait till tomorrow. OK?
Have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record