|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all.
** Alliance of Civilizations Forum
The Secretary-General will attend the First Alliance of Civilizations Forum next week in Madrid. The Forum will be opened by the Prime Minister of Spain, José Rodriguez Zapatero, by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and by President Jorge Sampaio, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, on the 15th.
The two-day meeting will be hosted by the Government of Spain and will convene political leaders, media, corporate and film industry executives, grass-roots and civil society leaders.
To speak about the Forum is our guest today, Shamil Idriss, Acting Director of the Alliance of Civilizations. He will brief you on the first Alliance of Civilizations Forum, which will be taking place, as I said, from the 15th to the 16th of January in Madrid.
I have more information on that upstairs, and I think there will be something in this room soon.
I was hoping to start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the attack on a UNAMID convoy. But we don’t have it yet, we should have it shortly.
One vehicle belonging to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was damaged today in an explosion on the coastal highway at the northern entrance to Saida, in southern Lebanon.
Two military members of UNIFIL who were in the vehicle were lightly wounded and transported to a hospital in Saida.
UNIFIL has launched an official investigation and is working in close cooperation with the Lebanese authorities. The UNIFIL Acting Force Commander, Brigadier General Jai Prakash Nehra, said what happened was “despicable” and expressed his hope that the perpetrators will be identified and brought to justice.
We have a press release upstairs with more details.
** Western Sahara
A third round of UN-brokered talks on Western Sahara got under way this morning in Manhasset, mediated by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Peter van Walsum. Participating in the talks are representatives of the parties, Morocco and Polisario, as well as the neighbouring States, Algeria and Mauritania.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Van Walsum reminded the parties of the call by the Security Council in resolution 1783 (2007) to show political will to assure the success of the negotiations, to negotiate in good faith and to work in an atmosphere conducive to dialogue. He also emphasized that, while the United Nations is there to facilitate the discussions in any way possible, it is the responsibility of the parties to forge a solution.
Today’s agenda includes plenary discussions on the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions. The Personal Envoy was also conducting bilateral discussions with the parties and the neighbouring States. Before concluding on Wednesday, the talks are also expected to focus on defining the way forward in the negotiating process.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General urged that the parties begin moving into a more intensive and substantive phase of discussions, while recognizing that it will take time and patience to resolve the longstanding dispute over Western Sahara.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that UN aid is continuing to reach vulnerable populations in Kenya’s northern Rift Valley, who were displaced and victimized when post-electoral violence erupted.
The UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, today shifted 24 tons of blankets and soap from its warehouses at a refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya to Nairobi, for onward delivery to displaced Kenyans. Meanwhile, staff at UNHCR’s warehouse in Nairobi are preparing family kits -- containing plastic sheeting, blankets, mats, mosquito nets and soap -- that will be distributed this week. UNHCR has also made tents available to Kenyans who have fled into Uganda.
For its part, UN-HABITAT is working to establish the extent of the destruction and loss of housing, land and property. In addition to helping address the immediate shelter needs of the displaced, UN-Habitat is working to establish long-term mechanisms for sustainable resettlement.
Meanwhile, UNAIDS is warning of an increased risk of HIV transmission as a result of displacement and high mobility. UNAIDS is working with partners to ensure that the affected population has sufficient information on HIV prevention and counselling.
To date, the World Food Programme (WFP) has sent enough food to the western town of Eldoret to feed 38,000 people for two weeks. Food has also been stockpiled in Nairobi to feed the hungry in the slums. Additional food aid has been dispatched to the town of Kisumu to help some 3,000 displaced Kenyans.
We have more information upstairs, and we will have an update, at the noon briefing tomorrow, from the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes.
The Secretary-General has announced his intention to appoint Larry Rossin of the United States as his Principal Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Mr. Rossin assumes his responsibilities today, 8 January.
From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Rossin served as Assistant Secretary-General and Principal Deputy Special Representative with both the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and with the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Prior to joining the United Nations, Mr. Rossin was a career officer with the US Foreign Service.
Following the Security Council consultations yesterday on the preparations for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, the Council President, Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi of Libya, read out a statement welcoming the progress made in the deployment of that Mission.
The members of the Security Council expressed their serious concern at the recent upsurge of activities of the illegal armed groups in western Darfur and in eastern Chad, and at the resulting tension between Sudan and Chad, the Council President said.
Council members called on Sudan and Chad to exercise restraint and pursue dialogue and cooperation, and called on all parties in Sudan and Chad to respect their commitments.
There are no meetings or consultations of the Council scheduled for today.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, Hédi Annabi, yesterday reviewed the past year at a press conference, and laid out activities planned for 2008 by the UN Stabilization Mission in that country.
These activities will include continued UN cooperation with the Haitian police and assisting the Government in improving border security. Annabi noted that UN peacekeepers are already deploying at the four main points of entry into Haiti and will soon patrol the seaports and, at a later stage, also deploy a maritime unit. Assistance to the Government will also continue in improving State administration and reforming the judicial sector.
Meanwhile, UNICEF Chief Ann Veneman has completed a working visit to Haiti, during which she met with UN and Haitian authorities to discuss conditions for children and possible areas of strengthened cooperation.
We have received now the statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Darfur and the attack on a UNAMID convoy by Sudanese Armed Forces:
At 10 p.m. local time on Monday, 7 January, a clearly marked UNAMID supplies convoy was attacked by elements of the Sudanese Armed Forces while on its way from Um Baru to Tine in West Darfur. The convoy was carrying rations for UNAMID personnel in West Darfur. A civilian Sudanese driver suffered seven gunshot wounds during the incident.
The Secretary-General condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms and stresses that, for the joint African Union–United Nations peacekeeping operation to be able to perform its mandated functions, the Government of Sudan has to provide unequivocal guarantees that there will be no recurrence of such activities by its forces. In this connection, the United Nations is lodging a protest with the Government of Sudan. This incident underscores the importance of the Government reaffirming its commitment to the deployment of UNAMID and the implementation of Security Council resolution 1769 (2007).
The UN refugee agency is appealing for more than $260 million for its efforts to help displaced Iraqis during 2008. Some 4 million people have been uprooted by the conflict; half of them have sought refuge in other countries.
Besides providing direct assistance to the displaced, UNHCR is helping those Governments to cope with the influx of refugees and to provide them with health and education services.
In addition, UNHCR also cares for more than 40,000 non-Iraqi refugees in Iraq. Among them are some 13,000 Palestinians, many of whom have been targeted by armed groups and who have been unable to find sanctuary in other countries.
We have more information on that upstairs.
In answer to some questions concerning building codes and fire violations, I can announce that the UN is delivering this afternoon to the New York City Commissioner for the UN a letter and report that confirms the partnership and cooperation between the United Nations and New York City. With assistance from New York City, the UN has achieved the following:
1. The compartmentalization and separation project to enhance the safety and security of the Headquarters has been contracted, and mobilization is under way by the contractor;
2. The UN Fire Safety Plan has been approved by the New York City Fire Department;
3. The UN Emergency Action Plan will be submitted today to the Commissioner and the Fire Department.
Most importantly, in terms of long-term fire safety, the Capital Master Plan remains on track, and the construction activity on the Temporary North Lawn Conference Building will begin this spring.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Jomo Kwame, Assistant-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division, will hold a press conference to launch the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2008 report.
And as I said earlier, our guest at the noon briefing will be John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will update you on the humanitarian situation in Kenya.
That is all I have for you today. Our guests are here, but let us have the questions first.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the UNAMID report: one, why didn’t the UNAMID return fire; two, what was the size of the armed force that was attacking this convoy; and three, with whom was the Secretary-General in touch? Did he personally call on somebody, or did he send a letter? What form did it take and what has his personal involvement so far?
Spokesperson: The protest has been addressed to the Permanent Mission here at the United Nations. We will find out later for you what the details are. About the attack itself, you have the details upstairs from the Mission and we have a press release from the Mission that you can consult. But we can get more information for you later.
Question: So you don’t have an answer to the question right now as to why UNAMID did not return fire?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t.
Question: Do we have anything from the Secretary-General on the elections in Georgia, on the presidential elections? And also, the United Nations as a whole, does it support the legitimacy of the final results that, once again, President Saakashvili will be staying for a second term?
Spokesperson: What I have for you on the Georgian elections is that the Secretary-General just takes note of the preliminary findings of the International Election Observation Mission on the 5 January presidential elections, which were released yesterday. He welcomes the fact that Election Day was generally peacefuland he hopes that environment prevails.
The UN is not in a position to comment further on the electoral process because it did not have observers of its own. The Secretariat will continue, however, tofollow the situation and awaits the final conclusions of the International Election Observation Mission.
That is all I have for you.
Question: Two rockets were fired, allegedly from a UNIFIL-controlled area, into Israel. This is a new thing that has not happened for a long time. First of all, was it from an area where UNIFIL was present? And secondly, does the Secretary-General have anything to say?
Spokesperson: Well, I have to say first, that UNIFIL is in the process of ascertaining the facts. We have our team on the ground. In the meantime, we cannot confirm or deny that report about the rocket fire.
Question: Oh, you can’t even confirm that rockets were fired?
Spokesperson: We are trying to ascertain the facts -- where it came from. We are trying to find out what happened.
Question: Do we have any official comments from UNIFIL, on the ground?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t. We are waiting for further information from them.
Question: The Israelis abducted a Lebanese shepherd a couple of days ago from Lebanese territory. What can UNIFIL do about that?
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on that at this point.
Question: You have not received anything on that?
Spokesperson: I have not.
Question: The comments you read on the Secretary-General regarding the negotiations on the Western Sahara clearly indicate that the Secretary-General is in favour of the continuation of these negotiations, irrespective of what results will be obtained in the next two days. Is that the case?
Spokesperson: It is the case.
Question: Yes, I have a couple of questions. The Ugandan military is quoted as saying that the UN, through MONUC, has agreed to “flush out” Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army from inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That seems like a different approach. Is that something…?
Spokesperson: We cannot comment on that at this point.
Question: Also, this conference in Goma that MONUC is participating in -- I noticed that William Lacy Swing is still the one there. I thought he was handing over his mantle to Alan Doss. When does that take place?
Spokesperson: Well, I will find out for you, but he is there.
[The Spokesperson later added that Alan Doss was supposed to replace William Swing during the early part of this month.]
Question: It seems like in the budget process countries said that there was a commitment by the Secretary-General that the Under-Secretary-General position for the Department of Field Support is going to a developing country and has been put out for applications. What is the status of that?
Spokesperson: I don’t have an answer for you yet. At this point, they have not chosen yet who will be that.
Question: One, Jane Holl Lute -- going back some weeks, or even some months, there have been discussions of having a briefing by somebody on the record about the Lockheed Martin sole-source contract. Now it has been since 21 December since they passed it. She is in town, I have seen her. Is there any update on when we can have…?
Spokesperson: I can give to you the same thing we have said about the Lockheed Martin contract. We will say it again. I mean, we haven’t changed…
Question: I just remembered, you yourself said that we will have a briefing once the General Assembly votes. The question is, which you haven’t explained, the question is, when it has been raised you said they had to move after the Security Council voted in July. But there is a letter online from Jane Holl Lute in April saying: sole-source to Lockheed Martin. So the idea is, somebody needs to explain why the process started that early, and, if they knew that early it was Lockheed, why did they put it out to bid? I don’t want to…
Spokesperson: Well, the contract was signed in October. If you want more information on it, I can take out for you the information we have had upstairs for you available all the time.
Question: I guess my question is that since you said here that there was going to be a briefing, is there now not going to be a briefing?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I have asked, but we don’t have an answer for you yet.
Question: I mean I understand that the Secretary-General has said repeatedly, every time he comes up he says, “We are going to be fully transparent.” I am not saying that he is not, I am just saying that part of transparency would be to actually have a person that clearly pushed for the contract answer questions about the contract. Whether at the stakeout or…
Spokesperson: The whole contract followed a very transparent process.
Question: Then why don’t you [inaudible]
Spokesperson: You know, actually, the GA members were consulted all throughout about the whole process. I know what the resolution said, but what I am saying is that the whole process was a very open process and the Member States were consulted about that process. No decision was taken outside of the consultative process with the General Assembly. That the resolution came out saying this is another story altogether. But I can assure you that there were a series of consultations taken with Member States about that contract. The PAE [Lockheed Martin] were on the ground, they had been working on plans for UNMIS and had set up a number of things for UNMIS. The issue was being able to deploy the forces as fast as possibly could be and that is what was done. And I think the process was clearly explained.
Question: Even the head of ACABQ, Rajat Saha, has said that it should have been bid out. Again, I don’t mean to get into a back and forth with you. I guess I would just say, there are people that were involved in the process. That things were said publicly that documents show are different. Warren Sach is another one. It seems like, I don’t know what the problem is of having them come and actually make an explanation for letters they have themselves signed.
Spokesperson: Well, Warren Sach was here already, giving an explanation on that contract, if you remember correctly. It was in response to a request from you.
Question: I am sorry, I just want to reiterate…
Spokesperson: Yes, sure, and I’ll ask again. But, you know, you say Jane Holl Lute is here in the building. Of course she is, but do you realize how much work is to be done on that deployment of UNAMID?
Question: Does that mean that the two deadlines set for today have been met?
Spokesperson: Yes, that is what it means.
Question: A couple of things on the Algiers attack: one, has the Secretary-General made a decision yet on whether to have an independent investigation of that incident?
Spokesperson: Well, as the Secretary-General made clear yesterday, he is expecting to first receive a report from [Under-Secretary-General for Security and Safety David] Veness, which is due on 11 January, and on the basis of that report, he will make recommendations on measures to be taken to strengthen the safety and security of UN staff and premises, and you will certainly get more on it. We don’t have anything, any investigation team sent yet.
Question: On 11 January, this Friday, in what way, what timing will we get more information on it, in other words, get some idea of what the conclusions are?
Spokesperson: I’ll get that to you as soon as I get it. At this point, Mr. Veness is going to report to the Secretary-General.
Question: Is he coming to you in addition to the Secretary-General on Friday?
Spokesperson: Well I don’t know at this point. I am hoping that we can give you as much information as we possibly can. But as you know, there are security issues involved.
Question: It was said that the security guy who was being asked about yesterday who has expired, that he had been the person in charge of either raising or lowering the security level. Wasn’t there a country representative, UNDP, a guy called Marc de Bernis? Was Mr. de Bernis himself actually in charge of raising the level or did he have to run it by somebody above himself?
Spokesperson: All this will be in the report that Mr. Veness will submit on the 11th. I am just asking you to wait until the 11th.
Question: I wondered if there is a process by which the press conferences that Ban Ki-moon has, provide that you hear from all the different journalists that are here and not mainly focus on the same people who get called on over and over again. So, I wondered if there is some mechanism that you have, and if you could let people know about it, so that people who have had a question for every press conference and never get to ask it, if there is some way that those questions can be asked and can be answered during the press conference.
Spokesperson: What we usually do is that we take beforehand the list of people who have questions. We never get a chance to give everyone the possibility to speak. Some people spoke yesterday who had not spoken before, who never had the chance to ask questions before. But we cannot really give everyone a chance. A 45-minute press conference cannot really cover everything you want to ask the Secretary-General. What we are trying to do is to get the Secretary-General to come more often, so you can all get a chance to ask.
What is taken into consideration is the fact that, of course, we do consider wire services as a priority, from all over the world. We do consider major outlets that have a good coverage as priorities, which is normal, which is done everywhere this way. We are not trying to shut anybody up or not give everybody a chance. Every time we have a chance to give two or three extra people a chance to ask questions, people who have not been asked before. But you know it all depends on what we have in the time we have allotted to us. There is no decision to actually stop people from asking questions.
* *** *For information media • not an official record