|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.
**Press Conference Today
Today at 1:30, members of the Alliance of Small Island States, Ambassadors Angus Friday of Grenada, Colin Beck of Solomon Islands, and Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima of Cape Verde, will brief you on the impact of climate change on small island States. Copies of the media advisory are available in this room.
The Security Council is holding an open debate today on children and armed conflict. Briefing Council members this morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said systematic and deliberate attacks on schoolchildren are escalating in certain conflicts. In Afghanistan, for example, such attacks target girls’ schools. She also noted that, in regional conflicts, such as in Africa’s Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, cross-border recruitment of children from refugee camps is surging. Coomaraswamy added that the detention of children for alleged association with armed groups, in violation of international standards, is increasingly worrisome.
Also briefing the Council this morning was UNICEF’s Executive Director, Ann Veneman, who said that it was possible to reintegrate former child soldiers back into society. Nevertheless, reintegration is a difficult and long process requiring patience and long-term commitment, she added. We have both Coomaraswamy’s and Veneman’s remarks upstairs, and both officials will go to the stakeout after this morning’s debate. They will be accompanied by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation Charles Michel, who are also participating in today’s debate.
On Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, upon return to Dili today, said that, although he is deeply concerned about the latest violence, assurance has been given that investigations to reveal the facts on yesterday’s shooting incidents are well under way. The Special Representative commended the people and Government of Timor-Leste for reacting in a calm manner to these events, and for taking appropriate measures to deal with the tragedy and coordinate the various security institutions of the country. He also said that both the Parliament and the opposition have played exemplary and constructive roles during this critical period, offering their support to the Government.
Meanwhile, the Security Council yesterday adopted a statement condemning in the strongest terms the latest violence, stressing that it represents an attack on the legitimate institutions of Timor-Leste. The 15-member body also called on the Government to “bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act” and urged “all Timorese parties to cooperate actively with the authorities”.
** Sudan - Chad - Central African Republic
On Sudan, the UN refugee agency says that some 10,000-12,000 refugees from West Darfur, who fled across the border into eastern Chad to escape militia attacks and bombings, are in a very precarious situation along the volatile border. They are anxiously waiting to start being moved to a UNHCR camp. The new arrivals will place a severe strain on existing camp facilities. The agency says the refugees are destitute, having fled by night, walking across the border and bringing no possessions with them. Many of the refugees, mainly women and children, had already been internally displaced within Darfur, living in camps in Sirba. There were also people from the villages attacked amongst the refugees. The humanitarian situation is dramatic. Local Chadians, as usual, have responded in a very generous manner, providing the new arrivals with what food they could spare and water, according to UNHCR.
Meanwhile, in Cameroon, a second Ilyushin-76 cargo plane chartered by UNHCR landed in the northern town of Garoua with aid for thousands of Chadian refugees. Today, relief items are scheduled to reach northern Cameroon, where an estimated 30,000 Chadians have found refuge following heavy fighting in N’Djamena. And in south Chad, some 6,000 to 7,000 refugees from the Central African Republic have crossed the border since late January, with more reportedly on their way. The refugees started crossing to neighbouring Chad in late January, fleeing attacks from bandits in northern Central African Republic.
Victor Angelo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Chad and the Central African Republic, said today that he would work to help persuade armed groups in the region to lay down their weapons and join a political process. Angelo also stressed the need to respond to the humanitarian crisis in both countries.
In Kenya, while political talks will continue, the UN country team reports that the general security situation is calm, though tense and volatile in the towns of Eldoret and Kericho. The country team says large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are on the move towards what Kenyan authorities describe as their “ancestral homes”. This IDP exodus is especially massive from the central to the western parts of the country. In the Western Province and the Nyanza Province, the new arrivals are placing a serious strain on school and health systems, which are now operating way beyond capacity. There are also concerns about food security.
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the first round of food distributions has been completed in South Rift Valley. OCHA says that some 47 tons of food were handed out at 19 camps for the internally displaced in the Kipelion and Nakuru districts. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its local partners are continuing an assessment in all districts of the Central Province. And while some 500 WFP containers remain at the Mombasa seaport, some 2,500 tons of food were successfully dispatched from Mombasa to various locations inside and outside of Kenya in recent days.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
A UN disaster assessment and coordination team arrived yesterday in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to conduct disaster survey work following a series of earthquakes that hit the area and western Rwanda on February 3rd. The team will work with local UN and Congolese authorities on assessment of damage to infrastructure, and will also study the environmental impact of the quakes in Bukavu and surrounding areas.
One correction on Somalia: UN operations in Somalia have not been suspended, as reported yesterday in the noon briefing. The UN has temporarily suspended official travel to certain limited areas of Somalia for UN staff, pending a reassessment of the security environment due to the many security incidents in the past two weeks. Operations are ongoing with international and national UN staff and with implementing partners.
On Iraq, the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is in Jordan today for a weeklong mission to the region aimed at highlighting the plight of millions of uprooted Iraqis and the efforts by host countries to help them. He would next travel to Damascus. Meanwhile, the international aid community today appealed for a comprehensive international response to help vulnerable people in Iraq over the next 12 months. UN agencies and non-governmental organizations said $265 million is needed to deliver urgent relief to Iraqis suffering under the humanitarian crisis inside the country. Under the appeal, WFP says it planned to assist up to 750,000 displaced people in Iraq.
UNICEF today launched its Humanitarian Action Report for 2008, calling on donors to provide $856 million to help children and women in emergencies in 39 different countries around the world. The report contains information on countries experiencing severe political crises, such as Chad and Kenya, as well as countries struck by severe natural disasters, such as Mozambique. The report also highlights the worrying trend of women and children increasingly falling victim to systematic rape, which is often used as a weapon of war by different groups. We have more on this upstairs.
The first ever global forum to fight human trafficking will take place in Vienna starting tomorrow and lasting through Friday. The forum, which is a joint endeavour by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, will bring together 1,200 experts, legislators, business leaders, representatives of law enforcement teams and non-governmental organizations, and trafficking victims from 116 countries. Participants will include Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, actress Emma Thompson and pop star Ricky Martin. We have more on this upstairs.
**Valentine’s Flowers and Chocolates
Everyone likes flowers and chocolates, and Valentine’s Day is certainly the time when the giving and receiving of those is at its peak. DPI is organizing a briefing on Valentine’s Day titled “Valentine’s Day Flowers and Chocolates: To Give or Not to Give”. The briefing will look at how this day came into existence, as well as why and how we love. The guest speakers will also discuss the not-so-romantic realities behind these annual gifts of love, and some rather grim labour rights issues as they pertain to the cut-flower and chocolate industries. An award-winning film on labour issues surrounding the cut-flower and chocolate industry, produced by the ILO, will be screened at 10 a.m. tomorrow. There’s a press release in my office with more details if you want to attend.
This is all I have for you. Thank you. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: My question is, President Bush is reportedly cutting back on funding of peacekeeping missions in several African countries, reportedly more than $193 million. Any response by the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: I have to first have confirmation from DPKO that this has been the case.
Question: Okay. My other question is, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) had said that they were not approached by Hamas in their offer of 16 seized convoys, and said they were reportedly seized from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society, although the UN Spokesman’s Office had told me yesterday that they were in fact approached, but they had said no, they didn’t accept the offer. Do you have any developments on that?
Spokesperson: No, what we have is what we said. Apparently, the people we talked to this morning said that they had not been approached.
Question: Were the police in East Timor able to capture those people who caused the problem and how is the health of the Prime Minister and the President? What was the core of the problem?
Spokesperson: Well, this we don’t have. The core of the problem is something to be assessed by people there. As you know, the incidents were widely reported and the Government gave its assessment of what happened and investigations are still going on to try and find out exactly what happened and how it happened. Yes?
Question: As you know, the Secretary-General has given top priority to climate change and the world has done so too. Is the Secretary-General entertaining any thoughts about restructuring the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and making it more visible and reforming it in such a manner as he did for the Peacekeeping and Political Affairs Departments?
Spokesperson: Well those two situations are quite different. In the case of Peacekeeping, they are part of the Secretariat, which is not the case for UNEP, which is a separate agency as you know.
Question: But is he thinking of doing something to bring up the importance of this programme UNEP?
Spokesperson: Well, I think UNEP has been very active on a number of fronts. Maybe in New York you don’t feel it as much, but they have been very active throughout the world on a number of climate change issues. Yes, Benny?
Question: What’s the labour industry problem?
Spokesperson: Well, you’ll find out. If you go to the briefing tomorrow, you’ll find out.
Question: My god, there’s labour problems in the chocolate industry?
Spokesperson: Isn’t that terrible? Yes Matthew?
Question: The Chadian Prime Minister is quoted as saying that they can’t take any more refugees if they don’t receive UN help, and they may push them back. What’s the UN response to that?
Spokesperson: Well, we’re waiting for a formal request. As you know, everything is being done in terms of capabilities; we’ve already said what was being done for the refugees coming. For the time being, I don’t have a reaction to what the Government said. What I can say is that everything is being done at this point by the UN agencies to help the people crossing the border right now.
Question: And also there’ve been different reports of the Lord’s Resistance Army being back in action killing people in Southern Sudan. There seems to be some reports that say as high as 136 killed in the last two weeks; some say 36. Since this is in South Sudan, there’s the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS). What does the UN know about this? Can they confirm that the Lord’s Resistance Army is back in conflict or not?
Spokesperson: Well, I can try to find out more for you. I’ll have more details from the ground. Yes, Masood?
Question: About this Scotland Yard inquiry into the killing of Benazir Bhutto, there’s been a new call from the party that a United Nations inquiry be held into her murder. Now, I just wondered, you have made the position of the United Nations here, is there anything that the Secretary-General can do in order to bring it to the attention again of the Security Council? Because the Security Council has issued one statement that this issue needs to be revisited.
Spokesperson: Well, this is a call for the Security Council.
Question: The question is, can the Secretary-General bring this to the Council’s attention?
Spokesperson: I’m sure he will. He has brought up the situation, after the assassination, in his conversations with Security Council members. In terms of what he can do further, I don’t have any answer for you yet.
Question: Are there any developments regarding the composition of the panel on staff security?
Spokesperson: It is being actively worked on right now by Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi and I hope to have some news for you at the end of the week.
Question: Is Mr. Brahimi in New York?
Spokesperson: Not today, but he will be at the end of this week.
Question: Any indication who’ll replace Mr. [Geir] Pedersen?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that at this point.
Question: The Secretary-General had a meeting with the Slovenian President. Did they discuss Kosovo and, if so, how so?
Spokesperson: I can get the readout for you. You can get that from my Office.
Question: And also, it seems the ACABQ has looked at the Secretary-General’s proposal to add 103 new posts in the Department of Political Affairs and has come back with the recommendation that there be only 60 new posts. What’s the Secretariat view? Would that still be a useful addition, or does the Secretariat maintain that 103 are needed?
Spokesperson: We’ll try to find out. Thank you very much.
[The following answer was later provided to the correspondent: The ACABQ’s report (document A/62/7/Add.32) on the Secretary-General’s proposals for strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs supported the concept and rationale of the Secretary-General and recommended approval of approximately two thirds of the resources proposed. The issue now goes to the Fifth Committee. It is the Member States who ultimately have the say over the budget, but as this discussion continues, the Secretariat will continue to make the case for the full funding of the Secretary-General’s proposals, which were developed based on a careful assessment of what the Department of Political Affairs needs to carry out its mandated work. The Secretary-General remains strongly convinced that strengthening the Department of Political Affairs is a modest investment with a potentially big payoff in that the United Nations will be in a better position to use diplomatic means to prevent and resolve conflicts before they turn into larger and costlier tragedies.]
* *** *For information media • not an official record