|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Press Conference Today
Okay, we’re going to try and go through this briefing fairly quickly so that just after it, we will have with us Srgjan Kerim, the President of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, and Ted Turner, Chairman of Turner Enterprises and the UN Foundation, who will brief you on the Millennium Development Goals. And Mr. Turner is also expected to announce a new initiative to eliminate malaria deaths in the next generation. So we should have that once we’re done with this part of the briefing. That will be at approximately 12:30, possibly a little earlier than that.
I have two statements for you.
**Statement on Zimbabwe
First of all, there’s a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on Zimbabwe.
The Secretary-General has been closely following the situation in Zimbabwe, where results are still emerging from last weekend’s elections. As the counting and tabulation of votes continues, he calls for continued calm and he urges the utmost transparency be exercised so that the people of Zimbabwe can have full confidence in the process.
**Statement on Chad-Sudan
Also, we have a statement concerning the situation on the Chad-Sudan border.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by reports of continued movement of rebel groups across the Chadian-Sudanese border and by the possibility that these groups may launch cross-border attacks. The Secretary-General calls on the Governments of Chad and Sudan to uphold their commitments under the 13 March Dakar Accord and to make every effort to ensure that rebel groups do not use their territory as a staging ground for incursions.
The Secretary-General calls on the Contact Group established under the Dakar Accord to work with the parties in facilitating the implementation of the Accord and he reminds the parties that the United Nations stands ready to do everything within its capacity to assist them in stabilizing the border region.
And both of those statements are available upstairs.
**Secretary-General’s Travel to Bucharest
The Secretary-General will arrive in Bucharest, Romania, tomorrow, where on Thursday he will attend an international meeting on Afghanistan. This meeting will be attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and key international stakeholders, including high-level representatives of the NATO membership, of non-NATO contributing nations of the International Security Assistance Force, and representatives of key international organizations, such as the European Union and the World Bank. Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will conduct bilateral meetings with some of the leaders attending the NATO Summit that is also taking place in Bucharest. While he is in the country, the Secretary-General will also meet with the President and Prime Minister of Romania.
Concerning Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today welcomed the call made by Sayed Muqtada al Sadr for a stand-down of the armed presences in Basra and other flashpoints in the country, enhancing the climate for a ceasefire, and he acknowledged that the Government’s quick response was a positive measure. Mr. de Mistura hopes that the return of calm will allow the Iraqi Government, the United Nations and other bodies to accelerate the delivery of emergency aid into the affected areas.
Yesterday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, David Shearer, arrived in Basra to work with the Iraqi authorities and an emergency cell that was set up by the Government of Iraq to deal with the humanitarian situation, to make a rapid assessment and develop an appropriate response. Mr. de Mistura also expressed concern over human rights violations committed during the armed clashes and emphasized to all those involved their obligations to minimize harm to civilians. We have more in a press release upstairs.
With the start of a new month, we also have a new Security Council President, with South Africa replacing Russia as Council President for April. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa is holding bilateral discussions with other Council members today on the programme of work for this month, and the Council expects to hold consultations on that topic tomorrow. Ambassador Kumalo will brief you tomorrow in this room at 12:30 to discuss the Security Council’s work over the coming month.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, known as UNMIK, is now out on the racks. In it, he reiterates that, since Kosovo’s declaration of independence, UNMIK continues to operate on the understanding that resolution 1244 (1999) remains in force unless the Security Council decides otherwise. The Secretary-General adds that Kosovo’s declaration of independence and subsequent events have posed significant challenges to UNMIK’s ability to exercise its administrative authority in Kosovo. He says the evolving reality is likely to have significant operational implications for UNMIK. Pending Security Council guidance, there might be a need for UNMIK to adjust its operational deployment to deal with developments and changes on the ground in a manner consistent with resolution 1244 (1999).
Also in the report, the Secretary-General stresses that any violence, whether directed at UNMIK personnel or facilities or against members of any of Kosovo’s communities, is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. In that context, he urges all sides to reaffirm and act upon their commitments to refrain from any actions or statements that could endanger peace, lead to violence or jeopardize security in Kosovo and the region.
He concludes by saying that the UN’s efforts in Kosovo are aimed at ensuring that the political and security situations in Kosovo and the wider region remain stable, and that the safety and security of the population are preserved. And that report is out on the racks.
**Secretary-General on MDGs
In his remarks to the General Assembly’s Thematic Debate on the Millennium Development Goals this morning, the Secretary-General stressed that, although a real difference has been made to achieve the Goals, the world is still falling short of its capabilities and many countries remain off track. Reiterating that 2008 should mark a turning point in progress towards the Goals, the Secretary-General said that the UN is working to increase internal coordination and streamline procedures to help countries achieve the Goals. Adding that various forums, including September’s high-level meeting on Africa’s development, are set to convene this year, the Secretary-General expressed hope that this kind of gathering will send a strong message to Governments to rise to the challenge of providing financing for development. And we have his remarks upstairs.
**Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council is set to wrap up its seventh session today in Geneva by hearing closing statements and adopting its report to the General Assembly. During this session, the Human Rights Council adopted 36 resolutions. It decided to create a new mandate, that of the independent expert on access to drinking water and sanitation. It also asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake two new studies, one compiling relevant existing legislations and jurisprudence concerning defamation of and contempt for religions, and the other on the relationship between climate change and human rights. The Human Rights Council also asked its Advisory Committee to recommend new measures to promote the realization of the right to food. And we have more on that and other topics upstairs.
** Iraq Displaced Persons
The UN Refugee Agency says that, according to a report by the working group on internally displaced persons in Iraq, it is estimated that over 2.77 million people are currently displaced inside that country. Of these, 1.2 million were displaced before 2006 and more than 1.5 million were displaced in 2006 and 2007. Most of the post-2006 displaced persons come from Baghdad and Diyala. The report notes that new displacement is continuing at a much lower pace than in the previous two years, although new secondary displacement has been reported in Baghdad. And we have more details in today’s UNHCR briefing notes.
The World Food Programme’s Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, is in Ethiopia today. She’s on a three-day visit to that country and to Kenya to highlight the impact of soaring food and fuel costs. Today, she addressed the joint African Union-Economic Commission for Africa conference on the impact of spiralling food and fuel prices in Africa. She was also scheduled to visit a wheat distribution centre and meet with grain traders and local residents. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that food security in Ethiopia continues to be a concern despite rainfall in some areas. Ethiopians are resorting to borrowing food and slaughtering calves, OCHA says. Tomorrow, Ms. Sheeran heads to Kenya for a two-day visit to WFP’s current operations there, including those in response to post-election violence. And we have more information upstairs.
On Madagascar, we have an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on relief efforts in Madagascar following Cyclone Ivan. Relief items are being distributed in the affected areas, mainly in the east of the country. The World Food Programme has started an air operation, while UNICEF has distributed blankets to more than 1,400 families. It has also hired a helicopter to conduct intensive vaccination activities and delivered 6,000 mosquito nets to village leaders and mayors. In addition, some 150,000 affected people received water and sanitation kits, including buckets, water purifiers and metal cups. UNICEF also set up 25 tents to speed up the return of children to school.
**International Court of Justice
And last, on the International Court of Justice, ICJ yesterday fixed deadlines for the filing of initial pleadings in the maritime dispute between Peru and Chile. The Court has asked Peru to submit its filing by 20 March 2009, while Chile was given until 9 March 2010 to file its counter-claim. The Court said this decision came after consulting with the parties and reassessing the circumstances of the case. This case began in January, when Peru filed a complaint against Chile over “the delimitation of the boundary between the maritime zones of the two States in the Pacific Ocean” and sought to have its jurisdiction recognized over a “maritime zone lying within 200 nautical miles of Peru’s coast”, a perception that is disputed by Chile. Also yesterday, ICJ confirmed that Ecuador has seized the Court of its dispute with Colombia over Colombia’s alleged aerial spraying of toxic herbicides at locations near, at and across its border with Ecuador. And we have a press release on that upstairs.
Do we have any questions? After this we will have, as I mentioned, Srgjan Kerim, the President of the General Assembly, and Ted Turner to talk to you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Can you confirm a report that UN aid workers have been kidnapped in Somalia?
Spokesperson: They are in fact not UN aid workers. The two men abducted this morning are employees of a private company which is called Genysis International Corporation. Genysis has been contracted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to carry out an aerial survey and prepare maps that will assist in bringing help to populations affected by the regular flooding of the Juba and Shebelle Rivers. FAO can confirm that the incident took place on the road between Saakow and Bu’aale in Middle Juba, and that one British and one Kenyan national were involved. At the same time, FAO informs us that it is up to Genysis to confirm the names of the two individuals, and we can give you the contact information for Genysis International upstairs.
Question: The Secretary-General has always wanted to increase the involvement of the UN in Iraq. In that context, has the UN played any role to end the conflict between the militias and the State, or the international force that is there? And also, is the UN disappointed in the U.S. to provide security or increase security in Iraq?
Spokesperson: In terms of security in Iraq, I would just refer you back to the statement that was issued by Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, welcoming the recent statements by the various leaders that he believes can help lessen the tensions in Basra and the region, and allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid there. For our part, what we’re trying to do is build on these actions that have been contributing to calming the situation by trying to step up our own efforts to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian aid in and around Basra. And so that is where we’re focusing and we don’t have any comment on the actions taken by specific militias beyond, like I said, welcoming the recent efforts to try and resolve this matter.
Question: The newly elected Government in Pakistan has been giving statements about peace talks with the Taliban. What is the Secretary-General’s view on it? Does he favour peace talks with the Taliban?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is going to meet with a number of people in the coming days about Afghanistan. There’s a high-level meeting involving NATO and the International Security Assistance Force, like I just mentioned, that is taking place in Bucharest on Thursday. So he’s going to see what the views are at large in terms of how to deal with the security situation in the south and elsewhere. And we can discuss the matter further from there. At this stage, he’s simply wanting to see what the different parties are going to say and he will talk, by the way, among others, with President Hamid Karzai while he’s in Bucharest.
Question: To follow up on that, does the Secretary-General think, since he’s going to Bucharest, there are enough NATO or ISAF troops in Afghanistan, or is he going to want to see more? Is the Secretary-General going to lobby for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan under ISAF?
Spokesperson: That’s a discussion that the NATO and non-NATO ISAF participants are going to have while they’re in Bucharest. Obviously, he encourages as much support on a variety of levels for the Afghan people as possible, not simply in terms of troops but in terms of humanitarian support and political support. So to that extent, we are also, as you know, trying to do as much as we can under the new Special Representative, Kai Eide, and the new mandate that was given to us last week by the Security Council.
Question: There are reports that UNMIK in Kosovo has alleged that Serbian Interior Ministry personnel were in Mitrovica when this courthouse incident took place and that somehow they have an office there, something that Serbia rejects. Is that what UNMIK is alleging and, if so, based on what evidence?
Spokesperson: I’ll have to look into that. I hadn’t heard of that before.
Question: Also, there’s a letter from the parliamentarians in Myanmar that were elected but never seated in 1990, to parliamentarians world-wide, fairly critical of the UN and saying that Ban Ki-moon’s response has been weak on Myanmar and has not been strong enough. Meanwhile, there’s a report that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can’t run for president because she had been married to a British gentleman since deceased. What’s Ban’s response to this critique and what’s the UN’s position on whether Aung San Suu Kyi should be able to run for president in Mayanmar?
Spokesperson: Both the Secretary-General and his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, have repeatedly stressed that progress can be made, albeit slowly and incrementally, through the role of good offices that we’ve been playing and through the process of engaging with authorities. I refer you back to what Mr. Gambari recently told the Security Council. He had mentioned some of his own disappointment about the most recent trip and yet at the same time he did stress that the process did continue, that it has been bearing results, and he also pointed out that even this last visit had some concrete results and he was able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi twice, as well as with senior Myanmar officials. So we’re continuing with that process and we certainly hope that we will have as much support as we can get to keep going with this and to see what we can do to contribute to the process of normalization and democratization in Myanmar.
As for your second question, we have repeatedly called for a process that is as inclusive as possible and we will continue to do so. Of course, we’re going to wait and see what the final result is of this constitutional process.
Question: On Zimbabwe, the Secretary-General is calling for utmost transparency. There’s some talk it might go into a presidential run-off. In those circumstances, is the UN thinking it might be able to offer election monitors?
Spokesperson: I don’t really want to speculate on what might happen. At this stage, we haven’t received any requests and we hadn’t received any requests for the first round, as well. So we’ll have to wait and see what develops. Obviously, as I just mentioned, we’re hopeful that as much transparency as possible will be exercised. And we’ll see where we’ll go from there.
Question: For the record, with reference to this Peru-Chile controversy, just for the record, are both those countries claiming a 200 nautical mile limit? I remember learning this years ago. The impression I get from your remarks is that Chile does but Peru, I would think, the way you spoke of it, does not. Is that correct?
Spokesperson: As I said, Peru sought to have its jurisdiction recognized, and this is a quote, over a “maritime zone lying within 200 nautical miles of Peru’s coast”. And the other thing I wanted to point out is that Chile disputes that as a perception. So that is something ICJ is trying to look into.
Question: So do I have it backwards, then? Does Chile not claim a 200 mile limit?
Spokesperson: I’d refer you to the ICJ release for more details. What Chile disputes is the part I just quoted, which is Peru’s claim of the 200 mile limit.
Question: You mentioned that there is no request for election monitors in Zimbabwe. If it ever has to come, does it have to come from the executive branch or can it come from the opposition party?
Spokesperson: Once again, I’d try not get into a speculative question. At this stage, we’ve received no request from any side on this and we have no role to play right now. Obviously, if that changes, what it would entail is a request from Zimbabwe. I don’t know what form that would need to take.
Question: Does it have to come from the executive branch when the UN sends election monitors?
Spokesperson: It would come from the relevant Zimbabwean authorities. It could come, for example, from the electoral authorities. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and let’s wait to see whether anything comes in at all.
Question: Now that it’s been confirmed that President [Idriss] Deby of Chad has pardoned the Zoe’s Ark workers that kidnapped children and they’re going to be released from jail in France, does the UN have any comment on how that relates to impunity?
Spokesperson: I don’t think we’d have any comment on a bilateral decision between countries on pardons. The right of pardon, if it’s exercised by a Government, is a sovereign right and I don’t have any particular comment on that.
We have already made our comment about the situation of Zoe’s Ark and we have, of course, continued to try and help bring these children back to their families, and we stand by those efforts. As for what these countries are doing, I wouldn’t have a comment on that, no.
And with that, I will leave you. My colleague, Janos Tisovszky, will introduce, in a few minutes, the President of the General Assembly, President Kerim, as well as Ted Turner, the Chairman of Turner Enterprises. That should be in about five minutes. Thanks.
* *** *For information media • not an official record