10 November 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices 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.


**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.


The Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., where this morning he was meeting with White House officials dealing with climate change.  In the afternoon, he will meet with Congressional leaders to talk about the status of international climate change negotiations.  A press encounter is being arranged by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon.  We’ll have that transcript later today.


** Lebanon


In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed the formation of a National Unity Government in Lebanon.  He expresses his satisfaction that, five months after the parliamentary elections of 7 June, Lebanese political leaders have been able to reach agreement on the formation of a cabinet.  The Secretary-General hopes that Lebanese political leaders will continue to work together in a spirit of unity, dialogue and cooperation.


The Secretary-General calls on the new Government of Lebanon to recommit to the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  He also urges the new Government to quickly take up the challenges that remain to consolidating both the sovereignty of Lebanon and the institutional capacity of the Lebanese State, as called for in the Taif Agreement and Security Council resolutions.


**Security Council


The Security Council also discussed the formation of the new Government in Lebanon, in consultations about the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).  Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, briefed Council members.  He presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on resolution 1701, in which the Secretary-General expresses his serious concern at the recent incidents that have taken place in the area of operations of the UN Interim Force, UNIFIL.  The Secretary-General condemns all violations of resolution 1701 and calls for increased vigilance.


Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet also briefed the Security Council on UNIFIL’s work.  The consultations have finished, and Mr. Williams will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout shortly.


**Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East


The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today in Ramallah.  During the meeting, Serry conveyed the Secretary-General’s strong support for President Abbas’ leadership.  He also called that leadership a “precious asset” which “is now in jeopardy”.  He added that President Abbas’ announcement last week was a “loud and clear wake-up call”.


Serry reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for a freeze on all settlement activity.  He said:  “Either we go forward decisively to a two-State solution, in accordance with Security Council resolutions, or we risk sliding backwards.”  We have his full statement upstairs.


** Yemen


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is extremely concerned about the recent escalation of the conflict in northern Yemen and its impact on the civilian population.  The agency has again appealed for the protection of civilians and secure and unhindered access for humanitarian workers to deliver much-needed assistance.


Displaced families from the embattled Sa’ada governorate continue to arrive at Al Mazrak camp, where the past two days have seen a significant increase in the number of arrivals.  On average, 130 to 140 families arrived at the camp on both Saturday and Sunday, and another 80 families arrived yesterday.


Meanwhile, the UNHCR office in Riyadh was informed yesterday by the Saudi authorities that the situation at the Alp border is stable, allowing UNHCR to continue its cross-border activities.  The refugee agency is hopeful that it will receive security clearances from the Saudi authorities for the next aid convoy in the coming days.  The agency now estimates that some 175,000 people have been affected by the conflict in Yemen since 2004, including those displaced by the latest fighting.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


New details are emerging on the early November inter-ethnic clashes in the Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The UN refugee agency, working jointly with Congolese authorities, now puts at 21,800 the number of people who fled into a neighbouring country.  The overwhelming majority of them are women and children.  And they are now living in precarious conditions along the Oubangi River, which is part of the Republic of Congo’s border with the DRC.  Meanwhile, they have received UNHCR blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and jerry cans.


In interviews with UNHCR staff, these refugees described a scene of rampaging rival tribesmen going door to door, pillaging, raping and killing.  The refugees also confirmed earlier reports that the violence was the result of a dispute over farming and fishing rights.


** Somalia


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that some 16,000 people have been displaced by flooding in the southern regions of Somalia.  River embankments were damaged, latrines collapsed and shallow wells were contaminated, with forecasters predicting more flooding in the coming weeks.  A UN contingency plan was devised to assist some 450,000 residents of southern Somalia, should more flooding occur.


Meanwhile, Somalia’s mounting humanitarian needs have not translated into more funding from international donors.  In fact, OCHA says that funding for Somalia has dropped by some 40 per cent this year.  This leaves UN humanitarian agencies with some $507 million out of the requested $850 million.


** El Salvador


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has released a cash grant of $50,000 to help provide emergency relief to thousands of people hit by Hurricane Ida in El Salvador.


Meanwhile, a UN disaster assessment and coordination team and members of OCHA’s regional office in Panama have started arriving in El Salvador to support damage assessments and help coordinate the relief effort there.  For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided 100,000 water purification tablets.  And the World Food Programme is preparing to hand out enough high-energy biscuits for 10,000 people over a period of four days.


**Food Prices


The poorest countries are still suffering from high food prices and 31 nations are affected by critical food insecurity and require emergency assistance.  That’s according to the latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), ahead of the World Summit on Food Security.  That Summit will be held in Rome next week.


FAO says the situation is particularly serious in Eastern Africa, where drought and conflict have put an estimated 20 million people in need of food aid.  There is more in a press release upstairs.


**Influenza A (H1N1)


The World Health Organization announced today that it has signed an agreement with the health-care company GlaxoSmithKline.  Under that agreement, the company will donate 50 million doses of pandemic H1N1 vaccine to WHO.  WHO will now work to see that these vaccines are distributed to those who need them in developing countries.  We have more on that upstairs.


**United Nations Development Programme


Today in Madrid, UN Development Programme Administrator (UNDP) Helen Clark and Spain’s Secretary of State for International Cooperation signed a multi-year Strategic Partnership Agreement for close to €400 million.


This new commitment from Spain will go towards UNDP projects aimed at reducing poverty and tackling climate change.  It will also go towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and fostering democratic governance, conflict prevention and recovery, and peacebuilding, as well as supporting UN reform.


That’s it from me.  I believe that at the stakeout shortly we expect the Security Council President to discuss the consultations on Lebanon and also Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon will also be at the stakeout.  Are there any questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure, Farhan, a couple of questions.  One is, I wanted to know if the Secretary-General or the Secretariat had received a letter from a former UN staff member in the Congo, Mr. Dimandja, who said that he became targeted by militias for having served the UN there.  And if the UN did receive the letter, whether they called the New York City Police Department in order to tell him to stay away from the UN.


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have the guidance on that right now.  I do know that we are looking into precisely that question.  I’d refer you over to our colleagues in the Department of Field Support, but we’ll also try and follow up with them.


Question:  I guess I want to understand before getting that answer, in a general way, if UN national staff believe themselves to have been put in danger by their service to the UN, what does the UN do for them?


Associate Spokesperson:  The UN tries to take care of all of our national staff as best we can, but that’s a general position without getting into the specifics of this case.  For the specifics of this case, we’ll inquire further.


Question:  I want to know the Secretary-General’s response to the announcement by Mahmoud Abbas that he will not run for a new mandate.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe the Secretary-General has made it clear that he, like his Special Coordinator, Robert Serry, sees this announcement as a wake-up call.  The Secretary-General will continue to work closely with President Abbas in the time ahead, and we continue to have confidence in his efforts to deal with the peace process.  Beyond that, I would refer you to the full statement that Mr. Serry put out today, which we mentioned just now.


Question:  Hi.  About this white powder submissions that were found at some missions yesterday.  Do you have any details about that?  I hear there are four embassies, including Germans.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  We’ve seen those reports.  We’ve also been informed by the relevant authorities about the suspicious packages received at certain UN Missions and the steps taken to deal with them.  As far as we are aware, all appropriate security measures are being taken by host country law-enforcement authorities.  Beyond that I’d refer you to the New York Police Department and to the missions themselves.


Question:  Farhan, does this firing back and forth between ships of South Korea and North Korea for the first time in seven years ‑‑ does the, particularly the Secretary-General, have any comments on this?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, the Secretary-General is closely watching the situation on the Korean peninsula.  He calls for maximum restraint by both parties.  This incident highlights the need to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue and in a peaceful manner.


Question:  What about the thing about the UN appointing some kind of an envoy to replace the mandate that Maurice Strong used to have?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first off, you had a question and we [now] have the answer.  We are aware of the case of the former MONUC local staff member and have seen the e-mail in which he threatened to stop the Secretary-General’s vehicle.  While I’m not going to discuss the particulars of Mr Dimandja’s claims, I can tell you that the Department of Field Support is deeply concerned and has been in touch with the Staff Union in New York, which is actively involved in looking at ways to address this situation.


Question:  When you said “I’m not”, that’s you?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question: You used that quote.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  When I refer to myself as “I”, I am referring to me.


Question:  When they hand you a statement and you read it, I’m not sure who the “I” is, but it’s okay.


Can I ask you, yesterday Michèle had said that the reason that the transcript of the question-and-answer of the Secretary-General on Friday about Afghanistan didn’t go online was for technical reasons; but I’m looking at it off the cuff, it never went out.  It seems like in the past it’s always gone out.  What is the technical reason?  Is it because he was too detailed on security steps in Afghanistan?  Why hasn’t that either been e-mailed to all of the press here or put online?


Associate Spokesperson:  This isn’t the first time we’ve had problems with transcription.  We did have problems that afternoon just transcribing some of this, some of the audio concerning some of this was a problem.  And so we didn’t want to go out with something that seemed imprecise.


Question:  So you’re never going to put out a transcript.  I’ve see transcripts e-mailed out by your office to some journalists here, so I’m wondering why it didn’t go to all journalists?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think we were able to verify the reliability of the transcript in terms of the quality value.  And with that, have a good afternoon.


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