|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.
Good afternoon everyone, and thanks for coming.
I see that we have available right now, as you can see, Edmond Mulet, the Acting Special Representative for the Secretary-General for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). He is joining us by video conference, and with him is his adviser, Michèle Montas, whom you well know. And I think without further ado, let’s bring them on stage. Mr. Mulet, Michèle, welcome.
[Briefing on Haiti by Mr. Mulet issued separately.]
Thanks. Now, if you will bear with me while we say goodbye to our guest. Thanks, again and we will have another briefing with MINUSTAH on Wednesday. I believe Michèle will be back for that.
I’m just going to read a few notes concerning in particular the Secretary-General’s activities over the past few days.
**Secretary-General in Cyprus
The Secretary-General is in Cyprus today, where he met separately with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias, before meeting the two of them together. The Secretary-General made brief remarks at a press conference afterwards and read out a joint statement on behalf of the two leaders, who then answered some questions.
The Secretary-General said: “This has been a productive and constructive day.” He said that, today, the world is seeing two leaders who are rising to the challenge. And he added that he is encouraged that the two leaders personally assured him of their shared commitment to a comprehensive solution as early as possible.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General visited the Ledra crossing, almost two years after it was opened by the two leaders in April 2008. And we have his remarks at that event in the Spokesperson’s Office.
**Secretary-General in Addis Ababa
The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa yesterday, telling the gathered African leaders that the resurgence of unconstitutional changes of Government on that continent is a matter of serious concern. He warned that we must also guard against the manipulation of established processes to retain power.
The Secretary-General said that he is horrified and outraged by the use of rape as a weapon of war. In his effort to deal with the matter, he said that he has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission, as his Special Representative to intensify efforts to end sexual violence against women and children in conflict areas.
While in Addis Ababa, he also announced his intention to appoint Haile Menkerios, currently Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, as the next head of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
Also on Sudan, the Secretary-General in Addis Ababa, addressed a meeting on the Sudan hosted by the Chairperson of the African Union. In his remarks, he said that while the Comprehensive Peace Agreement provides for elections and referenda, these are not ends in themselves.
And while he urges the parties to speed up efforts to make unity attractive, the Secretary-General also reminded them that planned referenda in Southern Sudan and Abyei must be held without hindrance and their results must be duly respected. In that regard, he urged the parties to reach an agreement on key post-referendum arrangements. And we have his remarks at that meeting available online.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Also, we posted to the web and have available in the Spokesperson’s Office a statement that we issued over the weekend concerning the visit of a Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe will visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from 9 to 12 February 2010 as a Special Envoy of the Secretary-General.
Mr. Pascoe will discuss with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea officials all issues of mutual interest and concern in a comprehensive manner. He will also meet with the United Nations country team, and members of the diplomatic corps, and will visit several United Nations project sites. Pascoe will also visit China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
On Iraq, Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today expressed his profound shock and sadness at the mass killing and wounding of innocent pilgrims heading to the city of Karbala, to participate in the religious rite of Arba’en.
Melkert described today’s suicide bombing as “a horrific crime committed against defenceless journeying pilgrims, practicing their faith”. And we have that statement available in the Spokesperson’s office.
Also today, the Secretary-General has appointed Major General Natalio C. Ecarma of the Philippines as the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF). And Major General Ecarma will succeed Major General Wolfgang Jilke of Austria.
The Secretary-General is grateful to Major General Jilke for his outstanding service and leadership of UNDOF over the past three years. And we have Major General Ecarma’s bio in the Spokesperson’s Office.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
And last, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that it has collected reliable information indicating that some 100 civilians were killed in an attack by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 13 January. And the killings reportedly took place in the DRC’s Orientale Province. Meanwhile, the UN Mission in that country (MONUC) says it has confirmed the killing on 14 December of another 100 civilians by the same Lord’s Resistance Army.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
For press conferences tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference with representatives from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Human Security Association, to introduce the “Power of Muze” concert, which will take place this coming Wednesday, at Carnegie Hall.
That concert is in support of the United Nations aims to raise awareness of human security issues, and kick off further initiatives to promote human security globally.
And at 12:20 p.m. tomorrow, after this briefing, the President of the Security Council will be here to brief you on the programme of work for the month of February. France has assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council for this month, and they’re expected to have their first consultations on the programme of work tomorrow morning.
And with that, Barbara.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just in terms of the Israeli decision to reprimand two commanders for the white phosphorus, is there any reaction about that from the Secretary-General, and in particular does that mean, I mean, is this being seen as a step that meets the Goldstone requirements?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any remarks or any comment on that just yet. What I can tell you is the Secretary-General is preparing his own response to the General Assembly, in accordance with the provisions of General Assembly resolution 64/10 which was passed last November, and we’re hoping that will be available towards the end of this week, and that will include an update concerning the implementation of the General Assembly resolution.
Question: Can I follow up?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: On the same subject together, like Human Rights Watch issued a statement, I think end of last week, criticizing what they said was the Hamas response handed to the United Nations in Gaza. So, again, can you clarify to us whether you’ve received Hamas’ response, especially that, obviously Human Rights Watch have got it?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage the only thing I can confirm is that we have received replies from the Palestinian Authority, that is to say from the Palestine Observer Mission, as well as from the Swiss Mission to the United Nations. And we’d also received communications, as I confirmed on Friday, from the Government of Israel. That is all I can say on that at this stage.
Question: So, you’re denying that you got anything from Hamas?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have anything, I can’t confirm at this stage the official receipt of a reply. But, like I said, the Secretary-General’s own response is being worked on, so we may have some further information later this week.
Associate Spokesperson: That would be also in response to the General Assembly request. I believe there was some information regarding the Geneva Conventions. Yes.
Question: The Secretary-General went to London for the conference on Afghanistan, but I believe Yemen was also going to be discussed at that conference. Do you have any information about that?
Associate Spokesperson: We actually did mention last week that the Secretary-General did not attend this meeting, but Mr Pascoe attended. And if you look back, we did provide some information in the middle of last week about what Mr. Pascoe and others discussed during the London meeting on Yemen. So, we can refer you back to that. Yes.
Question: I’d like to make a request for the temperature in this room to be raised somewhat, if possible. (laughter)
Question: It’s bloody cold in here!
Associate Spokesperson: Really?
Question: Yes! It’s freezing.
Associate Spokesperson: I actually think of myself as oversensitive to cold, and I didn’t notice that.
Question: Maybe it’s all directed at us.
Associate Spokesperson: Oh, Okay. Yeah, yeah. You see, if all of you come here, then you’ll be warm because the lights kind of create a…
Question: Yeah, exactly. We’re all freezing.
Associate Spokesperson: Okay. Yes, Errol.
Question: Yes, Farhan, the Secretary-General said actually that, as a citizen of Korea, if I’m right, he understands the emptiness of a country divided into North and South, addressing Cyprus. What did he mean with that?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, in this case, the Secretary-General was doing, he shared his personal reflection as a citizen of the Republic of Korea, and, as he put it, he said he had seen for himself the sad reality of living in a divided country. And so, it’s at that stage that he offered a feeling of sympathy for the people of Cyprus. It’s simply in that regard.
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, Matthew.
Question: Sure, Farhan. There are these reports from Somalia, the AU peacekeepers getting into a fire fight and firing into civilian areas, and killing civilians. I’m wondering, since the UN is now providing logistical support to the peacekeeping, can you confirm that there have been casualties from AU fire and what it is doing to safeguard [inaudible]?
Associate Spokesperson: Hold on, bear with me for a second. In terms of that, I can’t confirm fire by the African Union. You’d have to ask them on that. As for the latest violence, we believe that this latest violence does not signal a gain in strength for Al-Shabaab and for the insurgency as whole, nor does it indicate a change in the power balance in Mogadishu.
Despite the low level of financial support it has received from the international community, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has managed to repel and survive countless insurgent attacks, in part thanks to the performance of [the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)].
Despite all this, the TFG continues to operate in Mogadishu and is making progress in building its operational structure. And then, like I said, beyond that, you need to ask the African Union. Yes.
Question: Yes, I just have a question about Sudan, the meeting that you said the SG attended about Sudan in Addis Ababa. I think it was attended also by the Sudanese President, Omer Al-Bashir. Is this a shift of policy in the UN? I mean, the Secretary-General’s stand that he does not have contacts with the President of Sudan?
Associate Spokesperson: No, that’s not a shift in policy. As we’ve stated before, contacts between UN officials and persons indicted by the International Criminal Court are to be limited to what is strictly required for carrying out UN-mandated activities. And any such meeting should be seen in that respect. Certainly, the Secretary-General believed that it was important to attend this meeting that was also convened by the African Union on Sudan.
Question: Can you just give us some more detail? How was the atmosphere? What was exchanged between the president of Sudan and Ban Ki-moon? I mean, like any special requests that he made to him?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have anything in particular to convey about that. The specifics of what the Secretary-General’s views were of the meeting and of the way forward on Sudan are actually contained in his remarks to the Sudan meeting, which are available on our website.
Question: I just have one…
Associate Spokesperson: If I can vary it up a bit. Yes, Matthew.
Question: There is this report put out by Global Witness about how peacekeeping should… steps that should be taken to crack down on conflict driven by resources, for example, in the Congo. They propose, among one of the proposals, is that DPKO, the UN Secretary-General make new a MoU with troop-contributing countries making… clarifying that there would be investigations, prosecution of peacekeepers if they’re involved in the exploitation or, you know, trading in natural resources. I’m wondering, I mean, one, if DPKO [inaudible], what’s its response? And two, what’s the current stage, what assurances does the UN have if peacekeepers are found to be exploiting or trading resources that they will not just be sent back to the country and nothing done, as some alleged took place with Indian peacekeepers in the Congo?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as you know, in the past, the UN has taken firm action against any peacekeepers who are believed to have been exploiting national, you know, natural resources of different countries. And they have investigated this and followed up with troop-contributing countries. I’d need to get some further details from DPKO in terms both of the precise actions in the past, and about their response to this particular Global Witness report since it’s a fairly extensive set of recommendations.
Question: Just one follow-up on that, maybe as part of your response to this. Is the firm action that the UN has taken, is it limited to repatriating peacekeepers? Or does the UN itself…?
Associate Spokesperson: No, no. Whenever there are any violations, not just in terms of the exploitation of natural resources, whenever there are any violations that are believed to have been taken by peacekeepers, not only is there repatriation, but there is also, the UN presses for follow-up action by the host country. You have to remember, the troop-contributing country is the one that has the authority over these troops. But, we always follow up with the relevant national authorities.
Question: [inaudible] is you ask the country to prosecute. But what’s done if they don’t do it?
Associate Spokesperson: There is always follow-up action. Like I said, we can try and see whether DPKO can provide further specifics on that. Yes.
Question: Just about the Goldstone again, what exactly are we going to expect? Will there be a formal handing over of the reply to the General Assembly? Will the Secretary-General speak to the General Assembly on Friday? Or what format is it going to take?
Associate Spokesperson: I think we’ll get more details as the week progresses. A lot of things are being considered. But I don’t have anything precise to announce just yet. But bear with us, in a few days we’ll have some more for you. Yes, Errol, and then…
Question: Just a little bit more on Cyprus. Is the Secretary-General concerned somehow since it was agreed that the negotiations are going to be within the framework of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, that some other chapters besides that you mentioned, the chapter on good governance, are not going to be properly addressed or that they are going to be a little bit slow going after, for example, property rights, especially on property rights?
Associate Spokesperson: There has been progress on a number of these issues. There has been progress on governance issues. The leaders have met with each other on property issues as well, several times in recent weeks. But, basically, the Secretary-General is very optimistic that a deal can be struck. He believes that these two leaders are the ones who can do it. And beyond that, I’d just refer you to what he said at the press conference, which took place just within the last couple of hours. Yes.
Question: Farhan, I have two questions, one on Lebanon and one on Yemen. On Lebanon, the release of the Lebanese citizen who was abducted by the Israeli forces over the weekend, what, how did the Israeli explain to UNIFIL their action?
Associate Spokesperson: UNIFIL did follow up on this, and we also have available in the Spokesperson’s Office remarks by Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, expressing his satisfaction that the issues has been resolved. So, I would refer you back to the full communiqué.
Associate Spokesperson: I can provide you with some further details later if you need.
Question: On Yemen, what are the arrangements the United Nations have taken in order to bring relief to the people, especially after the lull in the hostilities there?
Associate Spokesperson: Our humanitarian efforts in Yemen have continued. As you know, John Holmes has briefed you on this in the past, and in particular, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has been doing quite a lot work for the people who are displaced by fighting. We can try to provide you with another update when that comes out. But, normally, they provide. But the last such update was, in fact, just last Friday, and if you look at our website, we put in quite a bit of information about the amount of relief being provided for those displaced by the fighting.
Question: Since Friday, I mean, there is been a lot of developments. One of them is that there is some kind of ceasefire now.
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t actually have any comment on that. I believe that there some conflicting reports on that. Yes.
Question: Yes, Farhan, and also in Addis Ababa, the SG said that he expects a new round of talks between Morocco and Polisario to happen in mid-February. Is this a final date, or is this also a possible date like early January that could change?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I’d just go with what the Secretary-General said about that. He did refer to February. And certainly, this is what we’re looking at. I don’t have an official set of dates to announce just yet. But yes, we’re looking at mid-February as a time for the next round of informal talks. And hopefully we’ll have some official dates to announce. Not that much longer. And behind Matthew. Yes, you.
Question: Can you pass any more details about Lynn Pascoe’s trip to the DPRK, and what he hopes to accomplish there? And also if he’ll be speaking to DPRK authorities about Robert Park, the missionary that’s being held there, and a possible second American citizen that’s being held there?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, in terms of details, the only real thing to say is that this month’s trip is about discussing all issues of mutual interest and concern in a comprehensive manner. The delegation will meet with the UN country team, members of the diplomatic corps, and they will visit several UN project sites. I don’t have anything specific about Robert Park to say, but like I said, all issues of mutual interest and concern can be brought up. Yes.
Question: Actually, one more on that and then [inaudible] Uganda. It was right before the Secretary-General’s announcement of this trip to North Korea, Yonhap reported it and said that Mr. Pascoe and Kim Won-soo, the Deputy Chef de Cabinet will both be going. It said that nuclear issues will be discussed. But I wanted to know specifically about Mr. Kim. What’s… Can you confirm that he is going? In what capacity… What’s his, you know, what’s his role in going? And could we get a briefing by him after all this time that he’s been in that post?
Associate Spokesperson: In terms of that, he is simply one of the members of the delegation. There will be several members of the delegation going. However, the delegation is led by B. Lynn Pascoe as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General. But, yes, Mr. Kim will be one of the people there.
Question: On Uganda, I wanted to ask you. You mentioned this that OCHA had confirmed that the Lord’s Resistance Army killed these people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I asked like, maybe 10 days ago, about a minister of parliament in Uganda who had asked for UN, specifically OCHA, to look into and do something about what he said was the Government aerially bombing civilians in the Karamoja region of Uganda. I think Martin had said he’ll check with OCHA, we’ll see what’s going on with that. Have you ever gotten anything back on that? Did OCHA find it not to be true, or what?
Associate Spokesperson: We did ask OCHA. We can ask them again. And of course, you can also feel free to ask. But I haven’t anything further to say on that right now.
And with that, have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record