|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Security Council this morning adopted its programme of work for April. And the new Council President for this month, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, will brief you on that programme in just a few minutes, at 12:30. And we will have the approved programme of work for you at that time.
The Secretary-General arrived in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, earlier today on the latest leg of his week-long visit to Central Asia. He has been holding talks with President Rahmon and other Tajik officials on topics including Afghanistan, human rights, climate change and the question of tensions over water resources in Central Asia.
The Secretary-General flew to Dushanbe from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, where he held talks with the President and delivered a lecture at the University for World Economy and Diplomacy. He told students they were the face and voice of a new generation, and were called upon to be its conscience, too.
In his meeting with President Karimov, he discussed water resources, including the Aral Sea, Afghanistan, climate change, education and human rights. The Secretary-General also signed a declaration on cooperation between the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which Uzbekistan heads this year.
Sunday, the Secretary-General also took a three-hour helicopter tour over the Aral Sea. He said he was shocked by what he saw, and described it as one of the world’s worst environmental disasters. The Secretary-General said, “It was unbelievable to stand on the shore of a vanished sea ‑‑ to look out at a cemetery of ships, marooned in the sand.”
Also, on Saturday, the Secretary-General met the President of Kyrgyzstan, and other Government leaders, and addressed parliament. He underscored the need to protect all human rights, including press freedom and free speech.
And on Friday, he met with the President of Turkmenistan, and later said that he had urged Turkmenistan to fulfil all obligations under international human rights law and the many treaties to which it is a signatory. And you have all the remarks he has made publicly over the weekend and today available in the Spokesperson’s office.
Turning to Iraq, Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the series of bombing that struck Baghdad yesterday, which killed dozens of innocent civilians and injured many more. He called the bombings “a senseless crime that targeted civilians and diplomats in Baghdad”.
Among those killed was an Iraqi United Nations staff member, who was working for the World Health Organization, along with her 20-year-old son.
Melkert urged all communities to work towards further strengthening national reconciliation as the best approach to serve the interests of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. He expressed the UN’s sorrow and sincere condolences to the bereaved families, and its wishes for full and speedy recovery for the wounded.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General’s latest report is out as a document today. In it, he says that the most of the country is conflict-free today; its relations with its neighbours have been normalized and reconstruction efforts are gathering pace. Improvement in the security situation in 8 of the country’s 11 provinces provides a sound basis for devising a responsible exit strategy for the UN peacekeeping mission.
The Secretary-General also says that he fully respects the Government’s vision regarding the full exercise of its sovereignty and the need to empower national institutions and strengthen their capacities. The government has identified the development of these capacities as a priority area for assistance from the UN Mission and its bilateral partners. And the Secretary-General notes that the initiative will require concerted and harmonized efforts by all international partners.
Having considered the findings and proposals of a recent UN technical assessment mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the views of the Government, the Secretary-General says he is convinced that it should be possible to conduct a drawdown process in a manner that both advances the realization of the aspirations and vision of the Government and avoids the risk of reversals that could trigger renewed instability. He also recommends that the Security Council extend the deployment of the UN Mission in the DRC for a further 12 months.
And this year’s global commemoration of International Mine Awareness Day focuses on the needs of survivors and celebrates the vigorous movement towards the vision of a world free from these devices.
The tremendous impact of mine action activities in over 60 countries contributes to peace operations and development initiatives. As the Secretary-General noted in a message yesterday, “such actions make an invaluable contribution to our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals”.
Today at the Headquarters, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, will preside over a commemoration ceremony and opening of a United Nations sponsored photo and art exhibition at 6 p.m. “Impact!” is an exposition by Cambodian artists, some of whom are landmine survivors, and photographs by renowned photographers from Venezuela and from Slovenia will be on display. We have more information on that upstairs, too.
And that’s all I have for you. As I said, we will have Ambassador Takasu of Japan here in about minutes. But you have any questions for me before that? Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Over the weekend a couple of UN peacekeepers and another UN employee was killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and there are news reports from the BBC and others saying that the UN and the DRC army were trying to retake the airport. And I am wondering, a couple of questions: first of all, how often do UN peacekeepers participate with the DRC army in these sorts of operations? And second of all, what are the mission’s sort of rules of engagement that allow them to actually, like, participate in these sorts of operations with the [interrupted]?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the UN operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as are all UN operations, peacekeeping operations, are mandated by the Security Council around the world. Their mandate is defined by the resolution that established that Mission by the Security Council. So, if you go to the resolution that established MONUC ‑‑ and my colleagues in the Spokesperson’s office can show you that ‑‑ that spells out what the terms of that are. In terms of the incident that you refer to, I can tell you now that on Sunday, in the town of Mbandaka, which is the capital city of the province of Equateur, there was an attack by a couple of dozen of people who arrived by boat. They attacked first the Governor’s mansion, then they attacked the National Assembly, then they moved to the airport. The UN Mission there was trying to send reinforcements to the airport to support the people that we have on the ground there. One armoured personnel carrier was attacked and in that APC, unfortunately, one blue helmet from Ghana was shot and killed. Two UN contractors also died, one working at the airport, and the other one, a pilot, who was shot by the assailants when they were being chased out of the airport.
The peacekeeper was killed after he had been deliberately targeted by an insurgent while he was standing at the top of his APC.
The UN has helped the national army now to recapture the airport. And our police, along with the national police, are now patrolling the street in Mbandaka trying to bring some sense of security to the population, and also working to bring peace in that province.
That is the latest and rather preliminary report that we have from our Mission there. And we expect to have a further update later. Anything else for me? Yes.
Question: [inaudible] last week that Bangladesh is planning on deploying an all-female formed police unit to Haiti sometime soon. I was wondering if you have any specifics on when that might be.
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have an update from MINUSTAH on that today. But I am sure we can get an update from DPKO, and I am sure they’re listening and they will get us one as soon as they have an answer. Matthew.
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask a couple of things about Sudan. There are, the Justice and Equality Movement, with whom the Government signed some type of an agreement that the UN praised four months ago, is now saying that the Government has bombed them in Darfur. The Government says they haven’t bombed them, but where they bombed JEM shouldn’t have been. So, since this is, since the UN I, you made so much of this peace agreement, what can UNAMID or the UN say about this now reported bombing of the Government of the rebels?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to check that for you. I don’t have any reports today on that from UNAMID [the UN-AU mission in Darfur].
Question: And I also wanted to ask; the Government of Sri Lanka has said that it’s gonna up its contribution to UN peacekeeping from the current 950 to 5,000 troops. Since the Secretary-General has said there are these open questions about accountability for the conflict there, one, has DPKO agreed to this five-fold increase? And two, what safeguards are in place to make sure that the troops that may have engaged in crimes of war don’t become peacekeepers?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is a report that I am hearing about for the first time. DPKO, I am sure, is listening, and I am sure they will get back to us with an answer. Anything else?
Question: Sure, actually. I mean, this is kind of an in… this morning in front of the Security Council, a representative in the Department of Political Affairs or the Security Council Affairs Unit said that the Council had decided that the press can’t stand in front of the Security Council; it should be pushed back, and that non-Council Members will be also in the hallway, in this area by the stairs. And that Security will enforce this. So, one, I wanted to know whether that’s a final decision by the Department of Political Affairs; and two, who controls safety and security here? Is it, does the Secretary-General, or do the Security Council Members, can they direct Security to make those moves?
Deputy Spokesperson: I was just walking in here together with the head of the Media Accreditation Unit; and well, I didn’t have time to talk to her in detail, she has just had a meeting with Security and the Security Council Affairs Unit, and I think she has worked out something that enables closer access by the press to the Security Council members. So, she will give an update to Giampaolo, who I think just walked in.
Question: But is it possible, I guess I’m just…the whole incident, the whole back and forth this morning, made me wonder kind of who is, I mean, obviously the Security Council can vote things about the world at large, but in terms of the building and space, is, does the Security Council control the building, or does the Secretariat and the Secretary-General control the building?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Member States, as you know, have a great say in this. This is their building. So, let’s leave it at that. And [interrupted]
Question: Does that mean the 15 or the whole, all 192? That’s what I am wanting to get at.
Question: We have to find out those things.
Question: Yeah, it’s very important. When you say Member States, is it only 15 or the full contingent?
Deputy Spokesperson: The full contingent of what?
Question: Of all Member States. I was told this morning that countries like India and Germany might have to, the new quiet room will be out by the staircase, not inside the room. So, I just wanted to know who decides that.
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the arrangements, my understanding right now, Matthew, is that the Security Council has just moved from the traditional premises to the new ones. And I think a lot of the arrangements are in the middle of being worked out. So, until they do, I really don’t have enough information to comment further on the decision-making process. But, I do know that Media Accreditation is, was just talking to Security Affairs about this particular issue that came up this morning.
Question: But, Marie, just to follow up, are you saying that they are adjusting, that they know where they are; are frustrated because they moved from their old place to the new place and they don’t know what they’re doing, or what? Sorry for… I mean, the Security [interrupted].
Deputy Spokesperson: I think if you have questions for the Security Council members you need to address them to the Security Council members.
Question: All right, we will certainly. And this is a question for you. What do you say on this; this is certainly not very in favour of the freedom of the press. And we’re celebrating, all of us we’re bombarded with the news from the Freedom House, the newswatch organization, etcetera, that this is 30 days of the freedom of the press, and we’re even invited to write our essays on that. I mean, this is the issue, the serious issue. What say you on this?
Deputy Spokesperson: You have the Security Council President coming [interrupted].
Question: Besides the Security Council.
Deputy Spokesperson: But the Security Council President will be coming to talk to you in a few minutes. So you can address your questions on that to him directly, okay. So with that, I will… [interrupted].
Question: Can I ask a question about his trip, the Secretary-General’s trip; not about the building?
Deputy Spokesperson: Sure.
Question: I mean, there is a dispute, whatever it’s called, between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan about a dam that Tajikistan is building. Uzbekistan recently closed its border. So, I have been reading everything that’s been put out about the speeches that the Secretary-General gave. He talked about the Aral Seas, he didn’t seem to speak about this dam, nor did he speak about this seemingly simmering dispute between two countries that he’s visited. Is it something that he addressed with the leaders of the two countries? And is it something that the regional centre that is now in Turkmenistan has engaged on specifically, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, the dam and the border?
Deputy Spokesperson: It’s not in anything that I have seen in what has come out. So, if there is anything on that, we’ll let you know.
Question: Can you, I mean, I guess what’s, this came up even recently that Tajikistan, that the Tajik Prime Minister was here and spoke about it at some length. Some can’t understand why the UN would not, have they been ordered to not get involved in that issue, as it is not seen as a serious regional issue?
Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, I just said that I haven’t seen it in, you know, a lot of material that’s come [interrupted].
Question: I know, I am asking why you haven’t seen it. That’s why…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, that’s something that we’d have to ask them, if it has… I don’t know if it came up or not. All I said was I have not seen it in the material that we have received here. Okay, so, if you can wait for a few minutes, we’ll have the Security Council President to talk to you about the programme of work for April. Thanks.
* *** *For information media • not an official record