29 July 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everybody.


**Middle East


The Secretary-General will meet tomorrow with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.  He expects to discuss a range of issues with him, including the situation in Gaza and the need to continue Israel’s freeze on settlement activity.


The Secretary-General also made a number of calls to senior leaders in the region yesterday, in his continuing efforts to encourage the parties in the Middle East peace process to move forward in the peace process.  He spoke by telephone separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, underscoring his support for proceeding towards meaningful direct talks.


**East Jerusalem


Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, issued a statement today deploring what he called an “unacceptable action” by armed Israeli settlers who forcibly took over a building which is home to nine Palestinian families in the Muslim quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem.  Serry called on the Israeli authorities to remove the settlers from the property and restore the previous status quo.  We have his full statement available in my Office.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Darfur


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Kalma camp.


The Secretary-General is concerned about the situation in Kalma camp between internally displaced persons (IDPs) supporting the Darfur Peace Process in Doha and others.


The Secretary-General calls on all concerned to address their differences through political dialogue and to refrain from any action that could incite violence.


The African Union-United Nations Joint Chief Mediator and UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] are doing all they can to defuse the situation and facilitate reconciliation.


**Darfur


The AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says that three individuals close to the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), which just signed a ceasefire agreement with the Sudanese Government, were killed yesterday.  The killings took place during a gun battle at the Hamadiya camp for the internally displaced, in West Darfur.  As a result, all humanitarian assistance to the camp has been suspended until security conditions improve.


The mission says that the three individuals were killed during fighting between Liberation and Justice Movement supporters and supporters of the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) faction.  A number of houses belonging to Liberation and Justice Movement supporters were also burnt down.


The fighting has now stopped, the mission says, and Sudanese police have arrested four suspects and seized a number of weapons.  The mission says that it, too, is investigating the incident and closely monitoring its aftermath.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) says that peacekeepers on a short-range patrol in West Darfur were ambushed earlier today by a group of unidentified armed individuals.  The peacekeepers returned fire on their attackers, who later fled the scene.  Seven peacekeepers were wounded during the attack and the mission in Darfur immediately sent reinforcement troops to the scene.  All peacekeepers later returned to their base, where the wounded are now receiving medical treatment.


**Security Council


Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Secretary-General’s recent report on the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).


That report is out as a document, and in it, the Secretary-General says that, despite operational challenges and shortcomings, the successful conduct of the national elections marked a critical milestone in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and provided for the expansion of the political space available for democratic change.  He noted that, given the absence of elections during the past 24 years, the process of democratization is still fragile and slow to take root.


The Secretary-General added that the forthcoming referenda in Sudan will require significant international support if they are to be viewed as credible.  He urges the parties to take full advantage of UNMIS and other international partners’ offers of material, technical, logistical and “good offices” assistance.


** Pakistan


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, in Pakistan, heavy rains in the past few days have triggered floods in several parts of the country, resulting in a loss of life and widespread displacement.  Thousands of people have lost their homes and livelihoods.


The humanitarian community is working on getting assessment missions to the affected areas.  However, continued rains and damaged infrastructure make the roads impassable and complicate the task of assessing damage.


**Guest Tomorrow


Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support, will be the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, here in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium.


That’s what I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The first question is a follow-up.  First of all, the meeting of the Secretary-General with the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Vuk Jeremić, and number two, I personally got that report of [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius from IPS [Inter Press Service].  I read it there; so my question is: can you confirm that that report is authentic, which appeared among the press, and number two, whether it is true or not that you are pursuing now to see from where the leak came and who is responsible for that leak?


Spokesperson:  On the first question, as we said in the readout, the Secretary-General met today at UN Headquarters with Vuk Jeremić, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Serbia, and they discussed questions related to Kosovo and a planned high-level meeting on disarmament.  On Kosovo, the Secretary-General said that he planned to closely coordinate the next steps with the European Union, which has offered to facilitate a process of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.  The Secretary-General and the Minister also discussed a Serbian draft General Assembly resolution on this subject.  The Secretary-General said he continued to appeal to all sides to support constructive dialogue and the settlement of all remaining concerns, while encouraging political stability and discouraging provocations.  On disarmament, the Secretary-General noted he was convening a high-level session of the Conference on Disarmament in New York on 24 September, and he said he hopes that Minister Jeremić would attend that meeting.


On the second, it’s not for me, or for us, to identify the provenance of the document posted by IPS, and indeed by others.  Neither is it necessary for us to find out “where the document came from” that ended up in the public domain.  Our focus is very much now on looking forward.  We have, as you know, the new Under-Secretary-General.  That nomination was approved by the General Assembly.  As you know, Ms. Lapointe-Young will be starting in September.  She has plenty to do when she gets here, not least because we all consider, at the United Nations, that the Office she will be heading is crucially important for the work of the Organization and for improving the way that the Organization works.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  It looks like we are having some good news at last on the conflict in the Middle East.  The Arab League has decided in favour of direct talks and left it to President Abbas to decide on the modalities of these direct talks.  I know that you said the Secretary-General has been on the phone with Israeli authorities, but how significant has his role been in bringing about what seems to be a positive result?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I think that, if I’ve understood it correctly, what the Arab League has said, it agrees in principle to the idea of the direct talks and is leaving it to President Abbas to decide.  But the second point of your question, about the role of the Secretary-General — well, as I say, he spoke to three extremely prominent leaders: President Abbas and Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, and the Egyptian Foreign Minister.  All those calls took place yesterday and followed, as I mentioned to you last week, if I’m not mistaken, the Secretary-General had also spoken to Senator [George] Mitchell about where his efforts were going, and to reiterate to Senator Mitchell his strong desire to help in that process.  I can assure you that he is indeed working very hard, as indicated by these phone calls, to encourage the parties to move in the right direction.  And the right direction, in our view, is meaningful, direct talks.


Question:  How would you describe his role?  Is it an important role?  Is it a vital role?


Spokesperson:  It’s a very important role.  Along with others, it’s a very important role, because he has had, and continues to have, direct access to the parties, working with others in the Quartet and, not least, with Senator Mitchell.  Yes?


Question:  Martin, the Israeli Government actually said that if the settlement freeze was not lifted, the Government would collapse in Israel.  Mahmoud Abbas said that, actually, if they lifted the freeze, the Palestinians would not go into direct talks.  What is the Secretary-General doing to mediate this issue and maintain the process which he is trying to direct?


Spokesperson:  As I say, he, amongst others, is working to ensure that the indirect proximity talks can move where we would like them to be, which is direct talks.  I’ve also just said that amongst the topics that the Secretary-General will discuss tomorrow with Minister Barak is the need to continue the freeze on settlement activity.  Sure, yes?


Question:  Do you have any update on the fate of the Russian pilot who is held in Sudan?


Spokesperson:  We have some information.  In essence, the bottom line is that the pilot is still unaccounted for.  This is three days after the initial incident and the UN remains deeply concerned about his welfare.  As I said yesterday, that remains the case.  He is still unaccounted for.  I can give you some more details.  Let me walk you through what I have.


On 26 July, UNAMID lost contact with one of its helicopters in the area of Oum Sader, located roughly 55 kilometres north of Nyala, South Darfur.  The UTair Russian company aircraft, working under contract for UNAMID, had been in the process of picking up representatives of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) who were to be taken to Doha, Qatar, to participate in the ongoing peace negotiations.


Four Russian crew members, three LJM delegates and one international UNAMID civilian staff were on board the helicopter.  The assailants robbed and beat up several of the passengers and the pilot of the aircraft.  Sudanese authorities arrived at the scene from where the group, with the exception of the pilot, as I mentioned yesterday, was taken to a nearby Government military camp and remained overnight.  The passengers, the remaining crew and the aircraft arrived back at UNAMID’s base in Nyala on 27 July.   And, as I said, the pilot is still unaccounted for.  Three days after the initial incident, the UN remains deeply concerned about his welfare.  UNAMID is working with the Government of Sudan to locate him.  Any further questions?


Question:  A Russian diplomat, just this morning in front of the Security Council, said it’s clear to them that it’s a Government-controlled militia, and that essentially, they just want to be paid.  So I’m just wondering whether, at this time, or when this individual… obviously, when, I think is, rather than if, he’s released, will the UN say what it knows about the identity of the hostage taker in this case?


Spokesperson:  At this time, it’s not clear who is responsible for the beatings, which I mentioned, or the abduction.  We’re investigating this incident, together with the Government, and we’ll inform you of any further developments that we have.


Question:  What do you think is, sort of, a final outcome of who you think did it?


Spokesperson:  As I said, we’ll inform you of further developments.


[The Spokesperson later said that mission sources have confirmed that the missing UNAMID Russian helicopter pilot has been located and safely returned to Nyala, in South Darfur.]


Question:  Do you know if Mr. Le Roy is going to do a stakeout after the consultations?


Spokesperson:  He is not, but what I can tell you is that next week, on Wednesday, he will be the guest at the noon briefing.


Question:  Hopefully, the pilot will be out by then, one hopes, right?


Spokesperson:  One certainly hopes so.


Question:  Can I ask, there’s also… there’s a report that the UN [Mission] in Liberia (UNMIL) has funded and has co-commissioned a prison in Liberia as part of peacekeeping, peacebuilding, excuse me.  And I just, it sort of struck me, as I wonder what the UN’s role is.  I understand it has a role in justice-sector reform, but is this something that the UN commonly does, build prisons?


Spokesperson:  Let me find out.


Question:  Alain Le Roy was there.  And then, in this room, just earlier this morning, there were various prizes given out by the Secretary-General.  One of them, it didn’t win, but it was a finalist was this… supposedly there was a study of peacekeeping missions and their greenhouse gas footprint.  And I just wonder, in the spirit of both transparency and climate change and all of that, can we see that report?  I mean, it seems like it was lauded from the platform and it seems…


Spokesperson:  Let me find out.


Question:  Hopefully, maybe you’ll know this one.  Several people that work in — this is getting to the finer-grade stuff — that work in the cafeteria/delegates dining room here said that they were informed this week that they are being laid off from 6 August through 20 September.  The decision has been made that it will not be open and they will not be paid, so they wonder, and I guess I wonder as well, is this a decision by the Department of Management?  What’s behind the decision and is the UN comfortable with lay-off notices on such short notice?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, it’s not a decision of management, but rather a decision of the catering company, how the cafeteria is run.  But, we can find out more details and let you know.


Question:  And just related to that, because there was a contract, I know that, even after the Capital Master Plan was drawn up and had begun, some contract was reached between the Department of Management and Aramark.  And I just wonder, with the changes, with the sort of… everything’s been shrunken down… I’m not getting into the minutiae of that, except to say, did the contract change?  Does the UN…  Are the payments the same, even though the service has been radically reduced?


Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  I think probably it’s something that we could deal with offline.


Question:  It’s the lay-off that I wanted to raise here.  It seems the UN is an organization that talks a lot about the rights of workers and stuff like this, so it seems strange in UN Headquarters to have people told that they’re laid off on two days’ notice.


Spokesperson:  As I say, this is a contractor that runs the cafeteria and that’s where the responsibility lies, but, I do not know the details of the staffing there.


Question:  The UN wouldn’t work with a contractor that was violating labour rules or treating its employees badly…?


Spokesperson:  You don’t have to just presume it; you can be assured of that.  Okay, any other questions?


Question:  Just one more about OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services].  I wish I had this yesterday, when we were discussing this…


Spokesperson:  Which is what?


Question:  In the Africa Group statement, prior to the vote confirming Ms. [Carman] Lapointe-Young, they said that, in this regard, we expect that the next position of the USG for OIOS should be allocated to the South for two consecutive terms, or be compensated in other senior-level positions.  It’s sort of something I was asking yesterday, but this idea that the next head of OIOS should come from the South, or the next two heads of it — is this just their expectation, or is this something that was discussed with any of the regional groups prior to the vote on Ms. Lapointe-Young?


Spokesperson:  I’m not here to speak on behalf of the Egyptian delegation…


Question:  I’m saying they met with, I understand, the Secretary-General, Mr. Kim [Wonsoo], various people, so… I’m asking, on your side, what was said?


Spokesperson:  I’ve told you already, the most important thing here is that we have a new head of OIOS, approved by the General Assembly.  The nomination was approved by the General Assembly, and countries are free to make statements in the General Assembly about where they stand.  And it’s not for us to interpret those statements.  We heard what was being said.  Okay, and just on the Liberian prison, the Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, has put out a fairly detailed press release on this, and I would encourage you to reach out to them if you would like further details beyond what it says.


Okay? Alright, thank you very much.  Thanks.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record