|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.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more than 14 million people — almost 1 in every 10 Pakistanis — have so far been affected by the flooding in that country. The monsoon season could last for at least another month, worsening the flooding that has been seen so far, including in parts of the country not so far affected.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that at least 6 million people are in desperate need of emergency aid. The priorities are food, clean drinking water, tents and other shelter and non-food items, and medical supplies.
The initial floods emergency response plan launched yesterday requests $460 million to help address the needs of flood-affected families for the immediate relief period. We will be revising the appeal in 30 days, to include early recovery requirements and to reflect more refined needs assessments. We have fact sheets on this in my Office.
The Secretary-General addressed a gathering at the General Assembly Hall this morning that was marking the International Day of Youth, and he took the occasion to launch the International Year of Youth. That year was proclaimed by the General Assembly to promote peace, human rights, solidarity, progress and development. The highlight will be a youth conference one year from now.
The Secretary-General said that almost 9 out of every 10 people between the ages of 15 and 24 live in developing countries. Many of these young people are bearing the brunt of the global economic crisis. As economies slowly begin to stabilize, he said, we must focus on the needs of these young people.
The Secretary-General also urged young people everywhere to look beyond the borders of their own countries. He told the youthful participants at today’s commemoration: “Engage with the world, and be a global citizen.” We have his remarks in my Office.
Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, issued a statement today, saying that, operationally and logistically, the September legislative elections in that country are on track. He highlights the challenges ahead, including security. He calls upon the Afghan security forces to show heightened vigilance over the coming two months.
He says that the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) agrees with the Independent Election Commission on the need to make the list of polling stations public by 18 August. Making the list public one month in advance of the elections is essential for the transparency of the electoral process, he says. And De Mistura also encourages both international and national election observation missions.
De Mistura calls on all Afghan voters to make an informed vote on 18 September. He told them, “Your vote is the final decision maker in this important process in determining your country’s future.”
The situation in the South Darfur Kalma camp for internally displaced persons remains tense and insecure, according to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). There were no incidents of shooting reported overnight. DPKO also says that the number of people seeking refuge around the UN Community Police Centre appears to be decreasing.
Meanwhile, the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says that heavy rains, stagnant water, and the lack of shelters and mosquito nets at the camp could cause an outbreak of infectious diseases, especially malaria. Some 5,000 people who sought refuge near and around the mission’s Community Policing Centre are now without adequate shelter for the rainy season. The mission has been able to deliver them large tents.
What’s more, there are no working health facilities, as medical aid workers are still waiting to be authorized to enter the premises. The same is true for aid workers who are waiting to hand out food rations, according to the mission.
**Questions and Answers
Question: The question I asked yesterday about the role of the United Nations in the supposed Libyan-Israeli deal, the exchange of prisoners, and whether the UN basically coordinated something?
Spokesperson: We are absolutely unaware of any such deal of the kind you are referring to. What you may have seen, and I think the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) can provide you with more details, that there were three agreements that are funded by the Gaddafi Foundation. They were signed on 9 August in Amman and apparently provide for a mobile health clinic in the West Bank, a support programme for a school in the south of Gaza and a microfinance project to support 800 families and approximately 4,800 dependents in Gaza. UNRWA can provide you with more details of those three agreements.
Question: I just want to know about this crisis in Pakistan. You have updated on so many issues there. But on the health, there have been a lot of waterborne diseases, killing people and as it is. When I asked Mr. [John] Holmes yesterday how many people are dead, he said we have not done any assessment of that, but we will eventually come to it, because what is important is taking care of [inaudible]. What I’m asking is, has any emergency or contingency plans been devised by WHO [World Health Organization], or whatever it is, or any other organization, for waterborne diseases, which are bound to be now a legacy of these floods?
Spokesperson: Certainly that’s been identified as a major challenge and a major risk in the coming days. On that, you’re absolutely right, and Mr. Holmes referred to that himself. I would refer you to WHO. They may be able to provide you with more details. We’ll also see if we can ask them to provide some more information on that topic.
Question: Any expected Quartet statement today?
Spokesperson: Same as yesterday. If there is something, we’ll let you know.
Question: Thank you, Martin. On Pakistan still, there is some kind of observation that the situation is much worse than anticipated, and that the coming of the assistance is not as great as hoped for. There is speculation as to why this is the case. Is it the nature of the Government of Pakistan? Is it because they have Taliban, Pakistan Taliban there? Is it because they have problems with Afghanistan, et cetera, et cetera? But one thing is clear, in the face of this weak response to the situation in Pakistan, compared to previous crises, is that the world has not been mobilized. And what the UN can do to do that, to mobilize the world and public opinion?
Spokesperson: Well, I would question whether the world is not yet mobilized. Of course, it needs to be mobilized still further and that’s what Mr. Holmes was doing yesterday. And as I pointed out to you yesterday, it was broadcast live on major television news broadcasting channels. That reaches a lot of people straight off. That’s the first point. A second is that this is combined operation — if you like, a combined effort in the face of a major catastrophe that is still growing in proportions. It’s combined in the sense that you have the national authorities working flat out and you have the international community coming to help both, through those already on the ground and through aid agencies and national Governments, coming in to help.
No one has said it is perfect. We have made that very clear. And I think that it’s obvious that, given the scale and given the logistical challenges — bridges gone, large swathes of the country under water, roads washed away, people’s homes and livelihoods also washed away — it is a major challenge for the international community, as well as for the Pakistani authorities. And that’s why this emergency response plan was launched yesterday, to help, really, address the immediate needs of the people, beyond those that are already being met.
Question: Yesterday I was listening to the BBC and they were saying that there seems to be donors’ fatigue with respect to coming to the aid of Pakistan, for some reason they could not explain. Would it help if the Secretary-General took the lead, in addition to what Mr. Holmes has already said, to appeal to the international community to come forward with more assistance?
Spokesperson: Well, he’s been very vocal on this, including at the press conference on Monday. He’s been very vocal in pointing out the enormity of the disaster and the challenges that are faced both by the Pakistani authorities and the international community in dealing with it. And he will continue to do so.
Question: Thanks, Martin. Last week, the DPKO Chief, Alain Le Roy, had told a couple of us that he’d confirmed a Sudan Tribune story about the request from UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] that the Sudanese Government drop their request for handing over six Darfuris, the cause of the standoff between UNAMID at Kalma Camp and the Government. Now, the Sudan Tribune is reporting that the joint Special Representative, Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari, has threatened to hand over these six people to the Sudanese Government and so I’m just wondering if this is true. If, in fact, they’re…?
Spokesperson: No, it’s not true.
Correspondent: Okay. All right. Thank you.
Spokesperson: No, contrary to press reports, the joint Special Representative did not threaten the IDPs [internally displaced persons]. UNAMID will not hand over the six IDP leaders in question without a reassurance that certain preconditions as to their rights are met. That’s what I can tell you. Yes?
Question: Actually, I’d planned something else, but just on that, they’ve been quoted directly as saying that Gambari’s saying to them, essentially trying to encourage them to accept local police patrols of the camp so that there can be disarmament in the camp, and saying, “If you don’t agree to these local joint UNAMID and local police reports, then I’ll have no choice but to turn you over.” But you’re saying that even if they don’t agree to local police searching the camp, that…
Spokesperson: Matthew, I said what I said, which is that the Joint Special Representative, Ibrahim Gambari, did not threaten the IDPs and that UNAMID will not hand over the six IDP leaders we’ve been referring to.
Question: Did he ask them to accept local patrols by the local…?
Spokesperson: I said what I said. In addition, Matthew, the Joint Special Representative stressed the protection of civilians mandate of UNAMID and emphasized the need for sustainable peace in Darfur for all its populations. He highlighted that IDP camps are designed to provide shelter for vulnerable populations and that criminality and proliferation of weapons is not acceptable in Kalma, or indeed in any other IDP camp. And, I can also tell you that Mr. Gambari met with IDPs in Kalma yesterday. This was on a joint visit with officials from the Government of Sudan, with whom he has been holding consultations that relate to the recent developments in Kalma. And he has reassured the IDPs that all issues related to the Kalma incident are being discussed with a view to a mutually acceptable solution.
Question: Okay, can I ask about South Sudan?
Spokesperson: You can.
Question: In South Sudan, the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] has said two things. They’ve said that there is a total standoff in choosing the leader of the Referendum Commission, and if this isn’t… they’ve basically said the UN should be involved. They’ve also said that this movement of tribes into the Abyei region is akin to ethnic cleansing. They’ve said, the spokesman for the SPLM has said, “We are asking the UN to get involved”, presumably on both of those issues. So, I’d asked you yesterday about very fact-specific things on South Sudan, but what is UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], are they aware of this request, that they become involved in the Commission to make sure that there’s not a deadlock, and what about the deaths of 23 people?
Spokesperson: On the deaths, I do have some guidance, which I will be able to provide you shortly. I don’t have it right now. I do know that I have some guidance for you. That’s the first thing. [He later added that UNMIS has informed his Office that, according to the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army), on 8 August, a vehicle carrying their soldiers and some civilians was ambushed by armed gunmen in Koch County, Unity State. As a result, 23 of them were reportedly killed and some others wounded. UNMIS has been in touch with the South Sudan authorities and wounded soldiers in order to ascertain the fact and circumstances surrounding the incident. UNMIS is assisting the South Sudanese authorities in further investigating the incident. Overall, it should be stressed that UNMIS has been engaging the Government of Southern Sudan in order to address disputes by peaceful means.]
On the broader question that you’ve raised, I will find out. On the question of the deaths that you mentioned yesterday and the helicopter, I do have something. I don’t have it here. [He added later, regarding the helicopter incident, that, as this is a complaint regarding a violation of the ceasefire agreement, UNMIS has initiated an investigation by the Ceasefire Joint Military Committee.]
Question: Okay. And did you, also yesterday, I’d asked you about this Giants of Asia series and the Secretary-General being the third subject of it. You said, “I’ll look into it.” Have you? And is he going to do it? And how much time will it take? And what’s the benefit to the UN organization?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General has made no commitment to Mr. [Tom] Plate, or indeed to anyone else, with regard to a book.
Question: Mr. Plate said on Monday that he had, and I’ve talked to some other senior UN officials who have said he is the third one in the series, so I guess is there some… has there been some change?
Spokesperson: Well, I can tell you that the Secretary-General has made no commitment to Mr. Plate or indeed to anyone else.
Question: Okay, when was the last time he saw Mr. Plate?
Spokesperson: What’s that got to do with it?
Question: Because I, well…
Spokesperson: That’s got nothing to do with it, Matthew. I can tell you that the Secretary-General has made no commitment to Mr. Plate or indeed anyone else. Okay. Another question?
Question: I was just wondering if there was any UN reaction to reports that Israelis have been removing grave sites in East Jerusalem in order to make a public park, and this has led to some protests.
Spokesperson: Let me find out.
Question: Just want to know, maybe I missed it yesterday, Martin. Is there some sort of tacit agreement between the United Nations on the Gaza flotilla, and Israelis on the Gaza flotilla, the inquiry, that there will be no interview of the Israeli soldiers by the…?
Spokesperson: Masood, I’ve been answering this question repeatedly in this briefing room for several days and I don’t intend to answer it again.
Question: Martin, I just wanted to clarify, there is no such agreement? Where do we stand?
Spokesperson: I’ve answered it already. Go and look at the transcript. I don’t need to answer the question again.
Question: Thank you. Ethiopia now is threatening to send troops into Somalia, in the event that the AU [African Union] forces do not keep the peace there. Is the Secretary-General concerned about this eventuality, that it might lead to further violence?
Spokesperson: Let me find out. Yes?
Question: Yes, since it was reported today that Russia has moved missiles into the breakaway region of Abkhazia, which is in violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and a peace agreement, do you expect any reaction or update from the UN Special Representative to Georgia, who was appointed by the Secretary-General, the Finnish Ambassador, Antti Turunen?
Spokesperson: Well, we’ve seen the reports on the deployment of such missiles, but we’re not in a position to verify whether this has been the case. And following the closure of the Mission that you refer to, the UN’s efforts have been focused on reducing tension and furthering dialogue among the involved parties, and that’s primarily through the Geneva discussions. These efforts are undertaken in cooperation with the EU [European Union] and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). These efforts are directed at improving security and stability, reducing the risk of tensions and contributing to the implementation of agreements reached following the conflict of August 2008. That’s what I can tell you. Yes?
Question: Back to Pakistan. There were reports in The New York Times last week that the terrorist organizations have moved more rapidly into the areas devastated by the floods than any other organization. Has this been an embarrassment? And the terrorist organizations are gaining converts because of their deftness and their effectiveness in providing shelter, food, warm meals, so on and so forth. Has this, in any way, can you comment on this, because it’s sort of embarrassing to the international community? And is this in any way acting as a spur to international mobilization of aid for the victims of the flood?
Spokesperson: The focus of international efforts is to help the 14 million people who have been affected by the flooding. That’s the focus and we’ve said that there are 6 million people who are in desperate need of assistance. And that’s what this appeal is about. It’s in response to their needs and that’s what I can say on that.
Question: I need to ask about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Rwanda and also Thailand, Cambodia, if it’s possible. On the Lord’s Resistance Army, Human Rights Watch has put out a report saying that they’ve newly recruited 700 more people, one third of them children, and Reuters, in a related piece, quotes a UN source that the LRA is proportionally a much greater threat than the FDLR or ADF, two other rebel groups in [Democratic Republic of] the Congo. I’m just wondering, obviously, you know what [MONUSCO] and the various other missions in the region, including UNMIS… One, can they confirm these recruitment numbers and what’s really being done on this idea of somehow coordinating the missions and trying to put out what’s now described as a bigger threat than what the Congolese Army has been fighting in the ADF and FDLR?
Spokesperson: We’re obviously aware of that report, the Human Rights Watch report, and I will be in a position to provide you with a little bit more of a detailed response shortly. What I can tell you is that the area covered by this rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, is quite enormous, about the size of Belgium. And the resources available to police that area are rather limited. But I will be able to give you some more information shortly. Yes? And the other question about Thailand and Cambodia?
Question: Okay, okay. There’s a Rwanda question as well. But Thailand-Cambodia is a pressing issue, where it had been, for a few days, it’s been said that Thailand… Well, Cambodia now says that they’ve sent a letter to the Secretary-General and the Security Council. I don’t know if it’s been received. And a Cambodian, the Prime Minister, has said that he’ll be asking the Secretary-General personally to somehow coordinate this border dispute that they’ve had for some time but that seems to be heating up, with Thailand saying that they’re going to fortify their border. Is it something that DPA [Department of Political Affairs] is watching? Have you gotten the letter and would the Secretary-General be willing to mediate?
Spokesperson: We’ve seen the reports. We have not received any request. And if requests are received, not just in this case, but in any case, from parties to a dispute or conflict, asking for mediation, then, obviously, the United Nations, the Secretary-General would look at that. But we have not received a request from one or either or both.
Question: That’s fine. And then, just on Rwanda, because I mean I’ll keep it short.
Spokesperson: Please do.
Question: But I know that, I know that what you’d said about how you called for an investigation. I’m thinking, now Paul Kagame has apparently won the election with 93 per cent of the vote. So I’m wondering, you’d said you had no comment yet on the results. Has the UN written to congratulate him? The real question I wanted to ask is: does the UN have any sort of rule of thumb of what percentage of winning by is presumptively either not credible or raises questions about the openness of an election? Is it over 90 per cent, 80 per cent, 99 per cent? What does the UN think of a 93-per-cent win in terms of the vibrancy of democracy in Rwanda?
Spokesperson: Well, the UN didn’t observe the elections, so we’ll leave it to others to make assessments. I think that’s what I’d like to say on that.
Question: Have they sent a letter yet of congratulations?
Spokesperson: I said what I wanted to say, Matthew. All right? Thanks very much. Good afternoon. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record