|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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
**Secretary-General in Pakistan
The Secretary-General returned this morning from a day-long visit to Pakistan, where he saw for himself the human suffering and damage caused by the current floods. Speaking to reporters after seeing the flood-affected areas yesterday, the Secretary-General said: “This has been a heart-wrenching day, and I will never forget the destruction and suffering that I have witnessed.”
He said that he has visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like what he saw in Pakistan, with so many people, in so many places, in so much need. Nearly 1 out of 10 Pakistanis has been directly or indirectly affected, he said — possibly 20 million people.
During his visit, the Secretary-General announced a further contribution of $10 million through the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), in addition to $16.3 million already contributed through that Fund.
The Secretary-General had visited a relief camp in the district of Multan, located in the country’s Central-Eastern province of Punjab, where he met flood victims and saw the assistance being provided to them. He was accompanied by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, who said that this is likely to be his last trip in that capacity.
The Secretary-General also met with Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani. He told them that he hoped his visit would help accelerate the rate of generous support from the international community. And we have a readout of that meeting in our Office.
**Secretary-General Returns to Headquarters
The Secretary-General will be back at UN Headquarters this afternoon for a few meetings. He will be on vacation for the rest of this week, but will return to Headquarters on Thursday to report to the General Assembly on his visit to Pakistan. And he will also have a number of other appointments that day.
Also on Pakistan, an airlift of relief supplies provided by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) arrived in Quetta today, to help the soaring numbers of flood victims in the province of Balochistan. The agency was able to move 64 tons of tents, plastic sheets and mosquito nets from its stockpiles to Quetta to help speed up relief efforts. More airlifts are expected in the coming days, pending availability of aircraft.
To date, the refugee agency in Balochistan has helped some 46,000 people with shelter materials. The office is hoping to help some 90,000 people, but urgently needs more aid.
As many as 3.5 million children in Pakistan may be at risk of contracting deadly diseases carried through contaminated water and insects, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). We will have a press release with more details on that shortly.
The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is reporting that humanitarian conditions in South Darfur’s Kalma camp for internally displaced persons continue to deteriorate. Fuel reserves in the camp have been exhausted, and motorized water pumps can no longer be operated. Two clinics inside the camp continue to assist those in need of medical attention, but their resources are dwindling by the hour. The mission says that one of the clinics has reported more than 60 cases of malnutrition.
The situation inside the camp remains tense, even though instances of gunfire have significantly decreased overnight. Most of the civilians who had sought protection around the Mission Community Policing Centre have now relocated to other parts of the camp. Meanwhile, negotiations continue between the mission leadership and local authorities to improve conditions, including humanitarian access to the camp.
The mission also reports that two of its police advisers were abducted at gunpoint by unknown persons in Nyala, South Darfur, [on Saturday]. An investigation into the incident is under way by Sudanese authorities and UNAMID.
Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), held separate meetings in Beirut today with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Their discussions focused on the security situation in south Lebanon, UNIFIL’s investigation into the incident in El Adeisse of 3 August, and the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), including the issue of Ghajar. Afterwards, Major-General Asarta said that he had stressed the importance of maintaining the existing close coordination between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Concerning the incident near El Adeisse, Major-General Asarta said: “This tragic incident must remain isolated. I have received assurances from all the parties that they want to defuse the tension and continue working closely with UNIFIL to restore and maintain calm in the area. No one is interested in an escalation.”
The Co-Prosecutors for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have filed a request for indictments against four former Khmer Rouge officials — Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith — on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code.
Also today, the Co-Prosecutors have appealed the judgement from last month by which Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was convicted and sentenced to a period of 30 years imprisonment. The Co-Prosecutors requested the Supreme Court Chamber to increase the term of imprisonment against Duch, saying that the sentence against him gave insufficient weight to the gravity of Duch’s crimes and his role and his willing participation in those crimes. And we have press releases from the Extraordinary Chambers with more details.
Lastly, the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification was launched today in Fortaleza, Brazil.
In a message marking this occasion, the Secretary-General called for intensified efforts to nurture the land we need for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and guaranteeing human well-being.
He said continued land degradation is a threat to food security and also poses growing social costs. But, he added, by providing sustained assistance to local communities, we can preserve or recover millions of hectares of land, reduce vulnerability to climate change and alleviate hunger and poverty for one third of humanity. We have his full message upstairs.
That’s it for me.
**Questions and Answers
Question: First of all, Farhan, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as the [Acting] Deputy Spokesperson and wish you the best in your new assignment. There is a controversy raging on now about the building of a mosque close to Ground Zero — some people oppose it; others, like the President of the United States and Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg, support the construction project. This involves the sensitivities of both parties, those who lost their loved ones there — including Muslims, by the way – as well as sensitivities around the Muslim world. The Alliance of Civilizations has been silent on this, and yet, its mandate involves tolerance, and cultural and religious understanding. Why aren’t they saying something about it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, we did check with the Alliance of Civilizations about this and you’re right; they do not have a comment on this. It’s regarded largely as a local issue involving local-level officials, questions concerning zoning in New York City, and the involvement of local courts, and so we don’t want to interfere with that process. Of course, the Alliance of Civilizations does encourage tolerance and religious understanding and has encouraged all efforts to further understanding in any number of countries and on any number of issues. But on this specific issue, yes, they have no comment.
Question: I wanted to ask a couple of questions about Sudan. One is: can you confirm the reports that in West Darfur, the head of FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], two people from UNHCR [United Nations refugee agency] and two Red Cross people have been expelled by the Government? Particularly as to the UN officials, is that something you can confirm? And also as to the two peacekeepers, a Jordanian newspaper has said that those who had taken the peacekeepers have made demands about some reforms for UNAMID to make. I wonder if the UN has any idea whether these are Government-affiliated kidnappers. And finally, whatever happened on the pilot investigation, the Russian pilot that was taken in Darfur? Did they ever find out who was behind that? Was it the Government-affiliated Janjaweed or other rebels?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, on the question of the various abductions: on the Russian pilot issue, I don’t have anything further to say. On the issue of the two people that were abducted over the weekend from UNAMID, we did put a press release from UNAMID over the weekend mentioning that abduction, but we do not have any further comment or any details at this time. We are, of course, working for their safe release and wouldn’t have any comment to make on that.
As for the situation at Kalma camp of the various agencies, we have seen the preliminary reports of these developments, and we are awaiting further clarification from the Government of Sudan.
Question: It seems like a whole other region; these expulsions are the head of FAO for all of West Darfur, and El Geneina and in Zalingei. I’m not trying to be… I’m just saying that it seems like the standoff between UNAMID and local officials in Darfur seems to be spreading from South Darfur to West Darfur. I just wonder what the plan to deal with this is.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: On the question of West Darfur, our understanding is that the statements were related to security matters in West Darfur State. However, expulsion orders have not been officially issued. Discussions are ongoing between the UN and the Government in Khartoum. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has requested that it will handle these developments on its own behalf, which the UN will respect.
Question: I had a question, please; the Israeli Government issued a statement today that they will reject an expected Quartet statement on the Middle East peace process, saying that it sets preconditions. I was wondering whether the UN has a reaction to this rejection of a statement that didn’t come out yet.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, you’re quite right; the statement hasn’t come out yet. Certainly we’ll wait to see what the reaction is once any statement has been issued. As I think we’ve made clear in recent days, we’ll let you know once a statement is ready. The Quartet partners have been in contact with each other. I don’t have a statement to give you just yet, but hopefully we’ll be able to tell you in the coming days whether one is coming.
Question: Just a quick follow-up. Do you expect that this statement will call upon the Israeli Government to renew its freeze on the settlements in September?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I’m not going to preview any elements of a statement before one is issued. I do expect that, once one is issued, all the Quartet members will issue it in coordination with each other.
Question: I’m sorry, there’s just one more on this. There’s a story about these West Darfur expulsions, says that the head of FAO for West Darfur was asked to leave because he had forwarded a petition against hunger, “1billionhungry.org”, and authorities said he did not obtain approval for it. So I’m wondering, you said it was a security situation, but is there any indication… that’s why I’m saying it seems like the Government is cracking down. Are UN officials permitted to forward things like this “1billionhungry.org” petition to stop hunger without governmental authority, or do they seek approval?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’m not really aware that this is a central issue. Like I said, discussions are ongoing between the UN and the Government in Khartoum, and we’ll see what the results of that are.
Question: Over the weekend, the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Manmohan Singh, weighed in on what’s happening in Kashmir, as you realize. I would like to know if the United Nations is ready to issue any statement on what’s going on over there and how many people have been killed since…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: There’s nothing to add beyond what I gave you a few weeks ago. That’s where we stand and if there’s anything further, I’ll certainly let you know.
Question: The reason of course is that that was since withdrawn or changed… it was a background briefing, it was not…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, it was in answer to your question. That’s what we had clarified. You had asked a question and we provided an answer. That wasn’t a statement of the Secretary-General, but the views contained are what they were.
Question: There’s been an exchange of statements between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA [Sudanese People’s Liberation Army] concerning the referendum to be held at the beginning of next year, and the Government is saying now that the referendum should be postponed and the opposition is saying it shouldn’t be postponed. Any comment from the UN about that? You are involved through the Special Representative of the Secretary-General…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: At this stage, what we’re working on is to make sure that the referendum can be held safely and on schedule. We don’t have anything further on that at this time. Obviously our energies are concerned with finding out ways to make sure that you can have elections that will be held in a safe manner and one whose results will be respected.
Question: What about the calls for postponement? You don’t see any grounds for that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: At this stage we’re sticking to the schedule that we’ve been on.
Question: Farhan, following up on Khaled’s question on a Quartet statement, you seem to be indicating that there is a statement in the works and that something is possibly coming out. Is this something that we should be looking for this week?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It’s possible that there could be something this week. Again, that would depend on agreement among the Quartet partners. I don’t have anything precise to announce on any of this just yet. But, certainly, the Quartet partners have been in touch with each other and we’ll see if there’s anything that needs to be said in the coming days. But at this stage, I don’t have any specific day when anything might come out.
Question: You said that the Secretary-General is coming back today from Pakistan and then he will take a vacation. Where is he taking vacation? Is he staying around the area here, or is he travelling somewhere, without entering into his personal schedule?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: In all honesty, Mr. Abbadi, he will be here in Headquarters this afternoon for a couple of meetings. And he will also be here at Headquarters on Thursday to brief the Member States on the situation in Pakistan, so he’s not going to be far.
Question: Small point, did anyone besides Mr. Holmes go to Pakistan with the Secretary-General?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Several people went, including Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson. They all just got back earlier this morning.
Question: What about Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar and Mr. [Jean-Maurice] Ripert? Is he still there?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have the full list of the people who had travelled. I believe Mr. Nambiar did travel with him. I don’t believe Mr. Ripert was there on the ground, no.
Question: I want to ask two things, on Kyrgyzstan and then on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). There’s a report out today by Human Rights Watch on the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan that goes into great detail about Government involvement in the violence — saying Government vehicles were used in incursions into Uzbek neighbourhoods, talking about the sweeps. So, they’re basically saying that the investigations by the Kyrgyz Government are not credible and that there should be an international investigation of the causes. Since the UN has been involved in this process of investigating, what does the UN think of this report? Does it in fact agree that it’s difficult for a Government that has itself been credibly charged with involvement in violence to be the one investigating it? What does it intend to do with this?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as you know, we at the UN are in touch with a number of partners, including the Government of Kyrgyzstan, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and also the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, to see what kind of role the UN would have in any sort of international investigation. That’s still being drawn up, so there’s nothing concrete on that just yet.
Question: Do you think this report changes the dynamic of accepting the UN’s willingness to see a Kyrgyz Government-led investigation as a credible one?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, like I said, at this stage, we’re in discussion with various parties and certainly, any amount of information that’s added about the situation helps move those discussions along. But let’s see what we and our various partners can devise in terms of finding a way to have some sort of international inquiry.
Question: And on the LRA, I don’t know if something has come up, but last week, Mr. Nesirky said that some statement might be forthcoming on reports of increased child recruitment by the LRA. Since then, there’s been another report, saying the LRA is building up a base in the Bawele region of the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] in order to re-enter Uganda next year. It seems strange that, with MONUSCO [United Nations Organization and Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] there, this type of rebuilding could be taking place. What is MONUSCO doing about reports of the LRA no longer just running around, but actually building a base to re-enter the place where they began their rampages many years ago?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, as Martin Nesirky made clear last week, the area we’re talking about is roughly the size of Belgium. MONUSCO is trying to do as much as it can within its capabilities, but there is a huge amount of territory for MONUSCO to cover. And we’re talking about a small guerrilla outfit that’s very hard to track down. Beyond that, I’ll see whether there are any further details we can provide about the sort of activity MONUSCO is trying to carry out in that area.
[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later added that MONUSCO has said that it focuses available resources first on protection of civilians. About 1,000 MONUSCO troops have built and maintain the area’s main airstrip and base that serves as a critical logistical hub for MONUSCO, the Congolese Armed Forces and humanitarian resupply operations; they also have reconstructed critical main roads and maintain five temporary operating bases in Haut Uélé, conducting patrols alone and with the Congolese Armed Forces. MONUSCO provides logistical support to some 6,000 Congolese troops in the area to aid them in their patrols and efforts to protect civilians and counter the LRA threat. It has also stepped up its civilian presence in the area, including teams working to bring LRA fighters — most of whom are abductees — out of the bush and leave the group.]
Question: Has UNIFIL concluded the investigation regarding the incident at the border with Israel?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, it has not. Once it has concluded its investigation into the incident of 3 August, it intends to share that information with the parties. At this stage, that has not been concluded, though.
Question: In Puntland, a journalist had been sentenced to six years for having conducted an interview with an opponent of the Government there — the opponent is described as an Islamist. So he was sentenced to six years. Various press freedom groups have condemned it. What I wondered is whether Mr. [Augustine] Mahiga, the Special Representative on Somalia, has any views on this? Also does his mandate extend to both Puntland and Somaliland, and if so, what does he think of this?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: His mandate has to do with UN assistance to Somalia as a country, which includes all of Somalia. He has not made any comment on this, but normally, on issues involving press freedoms, the first place to comment would be the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), so you might want to try them first.
Question: Once the Quartet has issued its statement, how does it intend to have it implemented?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Quartet partners try to use their own different influence among the different parties to make sure that the messages that it puts out as the Quartet are heeded.
And with that, I wish you a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record