10 November 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General in Republic of Korea


The Secretary-General spoke to reporters in Seoul in advance of the Group of 20 (G-20) Summit that is to take place there, saying that he will do his best to ensure that the leaders of the world’s biggest and strongest economies build solutions for the poorest and the most vulnerable people around the world into their plans.  He said that all countries and all peoples have a stake in the management of the global economy, and the voices of the vulnerable must be heard. 


He stressed the need to keep our promise on the Millennium Development Goals, which he said were “weapons of mass construction”.  He also highlighted priorities such as women’s and children’s health, and food and nutrition security, and argued that we must advance our fight against climate change.


Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General met with President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea, whom he congratulated on hosting the G-20 Seoul Summit.  He further welcomed the Korean Government's initiative to place development on the G-20 agenda.  The Secretary-General and the President agreed that the role of the G-20 and the United Nations is complementary and should be mutually reinforcing.


The Secretary-General also met with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, Kim Hwang-sik, over a working lunch.  They discussed a wide range of topics on which the United Nations and the Republic of Korea could cooperate even more closely, including development and the Millennium Development Goals.


Both those readouts and the transcript of the press conference are available in our Office.


** Western Sahara


The third informal meeting on Western Sahara concluded last night in Long Island.  At the end of the two-day talks, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, read a communiqué in which he said that Morocco and the Frente Polisario engaged in broad and frank discussions of each other’s proposals on Western Sahara in an atmosphere of mutual respect — despite the fact that each party continues to reject the proposal of the other as a basis for future negotiations.


However, he added that the participants agreed to convene again in December as well as early next year to pursue the negotiating process through innovative approaches.


Ross also said that for the first time, the delegations of the two parties and the two neighbouring States joined together to discuss the programme of Confidence Building Measures set forth by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  The parties agreed to resume family visits by air without delay and to accelerate the inauguration of family visits by road.


**Security Council


The Security Council held an open meeting this morning to discuss the efforts to wind up the work of the Development Fund for Iraq and the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) for that country.  The Controller, Jun Yamazaki, briefed Council members on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the matter, which provides details of the Monitoring Board’s last meeting, which took place in October in Amman, Jordan.  The Council also discussed the Development Fund for Iraq in a private meeting. 


The Council President also read a press statement on Iraq, in which he said Council members condemned militant attacks against religious targets in Iraq.  He said Council members were appalled by and condemned in the strongest terms the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Iraq, including today's.


** Lebanon


The Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), which concerns Lebanon, is out as a document (S/2010/565).  In it, the Secretary-General details events that suggest deterioration in the situation in Lebanon.  He expressed his deep concern at the exchange of fire between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces that occurred on 3 August, adding that the Blue Line must be respected in its entirety.


The Secretary-General deems it a priority to resolve the issue of the continued occupation by the Israel Defense Forces of the northern part of Ghajar and the adjacent area north of the Blue Line.  The UN Interim Force, UNIFIL, stands ready to facilitate such a withdrawal.


The Secretary-General is concerned about the incidents in the reporting period that impeded the freedom of movement of UNIFIL and endangered UNIFIL peacekeepers.  He also remains deeply concerned by the widespread proliferation of weapons in Lebanon.


** Haiti


In Haiti, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the Government of Haiti has confirmed that almost 10,000 people have so far been affected by the cholera outbreak in the country and 643 confirmed dead.


OCHA adds that the figures are expected to continue to rise in the days and weeks ahead, as cholera has been confirmed in Port-au-Prince, the capital.  Bad sanitary conditions in many parts of the country, combined with the flooding and mud created by the recent passage of Hurricane Tomas, are very likely to accelerate the infection rate.


OCHA also says that although the case numbers continue to rise, the proportionate number of deaths — around 600 to date — continues to fall, indicating that medical interventions are working.  The Office also says that its main priorities are to ensure swift and effective responses in areas known to be affected and doing everything possible to prevent the further spread of the disease.


Fifteen cholera treatment centres are now up and running nationwide — seven in Port-au-Prince and eight in urban centres outside the capital.  Public and private hospitals around the country have also been equipped to respond, and assessment teams are determining where additional treatment centres may be needed, including in rural areas.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola


Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has called for an urgent investigation into allegations of sexual violence and other abuses suffered by Congolese immigrants during their deportation from Angola.  She urged that every effort be taken to prevent any further abuse. 


The Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs notes that expulsions of illegal immigrants between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are recurrent and are related to widespread poverty and precarious employment opportunities.  In October 2009, tens of thousands were expelled in both directions.  And we have more in a press release in our Office. 


**Press Conference Today


For press conferences, today at 1:30 p.m., here in the Library Auditorium, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia will hold a press conference.


And that’s all I have got.  Tala?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, two quick questions.  First, will you have any other statement on the DR Congo, because we’re hearing some reports that a member of the Congolese military may have participated in controlling part of the natural resources coming out of the Congo?  These are just reports that I have been hearing; if we could get a statement back from the UN on its position?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, we don’t actually have a statement on this.  We’re also aware of the same reports, but we would need to wait to see, first of all, any further details, any factual details behind these reports, and also what the Congolese authorities are doing in response.  And so, we’ll first monitor that before there is any further reaction.


Question:  And just another question.  For the G-20, the Secretary-General, does he have any statement on the UN’s position in terms of… there has been a lot of discussion that what is going to be on the agenda?  The United States Federal Reserve, for example, is going to be trying to devalue their currency for exports; China has done this and has been very successful.  Is there any position on the UN, or will the Secretary-General bring this up tomorrow?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is hoping as much as possible that you can keep some focus on development and on the needs of the world’s poorest.  That’s why he has come to the Group of 20 Summit in the first place.  And that is the sort of perspective that he wants to bring to this meeting.  He did give a fairly lengthy press conference today, and we do have the transcript available in our office where he was asked about some of these issues and he talked about the need for a focus on development, and I’d just refer you to the comments that he made there.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you indicated, the communiqué of the Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Mr. Christopher, Ambassador Christopher Ross, said that the parties will resume their negotiations in December and early next year, and are to pursue the negotiating process through innovative approaches.  Morocco thinks they had submitted such a proposal that is innovative and that was recognized by the members of the Security Council, as well as other members of the international community.  Does the Secretary-General think that that project is an innovative approach?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General does not wish at this point to cast a view in favour of any particular party’s approach.  What he is trying to do is to make sure that all the parties can work together on finding an innovative way out of this extremely long-standing dispute.  Christopher Ross is in touch with the parties; he has been encouraging all of them to think of new ways out of their current impasse.  And so, he is going to persist in that effort.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  Sure.  I want to ask a couple things on Myanmar, Sudan and Sri Lanka.  On Myanmar, yesterday, sitting right where you are, this opposition figure, Thaung Htun, said that, from his point of view, the good offices role needed to be revitalized and that Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar should, for example, travel to the region, try to speak to neighbouring countries.  I guess I wondered, he seemed struck that Mr. Nambiar hasn’t visited the country in the time that he has been in office.  Is there a reason for that?  Is there any plan for the office now to revamp itself?  Can you, I guess, confirm or deny that the staff time of the good offices has been reallocated to other Asia projects of the Department of Political Affairs? 


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on the second part of your question, no, I can’t confirm that.  On the first part, I do have something to say on that.


The broad support among Member States for the continuation of the Secretary-General’s good offices and his Special Adviser speaks for itself.  It is disappointing that over the past year the Government has failed to respond to the Secretary-General’s and the Special Adviser’s efforts to engage.  But the Secretary-General and his Special Adviser remain continuously engaged with the Myanmar authorities, including most recently at the highest level around the UN-ASEAN Summit in Hanoi just a few weeks ago, where the Secretary-General had an extensive meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein and consulted with regional leaders.  The meeting of the Secretary-General’s Group of Friends on Myanmar at the level of Foreign Ministers during this General Assembly remains the highest-level mechanism dedicated to this issue, and the Secretary-General’s initiative to convene it is but the latest example of his successful effort to ensure that Myanmar remains on the international agenda.  As Myanmar moves to the next phase of its transition, the objectives of democratic transition, national reconciliation, human rights and development will become even more relevant.  It is in Myanmar’s interest to see the value of active cooperation and engagement with the UN and for Member States to actively encourage Myanmar in this regard.  


Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to know, yesterday, this issue of the people on the border came up and although there have been some reports that people have now returned from Thailand into Myanmar, it was said again in an UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] briefing here that in fact people had gone to the border and then were told it was still unsafe and were still somehow in a no-man’s land.  So, I am just curious, I know that Thailand had said it didn’t want UN assistance dealing with these refugees, but is the UN tracking whether people are actually… which side of the border they are on and what is happening with them?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said yesterday, the UN is present in the area of Mae Sot and they have been dealing with people who have been displaced by the fighting.  As you know, it’s part of their standard practice; the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] people on the ground do talk to people who are moving and who are displaced from the fighting.  So they’re getting details of what has happened to them precisely.  And they have been sharing, as you are aware from what we put out yesterday, they have been sharing those details on their website as well.  As far as returns go, again, I’d just like to reiterate the standpoint of the UN refugee agency that all returns have to be voluntary in nature.  Yes?


Question:  Does the Secretary-General think that there is sufficient cohesion among the members of the Group of 20 to enable them to coordinate their economic, financial and investment policies towards the realization of the first major [Millennium Development] Goal of the UN, namely, halving extreme poverty?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If you look at what the Secretary-General said at his press conference today in Seoul, he made it clear that what is needed is unity among the members of the Group of 20.  And he made a very impassioned plea for them to unify at this moment on a number of topics, but certainly among them is the case of the Millennium Development Goals.


Question:  How does he propose to have that realized, to achieve that unity among the members?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s certainly in their self-interest to be unified at this extremely difficult time for the global economy.  But he is also doing what he can in his meetings and in his presence at the G-20, to do as much as he can to bring them together.  Yes, Joe?


Question:  Do you have a comment on the decision by the Chinese authorities to prevent a lawyer for the Nobel Peace Prize winner from leaving the country to go pick up the award?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I do not have a comment about that at this point, no.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  In response to the United Nations call followed by President [Barack] Obama for Israel to stop settlement activity, Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu said yesterday that there is no such thing as settlement in Jerusalem, or is it the capital of Israel.  What is the United Nations position on this?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You are aware of our position on Jerusalem and the position of the Quartet; the idea that the issue of Jerusalem has to be resolved, that is one of the issues under final status.  And the Secretary-General, as you know, made his concerns about the activities in East Jerusalem known to Prime Minister Netanyahu when they met on Monday.  That’s part of the readout that we shared with you.  Yes?


Question:  Yeah, I wanted to, on Valerie Amos’s trip to, now completed apparently, trip to Sudan, Radio Dabanga… this site that the UN itself has spoken of reports that she apologized to IDPs [internally displaced persons] in either the Al Salam or Abu Shouk camp… the UN’s failure to get to the bottom of alleged harassment and arrest after the [Security] Council’s visit.  That’s a report that they have.  They are also quoted as saying… finding that the remaining residents of the Kalma camp aren’t leaving or aren’t being forced out by the Government.  I just wanted to know what… can you confirm that?  Did Valerie Amos in fact offer such an apology?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, we did give quotes from Valerie Amos, during her visit to Al Salam camp, and we have her final statement, both of which we issued over the past two days.  And I’d just refer you to those.


Question:  Right, and the statement… because that statement was not at all offered, and that’s just not an apology.  It was saying that the IDPs didn’t meet with her because they’re somehow politically divided.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no; not just the e-mail thing, but the things that we put out on our counter over the last couple of days give the details of her trip to the Al Salam camp, and it’s also her final statement where she does talk about the situation of IDPs.


Question:  Is she going to do a briefing when she gets back to New York, do you think, on this long, pretty long visit to Sudan?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  She’s certainly been willing to meet with the press.  I’ll have to see when her next briefing will be.


Question:  [inaudible] I mean in the absence of that, there is an announcement today in Sri Lanka that the Government has issued a series of rules that will require all NGOs [non-governmental organizations] in the country to register with the Ministry of Defence run by the President’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.  Many of the NGOs are saying this is an attempt to make it more difficult to operate, and it’s a crackdown that John Holmes used to be looking into when he was the head of OCHA, but the shoe never dropped.  This apparently is the shoe dropping.  I am just wondering whether OCHA now, even in the absence of John Holmes, has any comment on this impact on NGOs in this country.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly as you are aware, OCHA and the United Nations have repeatedly called for free access by humanitarian groups working in a number of countries, including in Sri Lanka, and they would continue to do so.  But we’ll certainly check with OCHA whether they have any specific reaction to today’s announcement.


And with that, have a good afternoon.


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