|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.
So, good afternoon, everybody; and a very happy New Year to you all.
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Pakistan.
The Secretary-General condemns the assassination today of the Governor of Punjab Province in Pakistan, Mr. Salman Taseer, a prominent leader whose death is a heavy loss for Pakistan. The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the family of Mr. Taseer and to the Government and people of Pakistan.
With the onset of the New Year, five new elected members of the Security Council are taking up their seats: Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa.
And Bosnia and Herzegovina is assuming the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of January. Bosnian Ambassador Ivan Barbalić will brief you tomorrow at 12:30 about the Council’s programme of work for this month.
C ôte d’Ivoire
On New Year’s Day, as you would have seen, the Secretary-General called the President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, and reaffirmed the UNs principled and unwavering position on upholding the election outcome based on the will of the people of Côte d’Ivoire. The Secretary-General told President Ouattara that he was alarmed by the reports of egregious human rights violations. He said that the UN Mission, UNOCI, had been instructed to do everything possible to gain access to the affected areas, both for prevention and to investigate and record the violations so that those responsible will be held accountable.
Meanwhile, I can tell you that UNICEF is providing supplies of supplementary and therapeutic foods for the treatment of more than 20,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition in Côte d’Ivoire.
A small number of Ivorian asylum-seekers has arrived in Mali, Burkina Faso and in Ghana, where they are being registered and protected by partners of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
I can also tell you that the Secretary-General continues to follow events extremely closely in Côte d’Ivoire. He has just completed another video conference call with the Mission, involving the senior leadership of the Mission and senior officials and advisers here in New York. He is obviously disappointed that the latest visit by the ECOWAS-AU [Economic Commission of West African States-African Union] delegation didn’t produce the desired result, but he continues to believe that ECOWAS and AU are playing an important role. He will be speaking during the course of the day, he hopes, with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Jean Ping of the African Union.
UNAMID Security Situation
The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is verifying reports of inter-tribal violence between the Misseriya and Rizeigat communities in the village of Treij, in West Darfur.
Meanwhile, the security situation in all areas affected by fighting last month is reported to be calm, with the resumption of public transportation to some locations. At the same time, aid continues to reach thousands of people displaced by the clashes, many of whom had sought shelter outside UNAMID team sites.
With the referendum on South Sudan less than a week away, the South Sudan Referendum Commission, in cooperation with the two UN Missions in Sudan, is concluding a series of training seminars for staff at the 20 polling centres in the three Darfur states.
There are an estimated 23,000 people registered to vote on the referendum in the Darfur states. During the referendum, UNAMID will work to ensure the swift transportation of polling materials and the peaceful completion of the voting process.
At 10:00 tomorrow morning, you will have a background briefing in this room on the referendum concerning South Sudan. And then at 1:00 tomorrow, we are trying to set up a briefing by video conference from the UN Mission in Sudan on the referendum.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Martin, and happy New Year to you too. There are indications that the meeting with Laurent Gbagbo will take place soon. Has the UN Mission confirmed that?
Spokesperson: No, that does not appear to be the case. We have also seen those reports, but from what I hear from the Mission, that does not appear to be the case. Yes, further questions?
Question: I have a question on the LLRC [Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission] in Sri Lanka, and just following the last statement that the Secretary-General made, there’s new developments now in which the Sri Lankan Government is — there are new restrictions on the panel of experts, and I’m wondering if the Secretary-General finds this acceptable, or whether he has anything further to say on the proceedings?
Spokesperson: I would go straight to the last part of your statement. He does not have anything further to say and neither do I, at the moment. I think we were fairly clear on where things were, and they remain there. If we have something to say on this subject, then of course we will let you know. I know that people are interested in this. The panel of experts is working hard, and it’s a process. During the course of the work, the panel, just like many other panels, is unlikely to be saying a lot about the work that it does. It’s more likely to be speaking once its report has been completed and the Secretary-General has had a chance to review that and decide what happens next. But what I would say is that, at the moment, we’re simply not in a position to give you anything further on any potential visit to Sri Lanka. If there is more information, we’ll let you know. Yes? And then I see Giampaolo, not sitting in the usual place, but I will then come straight to you.
Question: I wanted to ask a follow up on that topic. Ban Ki-moon, sitting where you are on 17 December, said they are going. Now the Government is saying — so I guess, factually, who didn’t the Secretary-General speak with, before making his announcement on the 17th? Because there is now a lot of confusion. The Foreign Secretary said the first he read about Ban’s announcement was in the newspaper. Seems important, just factually, who he spoke with before he made that announcement, and also, has the secretariat of the panel — is it travelling to Sri Lanka? There have been reports that they are, and it seems like that’s just a factual questions — are they going or not?
Spokesperson: It’s not really — we’re not really trying to work out whether this is a factual question or not. I’m not disputing that these are factual questions. But the factual answer is that I don’t have anything to add at the moment. The point is that, as you well know, between Christmas and New Year, we had a number of exchanges on this topic, and nothing has changed since we had those conversations, Matthew, in the guidance that I have for you. If that changes, then of course we will let you know, and other colleagues who are obviously interested.
Question: There is now a story out that the Government will only give conditional visas. Is that — can you confirm that?
Spokesperson: We’ve seen that report as well. As I said, what we have to say on the matter stands. And if it changes, I’ll let you know. Yes, Giampaolo?
Question: On another subject — happy New Year, anyway.
Spokesperson: Happy New Year to you.
Question: Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, after the attack on Christians, announced there’s going to be an interfaith meeting in Assisi next October. Do you think that the Secretary-General is planning to attend that meeting? Does he have something to say about the subject of attacking Christians?
Spokesperson: I have seen the reports. We don’t know yet whether the Secretary-General would be attending, but obviously we would need to look at that. You will also have seen that the Secretary-General made a statement himself on the second of January, saying he was appalled by the bomb attack, and sending his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of the Arab Republic of Egypt. Obviously, the Secretary-General has repeatedly spoken out about the need for interfaith dialogue, so efforts in that regard are always very welcome. Yes, Ali?
Question: Happy New Year. The Israeli Prime Minister claimed yesterday that he accepted an extension for a settlement freeze in the occupied territories, and that the United States turned down this offer. Was the Secretary-General aware of this piece of information?
Spokesperson: Seeing the reports, we’ll need to look into that further. We’ve seen the reports. Yeah. Jonathan?
Question: Happy New Year, Martin. Two questions: one on [Côte d’Ivoire]. How close is Ban Ki-moon to giving an ultimatum? The deliberations, the negotiations have been going on for some time, and the longer this crisis continues, and the defiance against the UN and the rest of the world continues, it’s not particularly good in terms of the position of the UN. How much patience does Ban Ki-moon have in regards to resolving the Ivory Coast issue? And then I have a follow-up question about a dot-com story that Fox News did.
Spokesperson: OK, well let’s answer this bit first. I think this is not about the United Nations. This is about Côte d’Ivoire; this is about the will of the people of Côte d’Ivoire. The United Nations has been very clear on its position, and so too have ECOWAS, the African Union, and any number of — the European Union — any number of individual countries. As I say, this is about the will of the people. But it’s also about the role of ECOWAS and the African Union in seeking to persuade Mr. Gbagbo to step down. That work continues. As we know, the most recent visit was not successful to the extent that Mr. Gbagbo has not stepped down. But that work continues. As I mentioned to you, the Secretary-General intends to speak today to the Nigerian President and Jean Ping, the chairman of the African Union Commission, to hear from them their assessment of where things stand. Clearly, it’s troubling, it’s extremely troubling. Not least because the democratic will of the people has been expressed, and the people of Côte d’Ivoire would like to get on with their lives; and also because UN peacekeepers and other UN personnel have an important job to do and have found it quite difficult to do because of the circumstances.
Question: The other question is: Foxnews.com did a story the other day about an organization called IIMSAM. And IIMSAM continues to claim that it has permanent observer status at the United Nations — something that’s been put into question. I guess the question is, what has the United Nations told IIMSAM about their claim, and what does the United Nations intend to do to resolve this issue?
Spokesperson: I’ve seen the story, and I think that ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] has already spoken quite clearly about this. But let me — evidently, not clearly enough, if you still have a question, so…
Question: The question persists is if you go the website of the organization, and other references that the organization makes, it still claims to be a permanent observer.
Spokesperson: Yes, that’s part of the story I also saw. Let me check back with ECOSOC to see if anything further has been done in that regard. Yes, Matthew?
Question: In a related question, the then-prominent, sort of self-described, representative of IIMSAM was this man Mr. Maradona, not Diego Maradona, but perhaps a relative. Before Christmas, it arose, under what guise he had gotten a pass to the UN. There’s a photo of him with a diplomat’s pass. Has there been an answer yet from DSS’s [Department of Safety and Security] database on how he got that pass, and which pass it was…
Spokesperson: As we told you repeatedly last week, Matthew, when we have an answer, we’ll let you know. We don’t have an answer.
Question: Shouldn’t it be reasonable to find out if someone has a pass?
Spokesperson: As I said, we’ve asked, and when we hear, we’ll let you know. Yes?
Question: Let me say, also, happy New Year. My question regards Iran. Is there a reaction, or do you expect a reaction, or nothing, from the Secretary-General on the invitation that Iran has extended to a few countries to visit their nuclear facilities? Some of the countries are members of the Security Council. And, the White House reacted — was not invited — and reacted very coldly.
Spokesperson: Well, we’ve seen those reports; the Secretary-General is aware of those reports. And clearly, the most important thing here is that Iran should comply with existing Security Council resolutions. Any other part of the picture is less important than complying with Security Council resolutions, and cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Yes?
Question: I had a question — I wonder if I misunderstood something earlier. There was an announcement reporting out of the region in [Côte d’Ivoire] that ECOWAS had reached some agreement with Gbagbo under which he would lift the blockade on the Golf Hotel and that they would begin negotiations leading to a settlement. Were you saying that that was not true, or were you just talking about rumours about a meeting between the two?
Spokesperson: I was talking about the question about rumours about a meeting. But I can also tell you that the blockade around the Golf Hotel has not been lifted. Contrary to what Mr. Gbagbo said, it has not been lifted.
Question: [inaudible] that is a real breakthrough, then…
Spokesperson: As I said, the Secretary-General is extremely appreciative of the repeated efforts of ECOWAS and the African Union. That’s why he wishes to speak as soon as possible to President Goodluck Jonathan and Jean Ping, for their assessment. Those two gentlemen have obviously been briefed by the President and the Prime Minister of Kenya, who just visited Abidjan. And it’s at that point that we’d be able to assess things more clearly. As a statement of fact, the blockade around the Golf Hotel has not been lifted, and as far as we are aware, Mr. Ouattara is not going to be meeting Mr. Gbagbo — as far as we are aware. Yes?
Question: Good afternoon, thank you. Just a question on the floods in Australia and maybe a follow-up on Pakistan. Has the UN gone in with disaster mitigation to Australia? Have they requested it, for example? And just an update, if you have any, on the post-flood conditions in Pakistan?
Spokesperson: On Australia, the Secretary-General has obviously been watching this with growing alarm, and I understand that he will be writing to the Australian authorities in the course of the day. But I would need to ask my colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The last I’d heard was that Australia had not requested assistance. The United Nations, by definition, is always available to help, should that assistance be requested. I would defer to my colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in case that picture has changed. And on Pakistan, I don’t have any up-to-date information with me right now. I’m very happy to try to get some information for you to give you a better picture of how things are there, at the moment. But clearly, as you will have heard, just before the holiday season from Valerie Amos, we remain extremely concerned about the conditions there — not least because this is such a long-lasting disaster, but also because of the difficulties there have been, both because of the natural disaster and because of the security in different areas, to be able to do the job effectively. Yes, Tim?
Question: The Secretary-General has given very strong support to ECOWAS for the crisis in Ivory Coast or Côte d’Ivoire. Does this go as far as their threat for possible military intervention?
Spokesperson: Well, as we have said, ECOWAS is carrying out an important role, as the regional organization. And it is backed by the African Union, as you saw on this most recent visit. We need to see how the ECOWAS work unfolds in the hours and days to come. The most important feature of this for the Secretary-General is that the will of the people of Côte d’Ivoire should be respected. That’s the most important part. Yes?
Question: As far as we hear on TV, it is clear that ECOWAS and African
Union failed. When they came out of the meeting — ECOWAS — they were not saying that everything went well, and the rumour that the blockade had been lifted. So, how long can we wait? How long can the people wait? It’s difficult, and it seems that the UN cannot do much?
Spokesperson: It’s extremely difficult. I would point out that the United Nations mission on the ground in Côte d’Ivoire has been extremely important in the run-up to the elections. It remains extremely important; it is carrying out patrols as part of its mandate to help to protect civilians. It’s also monitoring human rights. And as you know, the Mission has tried repeatedly and will continue to try to gain access to two sites where there are allegations of mass graves. So this is important work. You’re right that the people of Côte d’Ivoire — their patience has been sorely tried. But it’s important for the diplomatic efforts of ECOWAS and the Africa Union to continue and that’s why the Secretary-General wants to be able to hear directly from those organizations, hopefully during the course of the day, for a read-out on the visit that you just referred to.
Question: There is a report that the Gbagbo forces raided the office of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast in Abidjan, Cocody. Some say four dead, some say one dead. You’re talking about these patrols of UNOCI — are they aware of that raid, and what’s the correct casualty figure, and what are they doing in response to it?
Spokesperson: They’re certainly aware of the raid, and I know that a UN patrol — which included a human rights officer — has sought to gain access to the premises. That has not yet been possible. But they’re aware of it, and they’re trying to find out more. And certainly, once again, we would appeal for calm and also for people to refrain from actions that can lead to bloodshed.
Question: Are they present in places other than the Golf Hotel, that the UNOCI is specifically protecting? Political party offices, or like in this case, or other sites?
Spokesperson: The focus is the Golf Hotel, as you know. I would defer to my colleagues in the Mission who may be able to provide more information. Clearly, there is a mandate to protect civilians, and that is why patrols are important — to be visible and present. But clearly, it’s also obvious that you cannot be everywhere all the time. Yes, Neil, right at the back? Oh, sorry, I thought it was Neil. It’s not Neil — it’s impossible to see in the light.
Question: Regarding the [Côte d’Ivoire] situation, there is a clear linkage in the way all the world is watching, because there is a referendum that’s going to be in Sudan in a few days. It’s clear the situation gets so much attention, also because of watching the way the United Nations acts in the [Côte d’Ivoire] is also probably the way the situation could develop in Sudan. Does the UN look at the way the — this started in November — could the UN have foretold the same in Sudan, especially a lot of people are expecting that the South will declare independence. If the situation develops in the way that we all hope it doesn’t, but the South starts to be attacked again, and the civil war breaks, the way we see the situation could be very dangerous. So how the UN is preparing for Sudan? That is the — I see, not myself, but I think everybody is seeing a linkage between the two situations, where the result of an election is not respected. So how are you preparing for that?
Spokesperson: Well, preparations for the referenda have been going on for a long time. And obviously, it’s really rather perilous to make comparisons between different electoral processes. Obviously, our colleagues in UNMIS — the UN Mission in Sudan — have been working extremely hard with the local authorities in the run-up to the referenda, and I know that the Mission, as I said, is aiming to give a briefing tomorrow by video link and I’m sure that you could repeat that question to them. But I would simply warn against drawing parallels between really rather different electoral processes. The UN keeps a very close eye around the world, in Africa in particular, it has specific mandates in different places. In this one in particular, you may wish to ask more if we are able to hook up with the Mission in Sudan tomorrow. Yes, Nisar?
Question: Happy New Year. Martin, there were reports today that a small fishing boat in Gaza was sunk by the Israeli Navy, and that two of the fishermen were taken by the Israelis. Has the UN done anything to visit them? And also in Gaza, the Israelis have made a de facto buffer zone, denying the farmers their farmland. What’s the United Nations doing to help them get their farmland?
Spokesperson: Well on the first question, Nisar, I’d need to check. I don’t have an answer on that. On the second, on access, the UN has said repeatedly that for the people of Gaza to be able to prosper and flourish in the way that they should, they need to have full access, and that means through crossing points, that means for goods and for people. And so by extension, I think it’s important that people have access to their farming land, as well.
Question: And are they supporting the farmers to their farmland?
Spokesperson: I’d need to ask. I’m talking about a general statement of principle here; I’d need to ask on that specific part. And on the fishing boats, I will find out. Okay, I’m going to take two more questions.
Question: Yes, thanks Martin for being here. My question is on Lebanon. The Lebanese have said that they’re sending a letter the Secretary-General asking him to…
Spokesperson: Could you say again?
Question: The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said that they’re going to send the Secretary-General a letter asking the United Nations to demark the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel, after Israel has announced the discovery of a major gas well there, in that area. And then there were reports that UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] said it’s not the UNs job to determine the maritime borders between the two countries. What’s the UNs position on this?
Spokesperson: What UNIFIL said.
Question: Why is it — there was another question that there is now a maritime force part of UNIFIL, which makes sure that [resolution] 1701 (2006) is being implemented. So they don’t need to determine the borders? The maritime borders?
Spokesperson: I think that’s rather different. The mandate is very specific on what UNIFIL does including its maritime component, and it is also fairly specific that it does not include delineating lines — maritime lines.
Question: A follow-up on that: when, obviously, there are buoys, that Israelis have put lines on buoys in the waters of Lebanon. How can UNIFIL determine if someone crosses the border into the neighbour’s area if they cannot determine if there is any trespassing, or any infringement of 1701, in that area, if they don’t know the border?
Spokesperson: Well, I think we’re talking about two different things here — coastal waters, and disputed boundary. That’s two different things. As I said, it’s not the job of the Mission to delineate a boundary, and it has a specific role — excuse me — to, as you said, in monitoring 1701.
Question: Even near the coastal area, the Israelis have set a line in the water, that’s close to the coast. How can anyone determine if a boast crosses…
Spokesperson: As I say, Nisar, I think we’re talking about two different things. We’re talking about coastal waters and a disputed boundary. Yes, Colum, I think we’re going to make this the last question.
Question: I have a question about [Côte d’Ivoire] again, it’s really about Ban Ki-moon’s diplomatic style. Traditionally, he’d been a big proponent of quiet diplomacy in areas like Sri Lanka, Sudan, Burma — he’s kind of engaged much more in kind of megaphone diplomacy, putting a lot, taking a clear position in terms of supporting the Ouattara election. What is it about this case in which he’s decided to take such a clear stance on the outcome of the disputed election, and also, is there concerns about whether the UNs peacekeeping position is sustainable, if, as the Secretary-General is concerned, the country slides into civil war? They’ve sort of taken the side of the party that’s not in power.
Spokesperson: Let’s be very clear: the work of the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire is based on a Security Council resolution, and so this is not simply about the Secretary-General, this is about the Security Council. And it’s not just about the Security Council, as I mentioned earlier, it’s about the international community at large, the African Union, ECOWAS, the European Union, as well as individual Member States. So this goes quite a long way. The Secretary-General is supporting the Mission, and the role of the Mission, as set out in an earlier Security Council resolution. And he will continue to do so.
Question: And on this whole issue about the sustainability of the UN force there…
Spokesperson: Well, obviously, as we’ve said already, our mission on the ground, peacekeepers, police, civilians, local staff, international staff, are working incredibly hard in very difficult circumstances, and we all recognize the inherent risks that there are. And that is why Mr. [Alain] Le Roy visited, and that’s why the military advisor visited, and that’s why the Secretary-General has had repeated video-conference calls with the Mission to show support, and to be able to hear from them their latest assessments. Nobody is suggesting that it’s easy. But we also don’t want to wander into the hypothetical at the moment. Simply to say that they’re working extremely hard in difficult circumstances, and take the necessary precautions to ensure that they can carry out their mandate to the best of their ability. Yes, Masood?
Question: In your reference to Iran’s invitation to these seven countries to come visit their facilities, and so forth, has the United Nations or anybody else — the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] — determined as to how much of a damage have those computer virus done to the Iran’s nuclear programme? The Secretary-General has a report on that.
Spokesperson: Well, Masood, I would refer you to the International Atomic Energy Agency on that one. I really do. Yes, Matthew, Sudan — you’ve been very patient.
Question: I wanted to ask you this: it was reported between Christmas and New Year that rapes occurred, caused by the Government of Sudan, near Tuwilla, in fact they call in the Rwanda camp — i.e., near the Rwandan peacekeepers. It was reported by Radio Dabanga. I’ve been trying to figure out, does UNAMID — can it confirm that? Does it deny it? Is it aware of it?
Spokesperson: Matthew, that’s another one of the questions that you put to us during the course of the previous week, and as we said, when we get an answer, we would let you know. We don’t have an answer yet — and we will ask again.
Question: Also on Sudan, about the DPA [Department of Political Affairs] minutes — the idea that DPA briefed NGOs and stated that…
Spokesperson: Same answer, Matthew. I said, when we have an answer, we’d let you know. And I don’t have an answer, so thank you very much. Good afternoon, everybody.
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