11 January 2011
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 and welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General Statement on Sudan


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


The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the recent reports of clashes in the Abyei area.  The Secretary-General condemns the reported loss of life and calls upon the National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leadership to maintain calm and ensure that this issue is resolved through peaceful dialogue.


The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has intensified its patrolling activities on the ground and is on standby to reinforce its peacekeeping presence if the need arises.  The Mission, in consultation with other stakeholders, is engaging the parties to defuse tensions and prevent further escalation.


The Secretary-General urges both sides to resume and conclude negotiations on Abyei as a matter of priority.


**Referenda Panel


The UN Secretary-General’s Panel on the Referenda in Sudan today continued its monitoring of the Southern Sudan referendum as voting entered a third day.  The three panel members visited numerous polling centres and met with referendum authorities and voters in the states of South Darfur, Upper Nile and Western Bahr el-Ghazal.


The panel’s Chairman, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who visited South Darfur, told journalists in the state capital, Nyala, that he was impressed with the organization of the polling, including the training of staff at the referendum centres.


He said he was sure that the outcome of the polling this week would reflect the true feelings of the registered voters in South Darfur.


He expressed the hope that when the counting starts on the 15th, the process of tabulating and aggregation and the final announcement would be as smooth and transparent as the voting.


Tomorrow the panel members will travel to other states across Sudan as they continue to monitor the referendum process.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


A humanitarian country team comprising UN agencies and non-governmental organizations has now completed a two-day visit to western Côte d’Ivoire, where the team assessed the needs of more than 16,000 displaced persons.  The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Ndolamb Ngokwey, reminded local authorities of the need to ensure the protection of civilians and comply with human rights standards.


The inter-agency mission also handed over supplies of medicines and non-food items to the Catholic Mission of Duékoué, which is providing shelter for thousands of the displaced.


The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is building a new refugee camp for Ivorians in eastern Liberia.  The agency says that there are now some 25,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, with around 600 people arriving each day.


The new camp, in the town of Bahn, can house some 18,000 refugees initially.  The site will provide services including health, water, sanitation, and schooling.  Meanwhile, the agency continues to deliver aid to villages where refugees are located.


**Security Council


And as you would have seen in a press statement issued yesterday evening, the members of the Security Council expressed their support for the efforts by the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in seeking a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.


Security Council members expressed their deep concern over continued violence and human rights violations in Côte d’Ivoire, including against UN peacekeepers, and condemned deliberate attempts to impede the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) from fulfilling its mandate, including the protection of civilians and the investigation of reported atrocities.  In this context, the members of the Security Council strongly condemned and demanded an immediate halt to the use of media, especially via Radiodiffusion-Télévision ivoirienne (RTI), to propagate false information to incite hatred and violence, including against the United Nations.


We have a full press statement by the Council available in my Office.


**Secretary-General Trip


The Secretary-General will travel to the United Arab Emirates and to Oman during mid-January.


The Secretary-General will attend the fourth annual World Future Energy Summit (WFES) that will be held in Abu Dhabi from 17-20 January to discuss renewable and future energy solutions, innovations, investments, and policy.  While in the United Arab Emirates, the Secretary-General will meet with United Arab Emirates leaders and visit Masdar City.


From Abu Dhabi, the Secretary-General will travel to Muscat.  And in Oman, the Secretary-General will pay an official visit and meet with leaders of the country.  And among subjects of common interest will be the forthcoming Decade of Action for Road Safety.


** Haiti — One Year


As you know, tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake.  I would like to flag a few figures for you concerning the UN’s humanitarian response.


At present, 810,000 people, out of the 1.5 million left homeless by the earthquake, live in spontaneous and organized sites.


More than 31,000 transitional shelters were built.


Between February and November of last, 240,000 people were employed through cash-for-work and food-for-work programmes; 2,100 damaged schools — that’s 68 per cent — were cleared of debris; 1.1 million children received daily meals through the National School Feeding Programme; 90 per cent of internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince have access to health clinics.


There is more information in a fact sheet released today by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  And we also have in my office a statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and another one by the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran.


** Sri Lanka – Floods


In Sri Lanka, continuous rains since 26 December have caused floods, land and rock and mud slides and displacement, mainly in the eastern and central parts of the island state.


Initial area assessments have been conducted in the past 24 hours in several affected districts.  Preliminary findings include assistance needed in the areas of food, non-food items, and water, sanitation and hygiene.


Today, an assessment is being carried out by the Sri Lankan Government’s Disaster Management Centre with the support of the UN Humanitarian Country Team across all affected districts in the East, North and Central Provinces.  More information about the situation and current needs will be available in the next few days.


And I can tell you that the World Food Programme, UNICEF and WHO are all active on the ground and provide more details about their work there.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 2 p.m., Héctor Marcos Timerman, Foreign Minister of Argentina and Incoming Chairman of the Group of 77, will hold a press conference here.  That’s what I have for you.  Questions?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  You may have seen this report, there was a very disturbing report yesterday in [inaudible], that the Chase Manhattan Bank has written to most of the Missions, which have accounts with them, that it’s going to close all their accounts, and has warned the diplomatic Mission offices that your credit card accounts will be closed and everything.  And that is disconcerting, as most of the Missions had accounts at Chase Manhattan.  And it seems that other banks are also reluctant to open accounts because of sanctions and so on and so forth.  Now, the report further says that the United States Mission is willing to help, but it doesn’t seem that way for now.  Is the Secretary-General going to help the Missions over here to overcome this crisis as it stands?


Spokesperson:  We’re obviously aware of these reports, and we’ve been informed about the difficulties that Missions may face.  This is clearly a matter for the Member States, the Missions, to handle with the host country.  This comes under the host country quite clearly.  I do understand that someone from the host country will be coming to New York from Washington to brief members of Missions here, but anything further I think needs to come from the US Mission.


Question:  So the Secretary-General is basically saying that he is in no position to help?


Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what I said, Masood.  Don’t put words into the mouth of the Secretary-General.  What I said is that we are aware of the reports, and not least of which because Missions have informed us about them.  And what I can tell you is that it is clearly a matter for the host country to take up with the Missions, and I do understand, as I said, that someone is coming from Washington to brief members of the Missions.  Yes, Tala?


Question:  The three-person panel on the voting process in Sudan – what is the access for the people in the civil society members in Abyei, specifically, do with the clashes?  We’re sensing — we’re getting reports that people are just not leaving their homes, there’s a sense that they’re not going to the polling booths.


Spokesperson:  Well, Abyei is, as you know – voting is not taking place there.


Question:  But I’m saying in terms of the people that are based there, or people that are wanting to get access to polls that are…


Spokesperson:  You mean to travel to other places?


Question:  That’s right.  And also the Sudanese diaspora, as they’re calling it, the members that don’t really have a particular place?


Spokesperson:  As I mentioned already, the panel is trying to cover a lot of ground.  And as you know, there is a lot of ground to cover, with the aim of seeing how the voting is proceeding.  And I do know that they are, so far, observing that everything is proceeding generally smoothly.  But, as you know, there has been — not to do with the referendum in South Sudan — but there has been violence in Abyei that is of concern to our Mission and of course to the people on the ground.  I do know that, I can tell you that a convoy of 23 buses and five trucks, carrying about 1,000 returnees, coming from the north to Aweil, which is spelled A-W-E-I-L – this convoy was detained by Misseriya tribes in Dabib in southern Kordofan state.  And the governor of northern Bahr El Ghazal state is saying that the returnees are being abused and their belongings stolen.  He’s requested that the UN Mission in Sudan – in southern Kordofan – should press the Sudan Armed Forces and the police to intervene immediately to lift the restriction of movement of these returnees.  This occurred yesterday.  So we’re trying to find out more about that.  That’s what I have for you on that particular…


Question:  [inaudible] those returnees, and the people that are trying to get to the polling stations aren’t voting yet and probably won’t.


Spokesperson:  Well, remember that the voting continues still for some time.  This is obviously an incident that the Mission is looking into with some degree of urgency, not simply because of voting, but because of what’s been reported about their treatment.  So this is something that clearly needs swift attention, and I’m sure that our colleagues in the UN Mission in Sudan are looking into this.  I do know that they are very active in monitoring what’s happening.


Question:  Can I follow up on that?


Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  I just wanted to know whether that’s the same incident in south Kordofan in which there are reportedly 10 dead, is that the same one?  There are reports — or, elsewhere in Kordofan — and also, there’s a seemingly confirmed report, but I’d really ask you to confirm it from here, that UNMIS flew Ahmed Haroun, the ICC [International Criminal Court] indictee who was the governor of south Kordofan, flew him in a UN helicopter to Abyei and facilitated his travel.  I wanted to know, if that’s true, what’s the UN’s policy on the transporting and facilitating the travel of an indicted war criminal?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the incident in which a number of people are thought to have been killed is separate from the one which I’ve mentioned.  And the Mission is in the process of trying to verify the incident in which people are reported to have been killed.  And at the moment, we’re not in a position to verify that.  We’re trying to do so.  On the question of Governor Haroun, the Mission is mandated to provide good offices to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement parties in their efforts to resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations, and I can tell you that the UN Mission in Sudan has been working with the parties, including local authorities, to contain any potential violence that may escalate.  As you know, there have been clashes in Abyei, and these clashes were actually threatening to escalate into a wider war.  And so Governor Haroun was critical to bringing the Misseriya leaders in southern Kordofan to a peace meeting in Abyei to stop further clashes and killings.  And, in accordance with its mandate, the Mission will continue to provide the necessary support to those key players in their pursuits to find a peaceful solution.


Question:  So, they did transport him?  I mean, I just want to make sure I’m not reading between the lines.


Spokesperson:  Correct.


Question:  I guess I just wanted to know, have they transported Ali Kushayb, the other indictee, and did they check with OLA [Office of Legal Affairs]?  I mean, I understand the rationale of transporting someone if necessary.  But it makes you wonder, like, Joseph Kony, I mean, where’s the line drawn, and was this checked with Headquarters before it was done?


Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is what I’ve already told you.  It’s in accordance with the mandate to provide support to key players.  Clearly, as I also said, Governor Haroun was critical to bring the Misseriya leaders in southern Kordofan to this meeting that had been arranged in Abyei.


Question:  Doesn’t the Government of Sudan have its own Air Force?  I mean, they fly patrols, and bomb in South Sudan, why weren’t they able to transport their own leaders?


Spokesperson:  This is something that was being brought together with the help of the Mission.  In other words, this was a mediation effort — and this was a part of that mediation effort.  Yes, Mr. Abaddi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On Côte d’Ivoire, still, you indicated earlier that the Secretary-General is against power-sharing.  There are some reports now that the leaders in the country might agree on the formation of a coalition Government.  If ECOWAS and AU support that suggestion, would the Secretary-General be in favour?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I don’t want to delve in to the hypothetical.  And secondly, I’m not sure I quite share your assessment of the news reports.  I mean, there have been reports about – from both camps – about the possibility of a unity Government, and both sides have rejected the other’s offers.  The bottom line here is that the will of the people has to be respected, and that means that Mr. Gbagbo needs to step down.  Next question, yes?


Question:  Related to Tunisia, I would like to know what are — what is your assessment of the people that – I mean, are many people dead?  Because we are not sure if – I read a communiqué from your office that says 40 people died…


Spokesperson:  Where, I’m sorry?


Question:  In Tunisia.  The Secretary-General said he was sorry for the 40 lost or something.  But there are other reports that say there are maybe even 50 or 60 people, they have not confirmed – the Government says 14, and some sources say that in the last two or three days 50 people died. So, if the Secretary-General says 14…


Spokesperson:  Well, let me stop you right there.  He didn’t.  He did not refer to a specific figure.  What he referred to was his concern about the escalation of violent clashes between security forces and protestors in Tunisia and the resulting deaths and injuries.  We haven’t specified a figure, precisely because this is something that is difficult to ascertain.


Question:  On the website, on the UN [inaudible], on the website of the UN, I read something -


Spokesperson:  Let’s check on this.


Question:  But it’s good, it’s good that you don’t know the figure yet, and if what he said is, is there anything you’re doing to find out exactly what happened?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has called for restraint and he’s called for all parties to seek to resolve differences through dialogue.  And, of course, he will remain briefed on what is happening on the ground there, of course.  Yes, is this related to Tunisia?


Question:  I did not make an assessment of – I relayed the report, the facts.


Spokesperson:  Mr. Abbadi, I think we’ve answered that question.


Question:  The question is – maybe it was misunderstood – if the two leaders, Ouattara and Gbagbo, agree that they could form a coalition Government, and [inaudible] the presidency of Ouattara, would the Secretary-General support that?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I said to you, I don’t want to answer a hypothetical question, Mr. Abbadi.  Yes, [inaudible]?


Question:  [inaudible] the work of the UN panel of inquiry into the [inaudible] incident.  Is the panel going to finish its report, and submit it to the Secretary-General at the end of February, as it was mentioned before?


Spokesperson:  I know you asked this question yesterday, and I did say that we would be looking into it.  We don’t have a response yet.  As soon as we do, I’ll let you know.  All right?  Yes?


Question:  I wanted to ask a quick question about these ongoing clashes now in Gaza between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say or is this just a normal thing, that we know this is happening and that’s it?


Spokesperson:  I think you know that he monitors closely what’s happening in the Middle East.  And, as you know, as I told you last week, he did speak to the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and to Ms. [Catherine] Ashton of the European Union.  And we also issued a statement yesterday — obviously not related to Gaza — but showing clearly his concern for the peace process as a whole.  Any incidents from whichever source that undermined efforts to reach a peaceful resolution to this are clearly unhelpful.  I’m going to — yes, Matthew, and then onto Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  On Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti, however you want to do it.  In Côte d’Ivoire, there’s this report of the peacekeepers retreating, as some headlines put it, or turning around, leaving a neighbourhood described as being under Gbagbo’s loyalist security concerns.  Can you say, is that true, and what are the terms of engagement, and are they going to return to this area?  Or is that an area they’re no longer policing or able to protect people in?


Spokesperson:  Well, generally, obviously the Mission has a mandate to protect civilians, and has been regularly patrolling.  It also has to exercise discretion where necessary.  I can tell you that, referring to an incident or an instance on 10 January — in other words, yesterday — this was a logistics convoy from the Mission that comprised four civilian trucks, and it was stopped at the checkpoint near the American embassy on its way to re-supply the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.  And then a few minutes later, three vehicles with some 20 defence and security force, FDS [Defence and Security Forces] elements, arrived at the location.  And then a crowd of several hundred, which included five additional vehicles with 50 people from the FDS, the police and the gendarmerie, and then four civilians who were part of this convoy were taken into custody.  And then, in the meantime, the crowd started looting the items from the vehicles.  The peacekeepers, the UNOCI elements, left to bring reinforcements, and when they returned the three civilian trucks and the four drivers were missing.  And UNOCI is, as I’ve been informed, is in direct contact with the FDS leadership to ascertain their whereabouts and the mission is investigating the incident and is also putting in place measures to try to reduce the risk of such incidents occurring in the future.


Question:  They said 13 trucks, that seems to add up, it sounds like [inaudible] the incident that’s being -


Spokesperson:  Well, I’m telling you – this is from the Mission.  Okay? Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Martin, we spoke about the dead demonstrators in Tunisia.  As you know, there is also next-door neighbour where there have been demonstrations – peaceful demonstrations — and a number of dead, reportedly more than half a dozen, in Algeria.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that?


Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  Okay.  Yeah?


Question:  I wanted to ask you, there are — we are told that there was a case some time ago of a boy that was found hung — a Haitian boy found hung in a Nepali base in Cap Haitien.  Some say that Mr. Mulet has asked the Secretary-General to remove the immunity of a national staff member there, Joelle Rozefort, so she can testify to a court about this.  Is that – one, has Mr. Mulet made the request?  But whether he has or not, is the Secretary-General considering removing the immunity of this staff member to respond to a court subpoena?


Spokesperson:  I’m aware of the incident you’re referring to in which someone was found to have been hanged.  And I think we may be able to provide you with a little bit more information on the question that you’ve asked a little bit later.


Question:  And just one other thing, maybe just for a response…


Spokesperson:  Is this about Haiti?


Question:  It is about Haiti.  There’s a group there known as SOFA, the Solidarité des Femmes Haïtiennes.  They’ve recently, I guess in connection with, or slightly before this one-year anniversary, they’ve said that – I guess, more explosively, they’ve asked the Government to somehow indict the UN for – they say – having brought cholera.  But they’ve also raised this issue of compensation – so I wanted to make sure that the two things – can you, they’re saying that the UN should pay some compensation for - for cholera.  That’s their claim.  They’re a Haitian group, you can – so I guess I just want to know, what’s the UN response to that?  Are they aware of that call, and what’s their response?


Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General instituted a panel.  Those four experts are working precisely to establish the source of the outbreak of cholera, which has not been established so far.  That’s their job to do so, to the extent that they are able to do so, and to report back to the Secretary-General and the Government of Haiti as quickly as they can.  And to go the next step beyond that is not really helpful at this point.  There is a clear job to do, and that’s the job that the panel has been asked to carry out as swiftly as possible, and in the meantime, of course, the key priority is to help those people – you heard from Mr. [Nigel] Fisher yesterday about the death rates being lower, but still the number of cases being very high. So this is something that needs to be tackled as a priority.


Question:  So I understand that the panel comes first.  But I just want to know, I mean maybe you can answer this — does the idea, in the abstract, of compensation seem unreasonable to the UN?  Depending on what it finds?


Spokesperson:  Look, I don’t – this is something that – let’s do things step-by-step.  And the most important thing is to help those in need.  You’ve heard extensively, not just from Mr. Fisher but most recently from Mr. Fisher, on that.  And you also know that this — the four panel members, experts each in their own right, are working hard to establish precisely what the source of the outbreak was, if they are able to do so.  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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