|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.
Last night, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young-Jin, and Force Commander Abdul Hafiz went to the PK-18 area of the Abobo neighbourhood of Abidjan, to monitor the security situation there. As you saw in the statement we issued last night, the situation in Abobo has been tense in the last few days.
In the statement, the Secretary-General reiterated that any attacks on United Nations peacekeepers are unacceptable. He assures all Ivorians of the Mission’s commitment to protect civilians irrespective of their political affiliation. He calls on all concerned to desist from obstructing the Mission from carrying out its mandated tasks.
Mr. Choi’s delegation to Abobo last night was intended to assure the protection of the civilian population who face the risk of human rights violations from forces in Laurent Gbagbo’s camp. We also expect a statement this afternoon in response to the events taking place on the ground in Abidjan today.
The week-long independence referendum in South Sudan passed its halfway mark yesterday, with a continued large turnout and without any major incident.
The UN Secretary-General's Panel on the Referenda in the Sudan today continued its monitoring of the Southern Sudan referendum as a fifth day of voting concluded. The panel members visited polling centres and met with referendum authorities and voters in the states of Nile, Upper Nile and Lakes today. Voting is scheduled to finish on Saturday, 15 January.
Said Djinnit, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, is in Niamey today.
Djinnit is travelling as part of a joint, tripartite delegation that includes the vice-president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union commissioner for peace and security.
Djinnit’s office says that the delegation will express the support of the UN, African Union and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] to the transition process in Niger. They will also assess progress and remaining challenges in the effort to restore constitutional order, including the organization of the elections.
The joint delegation is scheduled to meet the national authorities and institutions, as well as presidential candidates and members of the international community in Niamey.
The Secretary-General has appointed Major General Chao Liu of the People’s Republic of China as the Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
Major General Liu succeeds Rear Admiral Mario Sánchez Debernardi of Peru, who completed his assignment on 31 December 2010. We have more information on the Major General in my office.
The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on the work of the UN Regional Centre for Central Asia. The head of the Centre, Miroslav Jenča, briefed the Council on developments in that region.
In Sri Lanka, the United Nations Country Team is supporting the Government in helping over 1 million people affected by the severe floods caused by torrential rains that have been lashing the country in the last few weeks.
The UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, Neil Buhne, says the UN team is supporting the local authorities to collect information and respond to the growing humanitarian needs. He added that the United Nations will also look at the longer term effects of the damage to agriculture, infrastructure and housing.
In the coming week, the UN will launch an appeal for emergency funds to rally donors to support and expand ongoing national efforts to respond to important needs in flood-affected areas.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, arrived earlier today in Yemen on a joint mission with the European Union Commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, Kristalina Georgieva.
The two officials will review aid operations for some 300,000 internally displaced civilians in northern Yemen. They will also assess humanitarian challenges caused by the influx of Somalis crossing the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea into Yemen. They are expected to meet with Yemeni officials and press for safer and broader humanitarian access across northern Yemen.
Tomorrow, as we’ve told you, the Secretary-General will hold his first press conference for the year in this room at 11:30 a.m. That press conference will take place right after the Secretary-General talks to the Member States at the General Assembly to discuss his priorities for 2011. And as always, given the Secretary-General’s press conference, there will be no noon briefing tomorrow.
So I am happy to take questions. Yes, Khaled?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I’d like to follow up on the situation in Lebanon. Any contact by the Secretary-General? What’s the UN stand right now on the future, as well, of the court, following the resignation of the Government?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, we did say very clearly yesterday that the Secretary-General is following developments closely, and that he has appealed for calm and that there should be continued dialogue between all parties and that everyone should respect the Constitution and the law of the country; and, in addition, he has reiterated his full support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and reiterated its independence in the work that it does.
Question: But practically speaking, right now, if there is anything that the UN or the court wants from the Government in Lebanon, who is it going to deal with?
Spokesperson: As I think you know, there is a caretaker government, and I’m sure that the Tribunal will be able to continue its work in the practical sense that you mentioned. The Secretary-General fully supports the work that the Tribunal is doing. Yes, Nisar?
Question: Has the Secretary-General talked to Mr. Hariri after he lost his office as Prime Minister?
Spokesperson: No, he hasn’t spoken to him directly, but of course he is fully briefed on what’s happening.
Question: What’s happening on the pull-out on the north of al-Ghajar? This was for some time — nobody’s talking about it.
Spokesperson: As you know, it was a topic that was discussed just the other day in that tripartite meeting that I think I mentioned yesterday. I don’t have anything further on that. Matthew?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask some questions about Côte d’Ivoire. I understand that you said there would be some statement on things on the ground. I just want to know, in advance of deploring these things, is the UN confirming the burning of its vehicles by supporters of Mr. Gbagbo?
Spokesperson: What I can confirm is that there have been a number of incidents, including the burning of a number of UN vehicles in Abidjan today.
Question: There’s a pretty widely circulated — there’s been in the French press now, among others — and no one knows if the memo is true or not, so I want to preface it that way. But the buzz is that the Forces Nouvelles intend to break out of the hotel around January 19 to 23, there’s a document being circulated that purports to be a kind of a plan for it — it could just be a de-stabilizing document. But I just wanted to know, since the document says that the UN will also get involved — the document seems to indicate that incidents will precipitate action by both forces on that date. Has the UN seen this? Does it deny that it’s playing any part in it? And how would it view the Forces Nouvelles coming out of the Golf Hotel?
Spokesperson: I’d need to check on whether the Mission is aware of the document that you mention, and what their take is on it.
Question: One more thing, if you don’t mind — it’s just a factual one. Maybe you’ll answer it or not, but I know that the trucks that were looted were delivering food to the Golf Hotel. It may seem like a strange question to you, but was the food — there are a thousand people or more in the Golf Hotel. Who’s paying for all this? Who’s paying the hotel bill, is the food UN food? If so, how — I heard a figure of $5 million, maybe that’s too high, but — is there some way to know what the actual kind of logistics of this now month-long stay — unplanned stay at the Golf Hotel — who’s paying the owner? Is the food from the UN, and is it WFP [World Food Programme] food or some other, more presidential food? I’d just like to get an answer on that.
Spokesperson: Sure. Yes, Massoud? [He later said that the United Nations does not pay the bills at the Golf Hotel. The food is UN food.]
Question: This is on the situation in Tunis, where so many people have now been killed, according to the latest reports, and that the Government is losing control. So has the Secretary-General got to say anything, besides urging for calm?
Spokesperson: Well, as we already said, he is concerned about the escalation of clashes there between the security forces and protesters. Yes, of course, he’s calling for restraint. And he urges all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue, and of course he also said earlier this week that all of this needs to take place in the understanding that there should be full respect for the freedom on expression.
Question: Can I just follow up on that? When you say he called upon both sides to practice restraint — I mean, obviously there is one side that’s shooting at the people, and a number of civilians have been killed. So what’s the other side that you’re calling on…
Spokesperson: I didn’t say side, I said “urged all parties”.
Question: All parties, I’m sorry — all parties. So what is this — there is one party, which is the Tunisian Government or security forces, shooting at demonstrators. So who are the other parties?
Spokesperson: The point here is simply that he’s calling for restraint, and that everybody needs to show restraint to help to resolve the differences that there evidently are, and that should be done through dialogue.
Question: Don’t you think that there should be a direct appeal to the authorities there, the ones that are doing the shooting, instead of “all parties”? It makes it sound like, as if the other parties are doing something that should call for restraint as well. They are protesting and expressing peaceful…
Spokesperson: The point here is — we’ve been extremely clear about the need for respect for freedom of expression, in other words, for people to protest peacefully. And you will also have seen that the Human Rights Commissioner has issued a fairly robust statement that addresses this quite clearly, I think. Yes?
Question: Martin, thank you. On Haiti, the figure given from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] on one of their graphs is that there was $9.47 billion in play. My question is, who’s making the decisions in the UN family, or in the UN agencies, to disperse the money, and are those — obviously, if OCHA’s got control of the money and they’re tabulating it, they must have some say — but who actually is giving the go-ahead to send the money to Haiti? Is there any outside — because one of the things here is that from the interim commission projects, $3 billion as of 31 December. Who’s okaying that; is it the World Bank? Is it UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]? I’m having a very hard time in navigating all those websites, finding out specifically who in the UN agencies are saying what goes where, how those decisions are being made — can you help me with that?
Spokesperson: I will certainly try to. I won’t be able to right here, but I will certainly try to help you with that. As Mr. [Nigel] Fisher said when he did the briefing earlier this week, it is quite complicated to navigate those numbers, and it’s a very valid point that you’re raising: how is the money dispersed? And I would ask my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and elsewhere to help you navigate . Yes, Mr. Abbadi, and then Tim.
Question: I have a question on Southern Sudan’s independence, which is likely. There are indications that the issue of distribution of Nile water will be a major controversy. Is the United Nations doing anything in terms of preventive action?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the referendum itself is under way — we’re at the halfway point, and that is a very important moment — this referendum itself. But important as well, equally important, is what happens next — whatever the outcome is. And I don’t want to prejudge what that outcome might be, but either way, there will be challenges that need to be addressed — of all kinds. Yes, Tim?
Question: The Secretary-General met Mr. [Bernard] Kouchner this morning; I wonder if you had any detail on that? And is Mr. [ Edmond] Mulet expected to leave his post in Haiti very soon?
Spokesperson: On the meeting with Mr. Kouchner — it was a courtesy call. As you know, he’s a former French Foreign Minister, he knows the Secretary-General well, they’ve worked together, obviously, in the past — this was a courtesy call. And on Mr. Mulet, I will check. To my knowledge, I’m not aware of any changes in the offing. Yes?
[He later added that the Secretary-General and Mr. Kouchner discussed Sudan, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti.]
Question: Martin, I may be entirely wrong, although Chinese contingents have been part of UN peacekeeping forces; but is it the first time that a Chinese general is heading a UN peacekeeping force?
Spokesperson: I will need to check on that. I hear what you’re saying, and a similar thought crossed my mind, but before I pronounce categorically, I’d like to check. Yes, Thomas?
[He later said that other Chinese generals have headed other UN peacekeeping forces, including MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] in Western Sahara.]
Question: On the presidential election in Belarus, the candidates, human rights activists and journalists are still in prison. Is the UN concerned by these violations of human rights in Belarus? And also, the opposition in Belarus is asking right now — the European Union sanctions against the Belarus Government. What do you think about this item?
Spokesperson: On the second part, I don’t really have anything to say. But as you know, we did already mention that the Secretary-General is following developments in Belarus and has been doing so since the presidential election. And he’s concerned, indeed, about the continued detention of journalists, opposition candidates and their supporters, and he’s calling for their release and also for the full observance of human rights and due process. And he’s also noted the serious concerns voiced by observer groups regarding the electoral process and also post-electoral developments. Yes, Nisar?
Question: Can you update us on the deployment of additional forces in Abyei in the Sudan?
Spokesperson: This — I think, as we’ve said — this is something that the UN Mission in Sudan keeps under review and would undertake if it felt it was necessary. I don’t have any information that they have done that. What they have done is stepped up their patrolling, but not with an increase in the number of peacekeepers at this point.
Question: On the news in Abyei, we always receive updates saying that “oil-rich area”, or “oil-rich region” — recently in the briefing we were informed that Abyei is not oil-rich, and the oil is not in the disputed area between the parties. But, however, still your statement and updates come with information that Abyei is oil-rich. Is there any particular reason for that?
Spokesperson: Not from me, that I recall.
Question: No, but from the UN News…
Spokesperson: Certainly not from me, that I recall, Nisar. Yes, Matthew, and then Talal?
Question: Just about Sudan, and then two questions about deadlines. On the Sudan, can you — this kidnapping of humanitarian workers, Bulgarian pilots of the UN in Darfur. What’s the — what’s being done about it, and I guess I was expecting you to say it at the beginning. It’s widely now known.
Spokesperson: What did you expect me to say?
Question: I guess that three UN-contracted humanitarian workers have been kidnapped in Darfur, and they should be returned, and the Government should do all it can — if the tribes that did it are associated with them.
Spokesperson: So what’s the question?
Question: I guess my question is, I’m just saying as an aside, I wonder — what’s the standard? If UN personnel are taken hostage, isn’t it usually said from here?
Spokesperson: Well, you’ve asked me, and I can tell you.
Question: Okay, so what’s the status?
Spokesperson: That we can confirm. But you’ve pretty much — it’s almost as though you wrote it, Matthew. We can confirm that three helicopter crew members working for the United Nations humanitarian air service, managed by the World Food Programme, have been abducted by armed men in Sudan. The incident happened at 10:35 local time on Thursday — that’s today — at a landing strip at Um Shalaya, 60 kilometres south-east of El Geneina in West Darfur.
Question: Since this has been — it’s happened many times — it’s always said that nothing will be said while they’re being held, but once they’re released something will be said. In the case, for example, of the peacekeeper that was taken in El-Fasher and was returned, did the UN conclude that these were Government-affiliated kidnappers? Rebel-affiliated? What conclusion have they reached? It seems to happen all the time.
Spokesperson: The point is that Istvan Papp, the Hungarian civilian working in the Mission, was released. And as you know, he was held for 90-something days. That’s the most important point here, is that he was released. I don’t have anything further on who abducted him and why, but simply — the local authorities, the [UN] Mission and the Department for Safety and Security worked extremely hard to secure his release.
Question: There’s just always this — the reason I asked you about announcing, is that — that definitely is an indicator of kind of lack of stability and of a problem. It seems like — maybe you think it’s a strange question. Because normally the UN speaks about if a staff member is injured or taken hostage — it just strikes me — to some, it seems strange not to say it, if it happens in Darfur. Is it a big deal, or…
Spokesperson: But I’ve said it, Matthew. I’m not quite sure what the point is there. Yes, Talal?
Question: I have a couple of questions on Tunisia. The Arab Press is rife with reports that the United Nations is asking for an investigation into the events in Tunisia. Is there any truth to that? Because I don’t have anything official.
Spokesperson: I think you should take a look at the statement issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
Question: Is she asking for…
Spokesperson: Take a close look at that. It’s quite detailed in that respect.
Question: The other question I had is about the Foreign Minister. There’s also reports now that he has resigned. I tried to reach — his name is Kamel Morjane — I tried to reach the mission about four or five times today, but they keep putting the phone down in our faces, saying that they have nothing to add. So I thought maybe I’d come to the UN; do you have any news about his resignation?
Spokesperson: I haven’t. I haven’t. No, I haven’t got anything on that. If I had, I would be happy to share it with you, but I don’t. Yes, Iftikhar, yes?
Question: Martin, this is regarding the demolition of hotel in East Jerusalem. I’m sure you’ve seen Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s statement defending the action, and saying that Israeli law permits its citizens to buy private property. But, at the same time, you know that there are UN Security Council resolutions on the status of Jerusalem. In the view of the United Nations, which law prevails, the international law or the Israeli law?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General made a statement on this, and was very clear about it, including the need to respect international law, and I don’t have anything to add to that. Tim?
Question: There is, in some cases, it is declared in the resolution that in case of a dispute, this particular law will prevail.
Spokesperson: Take a look at what the statement says. I think it’s quite clear. Tim?
Question: A growing number of Missions have been coming forward saying that they’re having problems with the banks, and I know you’ve mentioned it in the past, but is the Secretary-General getting involved now with this?
Spokesperson: He’s aware of this, as I’ve mentioned to you already. And the United Nations is aware of this. As I think you know, I’ve mentioned that this is a matter for the Member States to take up with the host country, and they have been doing that. And I don’t think you’re in any doubt about that, either. And I would urge you to speak to the United States Mission about what they may or may not be doing to help in this regard.
Question: Follow up? Since the bank that wrote to the Missions is J.P. Morgan Chase, and they previously were in the Secretariat building with a branch — and are still in the base of the DC-1 — I wondered, with the Capital Master Plan, number one, are they still coming back into the building? And is this — since this is one thing that the Secretariat can, in fact, control — and many of the Missions opened it up with Chase simply because they were in the building — would the Secretariat allow Chase Manhattan to return after the Capital Master Plan, even as it’s rebuffing Missions that own the United Nations?
Spokesperson: Well, this is putting the cart before the horse. I think if you want to know what Chase Manhattan’s intentions are with regard to the UN building and having a presence here, you should ask them.
Question: But if they want to be, would the UN accept them?
Spokesperson: I’m not going to answer a hypothetical question.
Question: But if they do want to…
Spokesperson: If it starts with “if”, that’s a hypothetical question. So why not check first with the bank? If they say, hypothetically, if they say that they want to come back, then come back and ask me the question then.
Question: But that’s one thing that the Secretary-General — or I guess the Secretariat — has power over, in terms of this one bank. They could just say, “we don’t know yet,” and then…
Spokesperson: Well, then we wait, Matthew. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: One question, because I did ask the bank. And they told me they are already in talks with the UN to go back, but not to the same floor — fourth floor, to go to different floor with American Express and the Federal Bank. So they do have intentions, they are talking — now we come back to the same question of, what does the UN say about that?
Spokesperson: Well, if there are discussions going on, as you mention, then there are discussions going on. And I wouldn’t be able to comment on that until those discussions are finished.
Question: But what does the United Nations think of their pulling their services from the Missions, that justify, really, their existence within this building?
Spokesperson: Look, this is a matter for the bank, and if there are discussions going on, I am not going to comment on this while those discussions are going on.
Question: But can you just find out if this will be an issue in the discussions? Do you see what I mean? Just factually…
Spokesperson: I’m happy to do that. But as I say, I’m not going to get in the way of discussions that are going on.
Question: There are discussions being held in the UN today, in the North Lawn building with 150 Missions, and the Undersecretary for Management from the State Department are talking to them about alternatives to what happened with Chase Bank. So the UN is already hosting talks concerning — they must have a position on that.
Spokesperson: No, I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case, Talal. There are many meetings that go on inside the UN in various buildings; it doesn’t mean that the UN is taking a position on a meeting that’s being hosted by a Member State.
Question: I understand, but this Mission works at the UN. Without the Missions we don’t have a UN — without the Member States.
Spokesperson: I’m sure that they’re taking that up quite clearly with Undersecretary [Patrick] Kennedy, for Management. Yeah. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: On Western Sahara, another round of discussion will take place this month between 21 and 22 January. Has the Secretary-General talked recently to the Personal Envoy, Ambassador Christopher Ross? Has he planned to see him? And is he confident that there will be some progress this time?
Spokesperson: I’ll have to check on whether he’s planning to speak to Mr. Ross in the near future, and then I can come back to you. Yes, Nisar?
Question: Apparently UNDP is advising the Finance Minister of Lebanon on its finances. There are advisers who are fully employed there. Do they have any indication why $11 billion disappeared from the finances of Lebanon, and are they aware about it? If they are aware, what have they done to make that clear? Can we get an answer, not necessarily today?
Spokesperson: I would ask you to have a word with UNDP. I’m sure that they’ll help you. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Hopefully these will – these are the two deadline questions. There are two deadlines that occur on the 15th, and since there’s no noon briefing tomorrow, I just wanted to ask — one is Nepal, and the pullout of the UNMIN [United Nations Mission in Nepal] mission. There had been some discussion of leaving behind the monitoring equipment — either on a loan basis, or — what’s going to actually happen with the equipment on the 15th, given that that’s the deadline and there’s no — and the other one has to do with the Sri Lanka panel, and it was said that the four months, its work term, expires on 15 January. Is that report going to be turned in on that date? Has there been any — you know, on the Secretary-General’s statement of 17 December, that the panel was going to go to Sri Lanka?
Spokesperson: I’ll check on both of them for you, Matthew. Okay, thank you very much and have a good afternoon.
[He later added that the Sri Lanka panel has been granted an extension until the end of February.]
* *** *For information media • not an official record