25 February 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.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Côte d’Ivoire


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.


The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Côte d'Ivoire, including the armed clashes in Abidjan, as well as the fighting in the west between Forces Nouvelles elements and forces loyal to Mr. Laurent Gbagbo.  These developments mark a disturbing escalation which draws the country closer to the brink of reigniting civil war.


The Secretary-General also deplores the latest threats by Mr. Gbagbo’s camp against the United Nations, including the recent call to impede the movement of peacekeepers in Abidjan beginning today.  He demands an immediate end to such threats and to the ongoing obstruction of the activities of the peacekeepers, including their efforts to protect the civilian population.


The Secretary-General reiterates his call on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and to extend their cooperation to the African Union High-Level Panel.  He hopes that the Panel will expedite its discussions and take decisions that will help prevent further violence and facilitate a peaceful settlement to the crisis.


The Secretary-General reminds both the instigators and the perpetrators of acts of violence against the civilian population and the peacekeepers that they will be held accountable for their actions under international law.


**Côte d’Ivoire — Refugees


And the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the fighting in Abidjan and western Côte d’Ivoire this week has lead to a worrying rise in cross-border displacement into eastern Liberia.


The agency says that until mid-week, around 100 people crossed the border daily.  But during the past 24 hours alone, that number has jumped to 5,000 people, according to local authorities.  UNHCR is sending teams to crossing points to assess the situation.


The agency is also very concerned about the 39,000 internally displaced people in western Côte d’Ivoire.  Due to insecurity, UNHCR has not been able to operate in this part of the country for several days now.  Work on a camp for displaced people in Duékoué has also been placed on hold.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on developments in North Africa and the Middle East this afternoon, in a meeting that is to be followed by consultations.


In that meeting, the Secretary-General will once more underscore his grave concern about the violence taking place in Libya.  He then intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout, at around 4:20 p.m.


This morning, the Security Council heard a briefing on the work of the UN Office in Guinea-Bissau from Joseph Mutaboba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country.


** Libya


Addressing a special session of the Human Rights Council today, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that it is clear that the crackdown in Libya on peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly.  She cited reports that thousands may have been killed or injured.


Although the international community has repeatedly urged Colonel Qadhafi to desist from violence, the Libyan leader has chosen to foment conflict, she noted.  Ms. Pillay stressed that the State has an obligation to protect the rights to life, liberty and the security of the people under its jurisdiction.  The Libyan leader must stop the violence now, she emphasized.  Under international law, any official at any level can be held criminally accountable for ordering or carrying out atrocities and attacks.


The United Nations refugee agency said today that it commends the humanitarian spirit shown by the Governments of Tunisia and Egypt in welcoming and caring for people fleeing from Libya.  The agency is concerned that Libyans deeper inside the country and in the capital, Tripoli, are being prevented from leaving.  It says it is seeing unprecedented support being offered by local people who are driving to the borders of both countries to help, urging international support for Tunisia and Libya.


Tunisia, which has opened its borders to people of all nationalities escaping the violence in Libya, says that more than 22,000 people have fled since 20 February.  For its part, the Egyptian Government has told the agency that Libyans are welcome and that it is ready to take care of all of the sick and injured who need to cross the border.


** Somalia


The UN refugee agency is also alarmed by a new escalation of violence this week across south-central Somalia.  Scores of civilians are caught in what appears to be a major offensive by African Union peacekeepers, Ethiopian troops and Government forces against Al-Shabaab militants.


UNHCR says that 300 Somalis have escaped the fighting into Kenya in recent days.  They told UNHCR of many injured civilians left without care, and of women, children and the elderly who are trapped and cannot flee to safety.  UNHCR urges all parties to the conflict in Somalia not to target civilian areas and to ensure that civilians are not harmed.  We expect a statement from the Secretary-General on this topic a little later.


**Economic and Social Council


This coming Monday, the Economic and Social Council is convening a special event on “Partnering with the Philanthropic Community to Promote Education for All”.  And that will take place in the General Assembly Hall.


This event will attract more than 400 representatives of foundations, private sector companies and civil society organizations.  It is intended to raise awareness among the philanthropic community on the progress made and the challenges faced in the achievement of education for all.


And there will also be a press conference on this topic on Monday at 1:45 p.m., here in this room.  The press conference will be moderated by Matthew Bishop, the New York Bureau Chief of The Economist magazine, and it will focus on the main challenges of today’s educational sector.


So, questions.  Yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  As far as the situation in Libya is concerned, has the Secretary-General received any reports from his officials who are there in Libya at all?  And what has this, also I wanted to ask a question, I know the Secretary-General is going to speak at the Security Council at 3 p.m. before that, what has been suggested that there should be a no-fly zone or and also that there should be an arms embargo and sanctions.  Do you think that is something that is suggested the Secretary-General believes can affect the situation in Libya?


Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things here.  On the first question, the Secretary-General is indeed receiving updates from the region.  And it is based on those updates and other information from other sources that he will be briefing the Council this afternoon.  So, I don’t want to get ahead of the Secretary-General on that.  He will be coming to the stakeout, as you know, after he has spoken to the Security Council, and I am sure that he will be providing you with some details at that point.  On the second question, relating to possible action by the Council, that is, as we have said, this is a matter for the Council, of course.  But I think that you will be hearing from the Secretary-General a little bit more on that later this afternoon.


Question:  So in a sense you can’t give us any sense of what he is going to recommend or suggest, because [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Not at this point, no.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Not at this point, Masood.  He will be speaking to the Council.  As you know, that is a closed meeting.  But he will be coming out to speak to you, and that’s not closed.  So he will be able to give you some insights at that point, I am pretty sure.  Yes.


Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, first I wanted to ask, in, in, not about, I mean, Libya, but about Bahrain and the protests there.  It’s reported that, that, I mean obviously there have been deaths, not as many as in Libya, but there have been deaths of protesters, and that the police force there is composed at least in part of people from Pakistan, Yemen — foreigners, non-Bahrainis — brought in for this purpose.  And I wanted to know whether, whether, you know, the UN system has any problem with that, considers these to be mercenaries?  What, what is, what definition is the UN using when it, I know that Alain Le Roy talked about mercenaries in Côte d'Ivoire; there is talk of it in Libya, what do they have to say about the use of non-Bahrainis in Bahrain to shoot protesters?


Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  Just one thing I can add is I have now a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Somalia, as I mentioned we anticipated that we would receive that:


The Secretary-General is following the reports of heavy fighting in Somalia.  He deplores the high human cost of the conflict and expresses his sincere condolences to the families of those civilians, forces of the Transitional Federal Government and soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) who have been killed. 


The Secretary-General reaffirms his support for the Transitional Federal Government in its role as part of the Djibouti Peace Process, AMISOM and the troop-contributing countries as they operate under a difficult mandate, as endorsed by the Security Council.  He welcomes the achievements being made in Mogadishu by the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia.  The current round of fighting underscores the need for all Somali and international stakeholders to redouble efforts to restore lasting peace and stability to Somalia.


In this critical moment, we hope the leadership of the Transitional Federal Institutions will remain united and provide the necessary political guidance, support and encouragement to the forces of the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia.


So that’s the statement that has just been provided here.  Yes, Masood.


Question:  In Somalia, this Transition Government, is it giving any assurances to the United Nations or to the international community that it would stand up and fight against, or I mean, at least discourage the groups, the pirate groups in, operating within their border or outside the waters?


Spokesperson:  I am not exactly sure what the question is there…


Question:  [inaudible] international community has been receiving assurances from the Transitional Government of any support, I mean, help in securing the borders so that the Somali?


Spokesperson:  Well, judging from this statement, the statement is saying that the current round of fighting underscores the need for all Somali and international stakeholders to redouble efforts to restore lasting peace and stability to Somalia.  That could well be a factor in that.  If I have anything further on that, I would let you know. 


Question:  Can I ask another follow up-on Somalia?


Spokesperson:  Of course.


Question:  I wanted to, it seemed that, that, that the, at least UNHCR has some concerns about the actions of the AMISOM peacekeepers.  And I just wanted to know, I mean, since UNSOA [United Nations Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia], through the UN system, is actually providing logistical support, what’s the connection between, I mean, how does the UN use its connection to the AMISOM force through UNSOA to try to bring about, you know, less casualties among civilians and other things?


Spokesperson:  Well, this is a question that I know that you have asked before, and I have attempted to answer before.  And I will attempt to do so again.  There are a couple of factors; one is that it is precisely that:  it is a support role that you have mentioned.  And the second point is that, as the Secretary-General has said in his statement, he deplores the high human cost of the conflict that is taking place there, and that is obviously not something that started yesterday.  This has been going on for many years.  The UNHCR has concerns about the cost for civilians; so does the Secretary-General.  That is obvious.  And this is something that he is clearly keeping a very close eye on.


Question:  But is there, is there a human rights or sort of training component of UNSOA support?  That’s what I have been trying to — and I appreciate that — but I guess I have never been clear on exactly what UNSOA is providing to AMISOM, whether this [inaudible] could be actualized through the support that is being provided.


Spokesperson:  Well, I am happy to try to find out some more details about that.  But as I say, it is very much a support role.  AMISOM has an incredibly difficult role to play, and many peacekeepers have lost their lives over the years, and quite a few, literally, in the last few days.  And they are putting their lives on the line to try to improve the situation there in Somalia.  Obviously it is imperative that civilians do not get caught up and become casualties of that conflict.  That’s something that, as you said, UNHCR has mentioned today, and the Secretary-General would obviously be concerned about civilian casualties and has mentioned them today, right now.  Other questions?  Yes.


Question:  On this Côte d'Ivoire question of why it’s taking so long to get the emergency peacekeepers that were voted on in December into the country, has there, I tried to go to the C-34 peacekeeping mission yesterday, but was told it was a closed meeting.  So I am wondering, has DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] — you said they were listening — have they provided any response to this?


Spokesperson:  Well, we did provide some details last week, and the position remains the same.  Obviously the intention is to move as quickly as possible and my colleagues are liaising with the troop contributing-countries towards that end.


Question:  But were these contingents that are already in Liberia?  That was the kind of, I was just trying to get the specifics of the Togolese and the Niger troops.


Spokesperson:  Well, as I have said, this is what we said last week, and it remains the case today that there is liaison, consultation with troop-contributing countries with the aim of trying to ensure that peacekeepers, additional peacekeepers, are in place as soon as possible.  Everybody recognizes that that is a very important movement that needs to take place quite quickly.  Okay, yes, Masood.


Question:  I just have one question I want to ask.  Well, now that all this situation that is going out of control in Libya, does the Secretary-General also engaged in what is happening in Gaza and West Bank and other Israeli-occupied territories?  Is he still in touch with the Israeli authorities regarding opening of the [inaudible]…?


Spokesperson:  He remains in close touch with various players and leaders.  He has spoken within the last 48 hours also to Ms. [Catherine] Ashton of the European Union, who, as you know, is also a member of the Quartet.  He remains focused on this, of course.  I think it is important to understand — and you have seen this again with the statements on Somalia and Côte d'Ivoire — he keeps a very close eye on what is happening across the world.  Obviously there is a focus of attention now on North Africa and the Middle East; what is happening in Libya and other countries in North Africa in particular at the moment.  That does not mean that he has somehow taken his gaze away from the broader Middle East peace process.  He has spoken about that.  His representative, Robert Serry, was briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s behalf on this very topic yesterday.  As you know, Mr. Serry briefed you on that afterwards, and it was a fairly frank assessment, I would say.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Yeah, we make this the last question.


Question:  I understand that the President of Gabon is meeting with the Secretary-General and the President of Equatorial Guinea.  I wanted to know if this ongoing now for some time stand-off where Mr. Ali, you know, President Bongo’s main opponent, Mba Obame is in the premises of UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], it’s, you know, surrounded or, or, or, is, is, is this, what, what is happening on that?  And is this going to be something that the Secretariat will discuss with Ali Bongo during his visit here?


Spokesperson:  The opposition leader and his entourage remain in that compound in Libreville.  That is still something that the Resident Coordinator is seeking to work on with the authorities in Gabon.  I don’t want to prejudge what may or may not have been discussed in that meeting today.  I am hoping to have some kind of a readout, which would then hopefully shed some light on that for you.


Okay, thanks very much.


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For information media • not an official record