5 April 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.


So, good afternoon, everybody.


**Côte d’Ivoire


As you know, the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) started an operation yesterday aimed at protecting civilians after forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo have intensified and escalated their use of heavy weapons against the civilian population in Abidjan over in the past few days.


As the Secretary-General explained, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1975 of 30 March 2011, he instructed the mission to take the necessary measures to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population, with the support of the French forces.


The Secretary-General emphasized that UNOCI is not a party to the conflict.  He added that in line with its Security Council mandate, the mission has taken this action in self-defence and to protect civilians.


The UN mission says that it has received phone calls this morning from the heads of the Forces de Défense et de Sécurité, from the Gendarmerie and from the Republican Guard.  They informed the mission that they had given instructions to their respective forces to halt fighting.  The Mission says it has ordered its troops to collect arms and to offer protection to disarmed combatants.


On the humanitarian side, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the situation in Abidjan is alarming.  It adds that most hospitals are not functioning in Abidjan and that ambulances are fired on when they tried to enter the city.  The Office says that access to the civilian population in Abidjan is impossible because of the fighting. 


Concerning the west of the country, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, flew to Duékoué yesterday.  They linked up with a UN human rights team already on the ground looking at the reported mass killings that took place there last week.


Ms. Amos also met with internally displaced persons in Duékoué and stressed the need for physical protection for the affected, as well as sufficient humanitarian aid.  Today, she will travel to Man and Bouaké in Côte d’Ivoire.


**Fallen Staff


The Secretary-General has written to all UN staff to express his sorrow at the tragic losses that the United Nations has experienced in recent days.  Those include staff who have died in the attack on the UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, and in the plane crash in Kinshasa yesterday, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as other incidents in recent days in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti.  At least 41 people died in those separate incidents.


The Secretary-General said that our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died in the line of duty, and with the members of our own UN family who have lost friends and colleagues.


He added that he is sure our fallen colleagues would want the United Nations to carry forward the work they performed so valiantly.  In recognition of their sacrifices, he has asked all United Nations offices around the world to fly the UN flag at half mast on Wednesday, 6 April.  Also that day, the Secretary-General invites staff in New York to join him at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Chagall Window area of the Visitors’ Lobby.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General will travel later this week to Washington, D.C., to discuss with United States Government officials the work of the United Nations in a number of critical areas.


On Thursday, he expects to meet with key legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives, including members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He will also meet with the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  And he will return to Headquarters in New York the following day.


**Israel-Palestine


The Office of Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), has responded to the latest announcement of Israeli settlement activity by reiterating that such activity anywhere in occupied territory, including in East Jerusalem, is illegal and contrary to the Road Map.


The Special Coordinator’s Office calls on the Israeli Government to halt further planning for new settlement units, which undermines efforts to bring about resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and prejudices final status discussions.


**Iraq


The Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council on Iraq is out as a document.  In it, he says that the transition from one elected Government to another was an historic accomplishment and brought an end to months of political uncertainty.  However, further steps need to be taken to complete the Government formation process as soon as possible, including appointments to key security posts.


The Secretary-General adds that, as unfolding events have shown over the past few weeks, Iraq is not immune to the wave of civil unrest that has affected other parts of the region.  The demonstrations that took place across Iraq, and the violence that ensued, underscore the urgent need to address the poor state of public services, high unemployment and the perceived failure to tackle corruption.  The Secretary-General also expressed his concern at the use of force by Iraq’s security forces in handling some of these protests and the consequent loss of life.


The Security Council expects to be briefed on Iraq this Friday by the Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Ad Melkert.


**Secretary-General’s Meeting with Organization of the Islamic Conference


The Secretary-General met today with a group of Ambassadors representing countries in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).


Referring to the burning of a Koran in an incident in Florida recently, the Secretary-General said he was on record as specifically condemning such acts when the issue first arose last year.


He condemned the incident and said such actions cannot be condoned by any religion.  He said such actions contradict the efforts of the United Nations and many people around the world to promote tolerance, intercultural understanding and mutual respect between cultures and religions.


The Secretary-General said he supported the UN High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, who said in a statement that the desecration of the Koran — as of any holy text — should be vehemently repudiated.  Equally, no religion tolerates the slaughter of innocent people.


The Secretary-General also discussed issues related to the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and the Middle East peace process, as well as the evolving situation in the Middle East and North Africa.


The Secretary-General thanked the Ambassadors for their condemnation of and condolences for the attack on our staff at the UN offices in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan.  He said such an attack cannot be justified under any circumstances.


That’s what I have for you.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can you tell us how the UN is involved in the negotiations; current negotiations with Laurent Gbagbo on surrender, and are you ready to shelter him?


Spokesperson:  I understand that there are discussions going on at the moment, and I don’t have any further details for you at this point.  Yes?


Question:  Can you confirm the negotiations with him?


Spokesperson:  As I just said, discussions are going on at this point, and I can’t give you any more details at the moment.  But as I’ve…


Question:  We know negotiations are going on, but we want to know who is negotiating…


Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure you do, Joe, but I am not going to tell you.  So, it is as easy as that.  But as I said earlier, the Mission received phone calls this morning from the three heads of the different security branches — the FDS and the Gendarmerie and the Republican Guard.  And they informed the Mission that they had given instructions to their respective forces to halt fighting.  So obviously this is an important moment.  As I say, I can tell you discussions are going on but I cannot…


Question:  Where is Mr. Choi Young-jin, do you know?


Spokesperson:  In Abidjan.


Question:  Is he in the bunker?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this precise moment, I don’t know where he is.  But as you know, he has been extremely involved from early on in this crisis, and has been there virtually on the ground throughout this crisis.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Maybe you could, can I follow up… Maybe you could clarify from a legal point of view, what will happen to Laurent Gbagbo if he is captured, if he surrenders?


Spokesperson:  Well, I am neither a lawyer nor am I going to answer hypothetical questions, Tim.  Yeah?


Question:  There are some reports that mass graves have been found in nearly [inaudible].  Can you shed any light on this?


Spokesperson:  I have seen that and I think that we should have more information on this from Mr. Šimonović, who is there as well.  And if I do have more details I will let you know.  As you know, at this point, what we can say is that it appears that several hundred civilians were killed in at least two separate incidents.  And many others may have been killed in direct fighting between the armed militias.  As you know, the Human Rights Council has set up a commission of inquiry for Côte d'Ivoire and it will, of course, be looking into the killings in Duékoué and elsewhere.  I think it is a clear signal of how seriously we regard this, that both Ivan Šimonović and Valerie Amos have been in Duékoué to link up with the human rights team that was already there looking into this.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, also on Ivory Coast.  Earlier today, there was a press conference in which [Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov said that [the Russian Federation] is studying the legal side of the situation, because the peacekeepers had a mandate which obligates them to be neutral and impartial.  I wanted to know if you are aware of that criticism by Lavrov and… You said this, you used this word “self-defence”; was the firing of missiles at the presidential compound, was that self-defence?  Was it… I mean, does the UN say that there were heavy weapons ready to be used against civilians there?  What was the justification for shooting at the president’s…?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, Matthew, let’s correct you.  The UN helicopters did not fire missiles at the presidential compound.  The helicopters fired at targets, which were Akouedo Camps One and Two.  And the targets were heavy weapons.  And it’s quite explicit in the Security Council resolution that the UN Mission is within its rights to take all necessary measures to prevent the use of heavy weapons.


Question:  So Lavrov is either off base… did Ban Ki-moon…?


Spokesperson:  No, I am not… You will notice that I have been very carefully not addressed that.  So…


Question:  Will you?


Spokesperson:  The point here, Matthew, is that this is an operation that was carried out under a Security Council resolution, and it is very specifically stated in that resolution that this is for the protection of civilians and self-defence.  As I mentioned yesterday, and as I have also said today, the forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo had been firing heavy weapons at our base and in so doing had also been firing into civilian areas. 


Question:  And just one more on Duékoué, yesterday at the stakeout Ambassador [Youssoufou] Bamba of Côte d'Ivoire when asked about these deaths, said that Caritas has estimated that there is a thousand deaths, is somehow pro-Gbagbo and is to be dismissed.  Is that… What’s the UN think of it?  There seems to be a range of numbers.  Caritas says a thousand, the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] says 800, the UN is currently saying 330.  Is that still the UN’s number, and what… how do you respond to…?


Spokesperson:  Well, maybe you weren’t listening to what I said just now, Matthew.  I said…


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  No, I didn’t.  I said several hundred civilians.


Question:  Okay.  Last night [Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping] Le Roy said 330, so…


Spokesperson:  Well, several hundred civilians were killed in two separate incidents is the latest.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  With respect, it’s easy to play a numbers game.  It is better to establish facts.  And that is what the UN human rights team is trying to do on the ground with Mr. Šimonović there and Valerie Amos.  Next question?


Question:  What’s the UN’s view of this Caritas?  Do you, you mean, are you…?  Are they playing a numbers game?


Spokesperson:  As I have just said, we take this extremely seriously.  And that’s why a very high-level team has been on the ground there to look into this.  As you will also know, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with President [Alassane] Ouattara late on Saturday night in Nairobi.  I know, because I was there.  And he made very clear his concern and alarm about the reports.  And as you know, Mr. Ouattara, while denying that his forces were involved, said that there would be an investigation and that he would welcome an international investigation.  Yes?


Question:  Please be more specific.  I know that you are trying to be as much as you can.  These negotiations going on, because you said that three generals made a phone call?  The UN made another phone call or they do a negotiation through the phone?  But is a meeting going on?


Spokesperson:  No, I can’t give you any further details at the moment, Giampaolo.  Discussions are going on at the moment, and if I have more details then I will give them to you.  I don’t have any other details at this time.


Question:  Discussions are going on with these three parties and UN or three-party UN and someone else?


Spokesperson:  Discussions are going on.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Yes, Joe?


Question:  Actually a follow-up [inaudible] they just reported that a French Government official is saying that two officers close to Mr. Gbagbo…


Spokesperson:  Two officers or offices?


Correspondent:  Officers.


Spokesperson:  Yeah.


Question:  …close to Mr. Gbagbo were holding talks with United Nations representatives.


Spokesperson:  Yes, but as I say, I am telling you I am not speaking on behalf of the French Foreign Ministry.


Question:  Why can’t you just say if the UN is involved?  Did you want [inaudible]?  I don’t get it?


Spokesperson:  Look, the most important thing here is that the fighting stops.


Question:  So, is it true or false; that two officers close to Gbagbo are talking to UN…?


Spokesperson:  I would need to find out.  I am not in a position to tell you that, Joe, okay?  Yes, and then, right, yes?


Question:  Can you tell us more about the coordination on the ground between UNOCI and the Licorne forces?  Because you just said that no UN helicopters fired on the residence, but apparently Licorne French helicopters fired on the residence [inaudible].  Does that mean that UN [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Again, the point here is that this was a mission, an operation carried out under a Security Council resolution to protect civilians and in self-defence after our peacekeepers and our staff and our base had come under sustained attack with heavy weapons of various kinds.  The targets were heavy weapons of various kinds.  And that’s the important point:  the targets were heavy weapons.  Now, to answer about coordination, under another Security Council resolution that’s reinforced by resolution 1975 (2011), the French forces, Licorne forces are able to support the United Nations.  And that is what the Secretary-General requested — the support of the Licorne forces.  And that is what they have been providing.  And this was an operation that obviously was coordinated.


Question:  A follow-up?  From the UN point of view, is there legally any difference between the Licorne forces and the UN, and the UNOCI forces?


Spokesperson:  Again, I am not a lawyer.  This was an operation that was being carried out under a Security Council resolution.  The Licorne forces were supporting as they are allowed to do under a Security Council resolution as well.  Yes, Giampaolo?


Question:  [inaudible] means that the [inaudible] under the umbrella of the Security Council resolution of the same of the UN forces in that case?  Is that what you are saying to us?


Spokesperson:  There is a Security Council resolution 1975 (2011), and there is another Security Council resolution, if I am not mistaken, 1960.  [The Spokesperson later clarified that the Security Council resolution number was 1962 (2010)].  And it is clearly stated that Licorne French forces can support the UN in carrying out its mandate if requested to do so.  And as you know, the Secretary-General requested that those forces should assist the United Nations in this operation.  President [Nicolas] Sarkozy agreed, and they did.  Yes, Ali, and then Masood?


Question:  Thank you.  Do you consider the ongoing negotiations as encouraging and is the United Nations prepared for the end game with Mr. Gbagbo?


Spokesperson:  As I have said, I think this is an important moment, and we obviously have to wait to see what happens.  It is crucial that the fighting stops.  It is encouraging if the three generals are going to be true to their word and the weapons will be laid down and indeed handed over to the UN peacekeepers.  But as I have also said, the humanitarian picture is truly alarming.  The hospitals are not working.  When ambulances try to move around the city they have come under fire.  So, even if the fighting now stops, there is an enormous amount of work to be done and a huge number of displaced people within the country, refugees in other countries and traumatized people still in the places where they live.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Just two questions.  One, the question is a follow-up on what Matthew is asking about the statement by the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov.  Has the Secretary-General been in touch with the Russian Foreign Minister, or has he had direct negotiations with… or he don’t want to?


Spokesperson:  No, he has not, no he has not.


Question:  Okay.  The other question that I want to ask you about is about Yemen.  There are reports that President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh has agreed to some sort of negotiations with the Arab Governments around him.  Do you have any information about that, that [inaudible] GCC?


Spokesperson:  I can tell you, Masood, that the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with the President of Yemen this morning.  And we will provide a readout shortly.  But I can tell you that he expressed his concern about the use of force against demonstrators.  He called for maximum restraint on all sides.  And he also called for all parties to take part in a dialogue as this is the most crucial aspect at the moment.  But there will be more details in a readout that is in the works right now.


[The Spokesperson later issued the following readout of the Secretary-General’s phone call with Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of Yemen:


The Secretary-General spoke this morning with Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of Yemen.


The Secretary-General emphasized a common interest to see Yemen enjoying peace, stability and security, and the United Nations’ readiness to support an all-inclusive dialogue and an early resolution of the situation in the country.  The Secretary-General informed the President that he had dispatched a small UN team to engage with the parties and see how best the UN could assist with the situation in Yemen.  


The Secretary-General expressed strong concerns for the dead and the injured, and urged utmost restraint from both Government and opposition forces.  He underscored that violence and the use of force can only exacerbate the situation and trusted in the President’s wisdom to arrive at a peaceful solution in the interest of all Yemeni people.


Taking this opportunity, the Secretary-General once again urges all parties to engage in the dialogue.]


Question:  Okay.  So, you are aware about the [Gulf Cooperation Council] intervening on behalf of President Saleh?  Is that…?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we are obviously aware of that.  Yes, James?


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Two questions, Haiti and Goldstone.  Does the UN have any reaction to the preliminary results indicating quite substantial win to Michel Martelly as President of Haiti?  And on Goldstone, following his column in the Washington Post last week in which he retracted some of the claims made in the report…


Spokesperson:  I think that is a mischaracterization of the op-ed, but never mind.


Question:  The question is purely one of formal procedure within UN mechanism work.  What is the process by which the report, as it stands, can be formally reconsidered?


Spokesperson:  At the Human Rights Council, by the Member States of the Human Rights Council who commissioned the report in the first place. 


Question:  How does that get kick-started, though?


Spokesperson:  It is up to the Member States.


Question:  And on Haiti?


Spokesperson:  On Haiti, well, at the moment, what I can tell is that the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, welcomes the announcement of these results by the Provisional Electoral Council.  The Mission notes with satisfaction that until now, Haitian political figures have demonstrated their commitment to respecting the will of the Haitian people and accepted the preliminary results with maturity in the spirit of fair play.  And MINUSTAH has also congratulated the people of Haiti for their patience and calm since the beginning of the electoral process and encourages all concerned to maintain this responsible attitude until the final results are published.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Thanks.  You said that this is a mischaracterization of the Goldstone op-ed.  What is your understanding to this op-ed and, if you…?


Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to get into textual analysis right here.  I am just telling you that I don’t think that’s precisely what Mr. Goldstone is saying if you read it carefully.  Yes?


Question:  Another question?


Spokesperson:  Well, there is someone else with a question behind you.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General contacted some of the regional leaders in West Africa on the current situation in Côte d'Ivoire?  And then I have another question.  Does the UN have any reaction to the strings of postponement in the Nigerian elections, given that the Secretary-General issued a statement last week prior to the Saturday elections?  Is there any current reaction on the recent spate of developments in the country?


Spokesperson:  No, we don’t — just to answer your second question first — we don’t have any specific reaction to that.  The Secretary-General’s statement that you referred to is quite clear.  Obviously, we are aware of the postponement and we are sure that things are on track.  And as regards regional leaders, to my knowledge, the Secretary-General has not spoken specifically with regional leaders on this topic.  As you know, he did speak with President Ouattara.  He has spoken to Jean Ping about this topic.  He, I am sure, will be reaching out to other leaders in the coming days.  Yes?


Question:  Martin, on the plane crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, do we know the nationalities of the victims who perished?


Spokesperson:  No, no details on that at the moment.  As you know, as of 11 a.m. today, we can say that 32 people are confirmed dead.  That’s what we can tell you at the moment.  And that included staff members of the United Nations and of some other organizations.  Of course, at the moment the Mission is completing identification of the victims of the crash.  And the Mission and the Department of Field Support are trying to contact next of kin of the victims.  And that obviously is our priority at this point.  There is an emergency hotline that has been set up in New York for people to contact should they have concerns about relatives or friends.  And that number is 212-963-1086.  That’s what I have for you on that.  Yes, Giampaolo?


Question:  Martin, do you know if the Secretary-General has any phone calls scheduled today with the President-elect of Côte d'Ivoire?


Spokesperson:  Today?  Not to my knowledge, but if that changes, I am sure that we would inform you.  I know that he has been as I have just mentioned, he spoke to the President of Yemen.  He did speak to [African Union Commission Chief] Jean Ping.  He is certainly working the telephones.  Yes, Joe?


Question:  Martin, did you say that military operations have ceased in [Côte d'Ivoire]?


Spokesperson:  I don’t recall saying that.  But when you say “operations” you mean the UN?


Question:  The UN and UN-French operations against the heavy weapons; are there any attacks going on now?


Spokesperson:  To my knowledge that’s not taking place today.  I think what is happening today is that the mission is assessing the outcome.


Question:  Now, Cisse Sindou, the deputy commander of Ouattara’s forces, told the BBC that Gbagbo was with the French, he is negotiating now to leave the country.  Is he with [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you well know, this is a fast-moving story.  I don’t have a wireless laptop sitting in front of me, so I don’t know what the latest is.


Correspondent:  You’ve got to get one.


Spokesperson:  I have thought about it, you know.


Correspondent:  Yeah.


Spokesperson:  I have thought about it, but, as you can see, we are not hi-tech yet.


Question:  Deal with the French.  You don’t know [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  Matthew…?


Question:  The French negotiator…


Spokesperson:  I don’t know where he is.  Our understanding at this point, our understanding when I walked into this room was that he — from the mission — was that he was in his bunker.  That was our understanding when I walked into this room.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about Darfur and Libya as quickly…


Spokesperson:  And we’ll make these the last two questions, Matthew, please.  So, one on each, please?


Question:  Sure, okay.  On Darfur, there are these reports that the Zam Zam refugee camp or internally displaced person camp that this has been essentially blockaded by the Government for some time now, this is a Radio Dimanga report.  And I am just wondering is that something that UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] has any response to or has any comment on, as well as the bombing that I asked you about yesterday?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check with UNAMID.


Question:  The other, I wanted to ask you about [Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to Libya, Abdul Ilah] Al-Khatib.  Yesterday at the stakeout, he acknowledged that he is still a Senator in Jordan.  He said he is not a staff member, that that’s being negotiated.  So, I wanted to ask these questions, one is, what type of a…?


Spokesperson:  Question, question.


Question:  What type of a pass does he have?  Does it say “S” on it?  And two, there is a UN financial regulation that says no money can be paid out without a written obligation.  So [inaudible] he doesn’t have a contract…


Spokesperson:  I haven't seen the pass he has.  Maybe you did, because you were speaking to him.  But…


Question:  It was tucked into his jacket.


Spokesperson:   So, I haven't seen his pass, Matthew.  If we have any more details…


Question:  Can you find out?  It seems like it is an important… there is a financial regulation 105.9 that says… that says an obligation must be based on a formal contract or [inaudible] recognized all obligations must be supported by an appropriate obligating document.  So, what is the written arrangement with Mr. Khatib to be paying for his flights, hotels and potentially salary, if you can confirm that?


Spokesperson:  I am sure it is all being looked into, Matthew.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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