7 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.


Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Guest


My guest today is Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  And she will be giving an update on her recent trips to Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire.  And Ms. Amos will join me shortly.


**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.


This morning, the Secretary-General held a meeting at breakfast in Washington, D.C., with members of the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and ranking member, Representative Russ Carnahan.  He discussed with Committee members the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya and other trouble spots today in which the United Nations is playing a significant role.  He told Committee members that the United Nations does each day what no country can do alone.


He then had a bilateral meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry at the US Capitol.  That meeting was followed by one with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He should be speaking to the press right about now, and we’ll also have a readout of his morning meetings.


And then later this afternoon, the Secretary-General will have a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before returning to New York.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Heavy fighting continues in Abidjan.  Despite the deteriorating situation, this morning UN peacekeeping operations are under way to monitor the situation facing foreign nationals in Abidjan and if conditions permit to extract them.


Increased ground and air patrols continue in Abidjan and late yesterday, forces from the UN Mission (UNOCI) broke through several barricades to reach the Novotel hotel in response to an assistance request from journalists trapped there.  The hotel area is calm and patrols continue.


Late yesterday, troops from the Mission deployed to secure the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Bridge were shelled from the lagoon side and returned fire.


** Somalia


Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, said today that the High-Level Consultative Meeting will take place as scheduled on 12 and 13 April in Nairobi.  He said that he has received positive responses to the conference from Somali parties and officials who are willing to participate in strengthening the dialogue between the Transitional Federal Government and its partners.  There is a press release with more details.


**Food Prices


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says its Food Price Index has dropped for the first time after eight months of continuous price spikes.  The Index fell nearly 3 per cent from its peak in February, but is still 37 per cent higher than it was last March.  The international prices of oils and sugar have dropped the most, followed by cereals.  By contrast, dairy and meat prices are up.


** Rwanda


Today marks the seventeenth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide.  There will be a memorial ceremony in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Chamber from 5 until 6 p.m.


Organized by the Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations, the event will include a message from the Secretary-General.  In that message, the Secretary-General says that the United Nations is committed to preventing the recurrence of similar tragedies.  The endorsement by the 2005 World Summit of the responsibility to protect and recent measures by the Security Council in response to the crisis in Libya, in particular the adoption of resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011), mark a significant step along this path.


Also this evening, Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide, will share her testimony.  The event will also include musical performances by Somi, a Rwandan-American jazz musician based in New York City.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Edmond Mulet, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, will be my guest at tomorrow's noon briefing.


And also at 12 p.m. tomorrow, President Shimon Peres of Israel is expected to brief press at a stakeout on the second floor of the North Lawn Building.


And following tomorrow’s Security Council meeting, Ad Melkert, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, is expected to brief press at the Security Council stakeout.


And then at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference on HIV/AIDS Civil Society Hearings.  Participants will include Joseph Deiss, the President of the UN General Assembly, and Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).


So, that’s what I have for you.  I will be happy to take questions at the end of the briefing after Ms. Amos has briefed you.  And I welcome Ms. Amos up here on the podium; and I will step aside.  Please?  So, welcome to Ms. Amos; and I am sure that Ms. Amos will have some introductory remarks and then we will move to questions.  So, please, Ms. Amos?


[Briefing by Ms. Amos issued separately]


So I am happy to take a couple more questions.  Yes, Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Martin, Médecins Sans Frontières today issued a report saying that Bahraini hospitals are used as trap for the opposition to be kidnapped and then disappear.  Some of those who disappeared turned out to be corpses on the streets.  Is there anything to say about that?  Is the United Nations following up such a situation?


Spokesperson:  We are aware of the reports, and certainly our colleagues based in Bahrain will be providing more details on that, I am sure.  What I can tell you is, as we have repeatedly said, that the Secretary-General has been concerned about events in Bahrain and has spoken to the leadership in Bahrain.  And I know that he is aware of these reports and would like to have some more details on that.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  The Secretary-General issued a very impassioned appeal last night about Libya and attacks on the civilians.  But today it seems that the air strikes by NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] have struck some of the rebel targets.  Do you have any comments on that or are you aware of the situation that has developed?


Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the reports, Masood, but I don’t have anything further for you at the moment.  I think what I can also tell you is that the World Food Programme (WFP) has sent a ship with supplies of various kinds to Misratah.  And that ship has arrived and is beginning to unload its cargo.  The cargo is destined for the Libyan Red Crescent, which will be doing the work on the ground.  I understand that the cargo includes high energy biscuits, bottled water, vegetable oil, wheat flour, various kinds of kits from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for children, hygiene kits for women, surgical kits for obstetrics, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has, in that cargo, emergency health kits.  There are also doctors on that ship from WHO and the Arab Medical Union.  And the ship sailed from Izmir in Turkey.  And it arrived, as I say, today.


Question:  Would you say that WFP is getting some cooperation from the [Muammar al-] Qadhafi regime in order to help the people who are affected by this?


Spokesperson:  There were no naval escorts and it is, as I say, it berthed a short while ago in Misrata.  That’s what I have for you.  Yes, Nizar? [He added later that WFP informed all parties of its intention to dock the ship before sending it into Misrata.]


Question:  Yeah, Martin, anything regarding this attack by Israel on a car in Sudan?


Spokesperson:  Heard the reports; nothing to add.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I have some questions on Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] and Western Sahara.  And I will do them as quickly as I can.  On Sudan, there is photograph evidence of the Government of Sudan moving attack helicopters and tanks described to be close to Abyei.  This is on that Sentinel Project that the UN participated in; has photographs of these things.  I wanted to know if UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] can confirm that and what they have to say about that.


Spokesperson:  Let’s have a look.


Question:  On Côte d'Ivoire, there was obviously, there is this incident of the French freeing the Japanese ambassador; I am wondering if you have, if the UN played any role in that.  And also that the Canard Enchaîné has come out with a report saying, among other things, that the helicopter attacks — it doesn’t say whether it was UN or French — blew up a supermarket in Cocody and that, essentially implying that France has been arming the [Alassane] Ouattara forces in violation of the arms embargo for some years.  And I wanted to know what the UN’s response is to that pretty detailed article.


Spokesperson:  On the first, the operations that have been going on to help evacuate diplomats and other civilians are obviously coordinated.  As I mentioned to you, UN Mission staff peacekeepers went to the Novotel hotel, where journalists have staying and they had requested assistance.  So, obviously it is coordinated; and either Licorne — the French forces — or UN peacekeepers are carrying out missions; it depends on the location and a number other factors.  On the reports that you referred to, I would simply say that the operation that has been carried out was specifically aimed at preventing the use of heavy weapons and that’s what took place.  So, what’s your next question?


Question:  I have just one follow-up on that.  Does the UN have any knowledge of France providing weapons to the pro-Ouattara forces?


Spokesperson:  I have said what I have to say, Matthew.


Question:  All right, sure.  On OIOS, Ros-Lehtinen, in her opening statement, has talked about OIOS specifically and said that it is an agency that hasn’t followed up on cases; whose current acting leader has been charged with retaliating against whistleblowers.  I’ll just add one, that’s on the Umoja case.  She spoke about OIOS in particular in Congress yesterday, and I wondered, since Mr. Ban met with her, what’s his response on this, her critique of the UN’s investigative arm not being active enough and its recommendations not being followed through?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is speaking to reporters, or has been speaking to reporters around this time, and so, I don’t obviously know precisely what the Secretary-General has said there.  And secondly, we’re providing a readout quite shortly on those encounters that I mentioned earlier in the briefing in Washington.  So, that’s what I have.  Okay, anything else?  Yes, Patrick?


Question:  I apologize if you have answered this question before, and I missed it somehow.  But Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States has just said in Congressional testimony that the United Nations has been, quote, “taking a lot of casualties”, unquote, in Côte d'Ivoire.  I am wondering if you had any details of that?


Spokesperson:  I am not precisely sure what the context is; what that refers to.  As you know…


Question:  I think she means in the latest operations in Abidjan.


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we’ve said this publicly; four peacekeepers were seriously wounded when their armoured personnel carrier was hit by a rocket propelled grenade quite recently.  Another seven of our staff from the Mission were wounded when they were helping to support an operation to move wounded civilians through the city and they also came under fire.  I don’t know whether that’s what Ambassador Rice is referring to, or whether it is something more recent that I am not aware of.  We can certainly look into that.  But the two instances that I referred to did not happen in the last 24 or 48 hours.


Question:  So, you are not aware of any fatalities?


Spokesperson:  As you know, one staff member who was working in the Joint Operation Centre in Abidjan as an information analyst, a young Swedish woman, was hit by a stray bullet; and this was the lady that Ms. Amos was referring to, whose body was being repatriated in the last couple of days.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Just a short question.  One is that… did Sudan and its Foreign Minister complain to the United Nations about this Israeli attack?


Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.


Question:  Okay.  The other question was about this question that I had asked you on Monday about South American leaders asking the Secretary-General that he should somehow mediate between Britain and Argentina on the ownership of Falkland Islands.  Has that letter come to the Secretary-General?  And is he going to act upon it?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check whether the letter has been received, that’s the first thing.  The second thing is that any kind of mediation requires the consent of both or all parties.  Yes, Matthew, last question?


Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Western Sahara.  There is a report that’s due of the Secretary-General on the situation on Western Sahara.  Various leaked copies of it have circulated.  And I have heard that there was some extensive lobbying of the Secretariat by Morocco to have paragraph 119 not ask for human rights monitoring mechanism but rather for, welcome Morocco inviting in special rapporteurs.  So, I wonder if you could describe, some of these accounts come from within the Secretariat; could you describe what the communications, what the process is for creating such a paragraph?  Who the Secretary-General has spoken to and what his thinking is on having a human rights mechanism in the MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] mission.


Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that we are aware that an internal working document pertaining to the situation in Western Sahara was leaked and published electronically.  This document is not a final report.  It has not been endorsed by the Secretary-General and, therefore, it has no status.  The United Nations finds it regrettable that internal working documents of the Organization have been leaked and published.


Thank you very much.


Question:  Are you being lobbied by Morocco, as someone inside the Secretariat has told me?  I mean, just yes or no?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, I said one last question and you’ve asked another question.  I have answered your question.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record