|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon Briefing
My guest today will be Margareta Wahlstrom, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who will be here to mark the 100th day after the devastating earthquake that hit Pakistan.
**Statement on Afghanistan
I have a statement from the Secretary-General on Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about a series of violent attacks in Afghanistan in which an unconfirmed number of civilians and military personnel were killed and injured in Kandahar on 15 and 16 January, including an attack against the Canadian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar yesterday, in which the Political Director, Glyn Berry, was killed. Mr. Berry has served as the Vice-Chair of the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and Chair of the Committee’s Working Group. He will be missed by his friends and colleagues. The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and the respective Governments.
The Secretary-General condemns these attacks which represent an unacceptable assault upon the peace process and urges all concerned parties to work together in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation.
**Statement on Sri Lanka
I also have a statement on Sri Lanka.
The Secretary-General is very concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Sri Lanka. He deplores the attack on Saturday on the facilities of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). Escalating violence in the past few months has put a severe strain on the ceasefire that had ushered in a new era of hope in Sri Lanka and brought significant benefits for its people over the past four years. The impact of renewed violence is once again being felt by the civilian population.
The Secretary-general stresses that a return to conflict will not resolve outstanding differences between the parties. He strongly urges the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to shore up the ceasefire, ensure respect for the human rights of all Sri Lankans, and urgently resume their dialogue under the facilitation of the Norwegian Government.
And that statement is available upstairs.
Today the Secretary-General sent a message of congratulations to the newly inaugurated President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. His message also congratulates the people of Liberia who, he said, have given the new Government an historic mandate to lead the nation towards a future of lasting peace and stability.
The Secretary-General calls upon the international community to assist the new Government to consolidate its authority, build upon the stability established so far, and deliver basic services to its people. And we have the full text of that statement upstairs.
Just one note on Pakistan before we’re joined by Ms. Wahlstrom -- the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the South Asia Earthquake, former United States President George Herbert Walker Bush, arrived in Pakistan today. He has already met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and he plans to visit the quake-hit areas as soon as possible, given the inclement weather. He is there to get a first-hand look at the devastation wreaked by last October’s earthquake.
And, of course, you’ll have more on the earthquake from Ms. Wahlstrom in a few minutes.
From Haiti, the Secretary-General has hit out at a defamation campaign aimed at the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and its head, his Special Representative, Juan Gabriel Valdes.
In a letter sent last week to Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, the Secretary-General said the campaign was unacceptable. He called on Haiti’s Transitional Government to publicly condemn the campaign and warned it could threaten the security of the United Nations Mission, as well as the holding of free and fair elections.
He added that all concerned must work together in a sprit of mutual respect and close collaboration.
And I was given an update from the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) a bit earlier today. According to the Mission, it reports the eighth instance of Eritrean authorities not responding positively to an emergency medical evacuation request for a United Nations peacekeeper since the Eritrean ban on United Nations helicopter flights took effect in October 2005.
As a result, a Jordanian officer suffering from acute appendicitis had to be evacuated by road from Barentu on Saturday evening to a hospital in Asmara, a journey that would take less than an hour by helicopter but lasted eight hours by road, according to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The officer has now been operated on and is currently in stable condition.
** C ôte d’Ivoire
The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire today reports continued protests against the recommendation by the international working group that the Parliament be dissolved. Demonstrators are currently in front of the Mission, the mission says, and four United Nations vehicles have been damaged. No United Nations personnel have been reported injured.
The Mission is concerned about the attacks on United Nations property. It says the demonstrations are in contravention of President Gbagbo’s decree against demonstrations in Abidjan. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, Pierre Schori, is on his way to New York and will discuss the matter with officials at United Nations Headquarters and Security Council members as soon as possible.
This morning the Security Council heard a briefing on the work being done by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by the organization’s Chairman in Office, the Belgian Foreign Minister, Karel de Gucht. The Foreign Minister is also scheduled to meet with the Secretary-General a bit later on today. Members of the Council expressed their views on the OSCE’s work in an open meeting, which recently concluded.
**Human Rights Commission
In Geneva today, the Commission on Human Rights today held a meeting in which it elected its bureau for 2006. Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the discussion on the reform of the human rights system had evolved in a most significant manner, culminating with the World Summit and its outcome document.
She said that everyone eagerly awaited the outcome of the negotiations on the establishment of a Human Rights Council, which are currently under way in New York. And we have a press release containing more details, as well as Ms. Arbour’s full text to that meeting available upstairs.
** West Africa
The World Food Programme (WFP) calls today on the international community to rally behind its efforts to tackle hunger in West Africa, a region which the agency calls the poorest in the world.
In 2006, WFP aims to feed at least 10 million people in West Africa with over 300,000 tons of food, at a cost of close to $240 million. To date, it has only been able to raise $18 million, or 8 per cent of its total requirements. WFP says that, despite a good harvest at the end of 2005, the Sahel region will face another difficult year in 2006.
**Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee
And here at Headquarters, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women begins its 34th session today, and will run for the next three weeks. In this session, the Committee will examine reports of Australia, Cambodia, Eritrea, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mali, Thailand, Togo and Venezuela. And we have a press release available upstairs.
And as you may have noticed, the United Nations flag is flying at half-mast today, to mark the official mourning of His Highness Sheikh Al-Ahmad
Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Emir of the State of Kuwait, who passed away on Sunday.
We issued a statement over the weekend from the Secretary-General, in which he said he was deeply saddened to learn of the Emir’s death and extended his heartfelt condolences to the people and Government of Kuwait. The Secretary-General wished every success to the Emir’s successor. And we have copies of that statement upstairs.
And lastly, at 1 p.m. today, the Permanent Mission of Albania is sponsoring a press conference with Mr. Hashim Thaci, the Head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, and a member of the negotiating team to the discussions on the future status of Kosovo.
And that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I’m just wondering, does the United Nations consider it ethical to still ask peacekeepers to stay in places -- I mean, you’ve mentioned eight circumstances. Thank goodness this guy still seems to be OK, but it seems only a matter of time until someone suffers something very serious as a result of this. Is it ethical to ask them to continue to stay there even for another month?
Spokesman: Well, you know, the status of the Mission is currently being discussed in the Council. We are also awaiting the results of a high-level United States mission to the area. But as to your specific question, the risks that we ask peacekeepers to take are being evaluated constantly in different missions. At some point, those risks become untenable. And we’ve seen where peacekeepers have been withdrawn and missions have been downgraded for security reasons.
The situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea remains very difficult for us on the ground, especially given the Eritrean restrictions placed on our movements. But at this point, we believe that we can still operate in that limited capacity.
Question: And just to follow up on that, does the Secretariat basically just wait for instructions from the Council on this, or is there a point at which peacekeeping, under the Secretariat, would call people out for their own safety regardless of what the Council is deliberating?
Spokesman: I think for Ethiopia-Eritrea we will wait, obviously for policy guidance from the Council, because they are the ones who create these missions and give us the policy guidance.
As to the specific safety of peacekeepers in one area or another, it is, of course, the responsibility of the Secretary-General, as well as the Council.
Question: A couple of questions about the investigation into the procurement department. Can you confirm a number of officials have been suspended and placed on leave with pay as part of this ongoing investigation, and perhaps some of the names of the individuals who have ended up in this status right now?
Spokesman: What I can tell is that there is an audit being done of peacekeeping department management by the Office of Internal Oversight Services at the request of the General Assembly. As a result of that audit, which also took a look at the procurement aspects, the procurement department and what it was doing for peacekeeping, we have put eight staff members on special leave with pay. And this is just an administrative action. It is not at all a disciplinary action as this audit is not yet been finalized.
But I will try to get you a bit more later on today.
Question: Are some of those eight people -- is Andrew Toh perhaps ...
Spokesman: No, we’re not releasing the names of these people.
Question: And is part of this investigation in connection to the TCIL and ...
Spokesman: I have nothing else to add to that.
Question: And the nature of these suspensions, how long would this go on, presumably?
Spokesman: At this point I can’t answer. I’ll have to get you some more information. But I would have to stress that this is a special leave with pay and this is an administrative action and not a disciplinary one. It is to help the audit being finalized.
Question: But are there any charges perhaps pending ...
Spokesman: No, the status right now is that they’ve been put on special leave with pay.
Thank you, and we’ll get Ms. Wahlstrom here.
* *** *