|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. It’s been a busy weekend for those of us who’ve been here. I am still waiting for a couple of statements, but we’ll get started, because we do have a guest coming –- and that’s in connection with the appointment I am about to read.
**Secretary-General’s Appointment/Guest at Noon
The Secretary-General has designated Philippe Douste-Blazy of France as Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development. As official development assistance is still insufficient to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the Secretary-General sees the urgency for innovative sources of funding to be developed and promoted worldwide to fill this critical gap.
The first statement is on renewed attacks in West Darfur. I am awaiting the final version of that, but the UN refugee agency reports that aerial bombing overnight and this morning in West Darfur, Sudan, close to the border with Chad, has forced the UN refugee agency to withdraw its team caring for newly arrived refugees in the Chad/Darfur border area from the insecure border. The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the team will return immediately, once the situation calms down.
According to UNHCR, last night seven refugees from West Darfur crossed the border into Chad carrying a 55-year-old woman who they said had lost both her legs during an alleged overnight bombing of Aro Sharow camp for internally displaced people, north of Jebel Moon in West Darfur. The woman later died. Normally there are 4,000-5,000 displaced people at the camp, but there are unverified reports that most had fled after bombings around Abu Suruj, Siliea and Sirba in West Darfur earlier this month. The refugees who carried the injured woman to the border area said more people would now be fleeing to Chad. This highlights the extremely vulnerable situation of the refugees and of the humanitarian workers helping them, says UNHCR. For protection and security, the refugees need to be moved urgently away from the border.
We also have remarks from the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, who has called on all parties to the conflict in western Darfur to refrain from further violence and help bring those responsible for the attacks against civilians to account under international law.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Darfur
And the Secretary-General in his statement says he is extremely concerned by the renewed violence in West Darfur, and notes in particular that the bombing of 18 and 19 February of Aro Sharow, a camp for internally displaced persons which was deserted during hostilities over the last several days, is unacceptable. Additional reports from Darfur indicating that Government and militia forces are amassing in the Jebel Moun area of West Darfur are a worrying sign that there will be continued hostilities in the area. In addition to putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk, the ongoing violence significantly reduces the humanitarian community’s access to those in need of life-saving assistance.
The Secretary-General calls on all parties to urgently cease hostilities and commit to the political process being led by the special envoys of the United Nations and African Union. A negotiated settlement to the Darfur conflict cannot take place amid continuing violence and the massive displacement of civilians.
The Security Council this morning discussed Sudan in an open meeting, followed by consultations, which began with a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Ashraf Qazi. Mr. Qazi told the Council that the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan, although behind schedule, remains on track. The overall security in the ceasefire zone remains relatively stable, although tensions between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLA increased along the current border line. Mr. Qazi warned that, while the working relationship between the two parties is relatively cordial, it suffers from a significant lack of mutual trust and confidence. He pointed to upcoming milestones for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including the conduct of a national census and the holding of national elections in 2009.
And, as you know, the Security Council held consultations on Sunday and an open debate yesterday on the topic of Kosovo. The Secretary-General attended both gatherings.
In concluding remarks to the formal meeting on Monday, the Secretary-General said the Secretariat continues to operate in Kosovo on the understanding that Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) remains in force, unless the Council decides otherwise. He said he expects everyone in Kosovo to act in a manner consistent with the operational framework for the international civil presence established in accordance with that resolution. The Secretary-General added that the imperative need to ensure peace and security in Kosovo obliges him to address the reality on the ground as it develops and in light of the evolving circumstances.
He also said that the principal objectives are: to ensure the safety and security of the population in Kosovo, with particular attention to the minority communities; to uphold international peace and security, overall stability in Kosovo and regional stability; to ensure the safety of United Nations staff; and to safeguard the United Nations achievements and legacy in Kosovo and the Balkans.
We have his full remarks upstairs. We also have the statement he delivered to the press after the Sunday consultations, his opening statement to the Security Council meeting yesterday, and his press encounter yesterday evening, following that meeting.
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground in Kosovo remains calm overall, according to the UN Mission there. Nevertheless, there were violent attacks today by Kosovo Serb fringe groups on boundary crossings in northern Mitrovica, which resulted in the destruction of property. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, condemned those attacks, saying that any violence is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. He added that he expects all Kosovo citizens to exercise calm and respect the UN Mission in Kosovo and the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, which will continue to diligently ensure a safe and secure environment throughout Kosovo. There is a press release on this upstairs.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the LRA[Lord’s Resistance Army]-affected areas travelled to the region over the weekend, arriving in Uganda on Friday, 15 February, and then continuing to Juba, southern Sudan, the site of peace talks between the Government and the LRA delegations, under the mediation of the Government of southern Sudan. Former President [Joaquin] Chissano informs us that progress is being achieved in the ongoing negotiations. An agreement was signed early this morning on mechanisms to implement the principles for accountability and reconciliation that the parties agreed upon last June.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Pakistan
And I am going to read you a statement on Pakistan. The Secretary-General has been closely following developments in Pakistan. He commends the people of Pakistan for the largely peaceful conduct of yesterday’s parliamentary elections and is encouraged by the commitment of all concerned to respect the democratic process.
Turning to Myanmar, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, is currently in Beijing as part of his regional consultations. Mr. Gambari met with senior Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Yang Jieshi, and said his discussions had been open and constructive. He expressed the Secretary-General’s appreciation for China’s continued active support to the United Nations good offices on Myanmar.
Speaking to reporters after the meetings, Mr. Gambari said it was a “significant step” that the Myanmar Government has established a timeframe for the implementation of its political road map, while emphasizing that the process has to be inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to be credible. To that end, Mr. Gambari stressed the urgency of a substantive and time-bound dialogue between the Government and Aung San Suu Kyi. From Beijing, Mr. Gambari will now travel to Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.
** Middle East
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, is in Amman, Jordan, today, where he delivered a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General to the UN Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People. He said that only a permanent political settlement, which ends the occupation and gives Palestinians their independence, can fundamentally alter the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and bring lasting security for Israel.
Meanwhile, Serry’s office in Jerusalem, known as UNSCO, reports that all Gaza goods crossings were closed today, with the exception of one, through which diesel, cooking gas and industrial gas were expected to pass today. However, no benzene was allowed in. The shortage of benzene at the local market is severely impeding private vehicular movement, UNSCO says.
In related news, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes yesterday ended his five-day visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel with a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and Ramallah. There is more information on that upstairs.
Due to the lack of cooperation by Eritrean authorities in the Mission's efforts to temporarily relocate into Ethiopia, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) has been instructed to regroup in Asmara all personnel and equipment in Eritrea. This move will facilitate further relocation out of the country. The Security Council and the troop contributing countries were informed of this on 15 February.
As UNMEE's regrouping began this weekend, two flatbed trucks carrying armoured personnel carriers from the far western border post were stopped inside the Temporary Security Zone by Eritrean militiamen on Sunday. The flatbeds and personnel have remained there, where Eritrean authorities continue to prohibit their departure.
Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Nepal, said in a statement that he is deeply concerned at incidents in several towns and other locations in Nepal’s Terai region which have resulted in one death and many serious injuries. Ian Martin appealed to the Home Minister to take all possible measures to avoid excessive use of force, and to the leaders of the United Democratic Madhesi Front to call on protesters to remain peaceful and to avoid the involvement of children in demonstrations. There are more details in a press release upstairs.
** Sri Lanka
The Secretary-General has requested Angela Kane, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, to visit Sri Lanka from 20-26 February 2008. The visit is part of her regular consultations in the areas of her responsibility. She previously visited Sri Lanka in February 2007. The primary purpose of her visit is to review the work of the United Nations Country Team in Sri Lanka in all key areas.
We have some briefing notes from Kabul, which note the efforts by the UN refugee agency to distribute emergency supplies to more than 200,000 Afghan returnees, in response to the harsh winter weather that has killed hundreds of people in recent weeks. The UN is also appealing for more than $25 million for those affected by the severe weather in Tajikistan, which is suffering severe disruptions of heating, water and basic social services.
We also have a press release upstairs on an emergency airlift of food assistance to Bolivian flood victims from a new emergency humanitarian hub in Ecuador.
The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, today chaired talks in Athens, Greece, between the two sides on the “name issue”. The Greek Foreign Minister kicked off the round of talks. Mr. Nimetz submitted to the two parties a proposal which might serve as a basis for resolving the “name issue” and related matters. He requested the parties to study his suggested ideas. The two sides are expected to respond to Mr. Nimetz in the next few weeks.
The Deputy Secretary-General today concluded a two-day visit to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, during which she discussed how UN partners have to “deliver as one” at the regional level. She chaired the Regional Coordination Mechanism meeting, which brought together more than 30 regional UN offices and development partners. The Deputy Secretary-General told the participants that the cost of failing to “deliver as one” is borne by all of us, most notably the Member States. During her visit, she also met with Thailand’s new Foreign Minister.
Meanwhile, the UN Development Programme Administrator, Kemal Dervis, yesterday kicked off a three-country mission to West Africa. He is currently in Benin, where his programme today includes a meeting with the President and a visit to an agricultural centre. Later this week, he will travel to Togo and Senegal.
And there are a couple more press releases, but I don’t think I will read them all. One is on a food and agricultural workshop on commercial and nutritional possibilities of insect consumption by humans -– that is by FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], and that’s upstairs.
And the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda says that a former Rwandan minister of youth and sports was arrested yesterday in Tanzania. He’s expected to be transferred today to the UN detention facility to Arusha, the seat of the Tribunal. And you can read more on that upstairs.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Japan’s Approval of UN Payments
And finally, I have one more statement. The Secretary-General is very pleased to learn that the Japanese Diet approved a payment of Japan’s assessed contribution to the United Nations of $1.06 billion. Of that, an estimated $285 million -– the exact amount is in the press statement upstairs -- will be an accelerated, one-time payment towards the Capital Master Plan (CMP) to support the renovation of the United Nations Headquarters.
The General Assembly, in its resolution 61/251 of 22 December 2006, decided to approve the CMP at a total budget not to exceed $1.876 billion. The same resolution provided the option for Member States to pay five equal instalments, or a one-time payment.
The remainder $775 million will go towards Japan’s assessed contribution towards the United Nations peacekeeping budget. The Secretary-General thanks the Government of Japan for this payment, which will greatly help the United Nations fulfil its obligations.
That’s what I have for you. We do have a guest coming in a few minutes now, the new Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development. So that’s what I have for you. Questions for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Secretary-General of the UN have any reaction to the US President Bush announcing in Kigali of $100 million of additional funds for UNAMID?
Deputy Spokesperson: I do not. We will check if that information has reached us here.
Question: There was a report that Mr. Holmes during his visit to Israel and Palestine was not given an interview -– a meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister and that she snubbed him saying that we see no reason to meet with him. I was wondering if there is any reaction to that.
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not received anything on this. We will certainly look into that for you. We are also trying to get him to speak to you, once he briefs the Security Council on his mission.
Question: But did his itinerary include a meeting with Foreign Minister Livni?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any further information, other than what I read to you. So we will certainly look into that for you.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that Under-Secretary-General John Holmes did not meet with the Israeli Foreign Minister during his latest visit to the region.]
Question: I wonder if… the Secretary-General in yesterday’s press encounter was asked a question whether Kosovo’s UDI [unilateral declaration of independence] was legal or not. In the UN speak, is that legal or not?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General was quite clear in his remarks to you. What he said was…
Question: He was ambivalent.
Deputy Spokesperson: I just want to make sure that I repeat what he told you at the Security Council stakeout. What he said was that it wasn’t for the UN Secretariat to decide and that it was up to Member States for the recognition of Kosovo.
Question: And on Darfur, I just wanted to find out if the Secretary-General’s Envoy is here, Mr. Qazi –- will he be giving us a briefing on Darfur?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as you know, Mr. Qazi is the Special Representative for the UN Mission in Sudan, which covers the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south. For UNAMID -– the UN-AU Mission, we have a joint representative in the name of Mr. Adada, so he is the one who would be normally briefing on Darfur. We will certainly request Mr. Qazi to brief on the situation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, if that’s what you are interested in.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the announcement by Cuban President Fidel Castro that he is going to step down and not seek to remain President?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, we don’t. Of course, the Secretary-General will continue to work with whoever leadership is in power in Cuba.
Question: At what level has the Secretary-General appointed Mr. Douste-Blazy as the Special Adviser for Financing for Development?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have to check on that, but it’s a new announcement for you. I believe that most of these appointments are at the Under-Secretary-General level, but let me check that for you.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed that Mr. Douste-Blazy had been appointed at the Under-Secretary-General level.]
Question: Nine Nobel Prize winners have in a public statement asked for an international arms embargo against Burma. Does the Secretary-General agree with that view?
And secondly, the Burmese Foreign Minister in a press conference today has said that Aung San Suu Kyi is not eligible to contest the elections. Does the Secretary-General have a view on this?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any immediate direct comments on what you are asking. The Secretary-General, as I just mentioned to you, is pursuing his good offices role, as requested by Member States. Mr. Gambari is actively involved in that process, he is in China today, and he will be travelling to other countries of the region. And as he said, he plans to go to Myanmar. So the Under-Secretary-General is pursuing what he can under the good offices mandate.
As far as sanctions are concerned, that would be in the purview of the Security Council.
Question: Follow-up to that. Does the Secretary-General agree that arms embargo against people for shipping [inaudible] should be pursued by States outside the purview of the Security Council, let’s say, unilaterally?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the views of the Secretary-General on the situation in Myanmar are well known. I think we’ll leave the sanctions issue to be discussed in the Security Council.
Question: They are not well known to me on this issue, and I don’t think he has pronounced himself.
Deputy Spokesperson: What I am saying is that the Secretary-General’s efforts in trying to bring a solution to the situation in Myanmar is currently being done through his good offices [mandate] through Mr. Gambari.
Question: There is a report that now-deceased Alfredo Reinado in Timor-Leste wrote to Ban Ki-moon on 27 November, suggesting that he put his soldiers and military component and complaining about how he was being treated and that Mr. Ban never responded to the letter -– that’s the report. First, can you say if the Secretariat received such a letter?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to look into that for you. I don’t have anything on that.
Question: OK. It is also said that tomorrow in the Council, that maybe SRSG Atul Khare will be here by video hookup. Is it possible that we ask questions, given that what has happened in Timor-Leste?
Deputy Spokesperson: If he is briefing the Council, then we can certainly see if he can brief you, as well.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later said he would not be briefing the Security Council tomorrow.]
Question: I don’t think he will be here. That’s what I am saying: he is going to brief them…
Deputy Spokesperson: That’s what I am saying. If he is briefing the Council, we can certainly ask if he can brief you.
Question: Are you aware of the Google’s censorship of an accredited UN journalist here? It seems to run in the face of the UN Charter and press freedom. Does the Secretary-General have any comment that he is willing to share with us about this?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ve only seen reports on that. No, we don’t have a direct comment on that.
Question: Will you be looking into it further?
Deputy Spokesperson: I will look into it for you.
Question: Does the Secretary-General believe that censorship like that violates the right to free speech?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing further on that, Benny, right now. I said I will look into that. I heard reports of this.
Question: Anything on the bird flu crisis talks in Bahrain by UN country teams?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, but we’ll look into that for you, as well.
Question: Is there any talk about withdrawal from south Lebanon of more UNIFIL forces or countries?
Deputy Spokesperson: I haven’t heard anything.
Question: Spain has not informed the UN in any capacity that they are planning to withdraw troops from UNIFIL?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on that, but we will certainly look into that for you.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that UNIFIL is not withdrawing from south Lebanon.]
Question: One more thing -– about these cartoons, what’s the view of the Secretary-General regarding the publishing of cartoons in some Danish and other European newspapers?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any firsthand information on this, I’ve only seen press reports on this, but, if you are talking about the press reports on the previous round of Danish cartoons, as you know, the Secretary-General has been a major advocate of the Alliance of Civilizations and, as you know, they have recently gotten together and among the things they said they would address was quick responses to issues like that. So we can certainly check up with the Alliance of Civilizations for you.
Question: I didn’t track that at all. What does the Secretary-General say about these cartoons? Does he… I mean…
Deputy Spokesperson: I just said I was aware of the press reports. I didn’t have anything directly from the Secretary-General. However, the Alliance of Civilizations -– an initiative that the Secretary-General is very much pursuing -– said that at the last meeting that they had that they would be setting up mechanisms to respond to this kind of thing. So I will check up with them -– that is what I said.
Question: But I mean, the issue of the cartoons has been around for something like 18 months, and he is also an advocate of press freedom, he is also an advocate of tolerance –- where does he stand on something that is such an established flashpoint?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think Nizor was asking about something recent on the cartoons –- and I said I would look into that.
Question: I mean, the United Nations Secretary-General must have a say on that.
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything directly from …
Question: Is he for total freedom, or provoking hatred among civilizations?
Question: Mr. Annan had weighed in on this issue also, rather extensively.
Deputy Spokesperson: That’s why I was mentioning the Alliance of Civilizations initiative.
Question: [inaudible] because some of us do not follow every exultation of the Alliance. Could you help us out as to what is exactly the position of the Alliance? Because you are saying that they have a position, but you are not saying exactly what it is.
Deputy Spokesperson: What I said -– the Secretary-General has been very much in favour of pursuing the Alliance of Civilizations, which was an initiative that began under the previous Secretary-General to bridge the gaps between East and West, between various religious, etc. And I said recently they held a meeting in which one of the things that they –- the Alliance itself -– said that they would set up a rapid response mechanism to deal with issues such as the cartoon issue. So, I said I would check with the Alliance to see what they are doing. That is what I said. I am sorry I wasn’t very clear.
Question: A response could be a response to any amelioration of the freedom of the press, or it could be a rapid response …
Deputy Spokesperson: I will check… All I said, Benny, was that I was going to check with the Alliance of Civilizations for you.
Question: Could you also check with the Secretary-General and see if he has a reaction to the latest re-publications of several of these cartoons?
Deputy Spokesperson: Absolutely.
Question: When you check with the Alliance of Civilizations, would you ask them if they would be ready and willing to give a briefing?
Deputy Spokesperson: I am sure they would agree, but I will ask them.
Question: One last thing, Marie, is Mr. Holmes going to brief us on what he saw in Gaza and the West Bank after he comes back?
Deputy Spokesperson: I just said that he is briefing the Security Council, so we’ve asked if he could brief you afterwards.
Question: Marie, just one more briefing request -– on Western Sahara, please. Mr. Peter van Walsum after his return from the trip…
Deputy Spokesperson: When he briefs the Council next, we’ll ask if there is a briefing scheduled. Normally, he briefs the Council and then he briefs you, if he does.
Ok. So we have our guest, Mr. Douste-Blazy.
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