|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.
I’m sorry I’m late. I was trying to get the latest from the travelling delegation. But I’ll start here with events in New York.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, is currently briefing the Security Council, under other matters, on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, which, as you know, he recently visited. And Mr. Holmes will speak to you after he’s done in the Council -- most likely now at the stakeout and we will let you know as soon as we know when that will be.
The Security Council first heard today a briefing in an open meeting from the Foreign Minister of Greece, in her capacity as Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
They then went into consultations to receive a briefing on the work of the Peacebuilding Support Office.
This is the last scheduled working day of the Japanese presidency of the Security Council. On Sunday, Libya will assume the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of March, and the Libyan Ambassador, the Security Council President for March, expects to brief you about the Council’s programme of work for that month, at 12:30 next Tuesday.
**Secretary-General in United Republic of Tanzania
The Secretary-General is in Tanzania today, where he is just now going into a press conference with President [Jakaya] Kikwete.
Earlier today, he travelled to Zanzibar, where he met with the Zanzibar President and also opened a “One UN” office on the island.
While flying onward to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, he flew over Mount Kilimanjaro, and was able to see for himself how, thanks to global warming, there are now only a few patches of snow on top of the mountain. He said, in a question and answer session in Dar es Salaam yesterday, that it is suggested that, by the year 2030, “we may not be able to see any snow on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. That is alarming.”
The Secretary-General then briefly saw the proceedings at the Rwanda Tribunal in Arusha, and had a town hall meeting with staff there, in which he warmly praised them for they work they have done. He also had a brief press encounter in which he appealed to countries, especially those in the region, to live up to their obligations to cooperate with the Tribunal by transferring fugitive suspects to be tried there.
This is the Secretary-General’s last full day in Tanzania, and he will travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda over the weekend.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
On the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that there has been a notable rise in violations against civilians and attacks on humanitarian workers in North Kivu. And this has led to new population displacement.
OCHA adds that attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are targeting entire villages and health centres, as well as individual Congolese citizens.
Meanwhile, aid agencies say they need military protection and are working to find ways to get to remote populations that can only be accessed by helicopter. Despite these constraints, aid is reaching some people, OCHA says. Over the past week, for example, the World Food Programme (WFP) was able to distribute food to more than 32,000 displaced people.
OCHA also notes that work is ongoing to improve the airstrip in the north-eastern city of Doruma to facilitate arrivals of humanitarian air flights.
WFP also says it is preparing an emergency operation targeting 142,000 people who were driven from their homes or lost their crops and possessions as a result of the attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
In related news, UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Hilde Johnson, is currently in the eastern DRC, where she called today for the release of all children currently associated with armed groups in the area. And we have more information on the humanitarian situation in the eastern DRC upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.
Turning to Somalia, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that more than 40,000 internally displaced persons have returned to Mogadishu in the last six weeks.
For its part, UNHCR says it is not encouraging returns to Mogadishu at this time, since the security situation remains volatile. But, at the same time, the agency says it is preparing to help returnees or those who wish to return in the near future, in the hope that the security situation will improve.
UNHCR notes that the total number of Somalis displaced within their own country is a staggering 1.3 million. And there is more information in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs on this subject.
** Sri Lanka
On Sri Lanka, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said 40 metric tons of food sufficient to feed some 80,000 people for a day was delivered to the Government-designated safe zone in the Vanni yesterday, through a sea route.
Stressing that the challenge to ship sufficient quantities of food to meet the needs of tens of thousands caught in the conflict, WFP says its goal is to deliver up to 300 metric tons of food commodities per week by boat. The sea route is provided by the Government of Sri Lanka, and it is an important alternative route to reach those in need, as most displaced persons are now concentrated in a new safe zone along the east coast of Mullaitivu district.
The UN Refugee Agency, meanwhile, expresses its deep concern about the physical security of the civilian population still trapped inside the conflict zone in the Vanni region.
UNHCR urges the Government to exercise caution and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to allow these civilians to move to areas where they felt safe.
The Refugee Agency is also urging the Government to continue to make necessary preparations to receive and accommodate the large numbers expected during the coming weeks and months. And you can read more about that also in the Spokesperson’s Office.
We have available upstairs, in English and Arabic, an open letter to the media by Daniel Bellemare concerning the end of his work as the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission for Lebanon, as he takes up his duties this Sunday as the first Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Please note that this open letter is embargoed and cannot be printed or otherwise reproduced until tomorrow, 28 February, which is the last day of the Commission’s work.
We will also issue a statement on the Secretary-General’s behalf on Sunday to mark the start of the work of the Special Tribunal.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, today issued a new report on malaria control efforts in Africa.
According to that report, more than 40 per cent of the sub-Saharan African population now has access to long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets, compared to less than 10 per cent in 2005. But Chambers cautioned that a more intensive effort will be needed to achieve the Secretary-General’s goal of providing all endemic African countries with malaria control interventions by the end of 2010. And there is more information on this upstairs.
And on polio, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) are supporting a new polio immunization campaign, which is being launched today across eight West-African countries.
The campaign aims to reach 53 million children under the age of 5 in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Togo and Nigeria. And there’s more on that upstairs as well.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
Also, a new study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finds that with deforestation continuing at an alarming rate, forest planting has significantly helped to reduce losses of natural forests.
According to the FAO, planted woods play an increasingly important role in conservation, rehabilitating degraded lands and combating desertification. FAO also reports that, in 2005, two thirds of potential industrial wood production came from planted rather than natural forests. And there is more on that from FAO upstairs.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
And we have The Week Ahead available for you upstairs to plan your coverage of the United Nations next week.
We just mentioned to you about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will officially be opened. There will be an opening ceremony on Sunday in the Netherlands.
We have also been informed that at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 3 March, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Patricia O’Brien, briefs on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, here in Room S-226.
And you all have been notified now that, on 4 March, the International Criminal Court is to issue its decision concerning the Prosecution application of 14 July 2008 for the issuance of a warrant of arrest against President Omer al-Bashir of Sudan. So that decision, as I mentioned yesterday, would be coming in a press conference at the ICC at 2 p.m. that day. And we’ve also been informed that the Secretary-General intends to brief the press that day. He will be back here in New York.
And that’s what I have for you. Any questions for me? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I am wondering if the Secretary-General will be visiting Bukavu in eastern Congo.
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have his exact programme for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but if you come upstairs I can share with you the details of his itinerary for the weekend. Yes, and he is going to the east and has quite an extensive programme there.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General was scheduled to visit Bukavu.]
Question: In the stakeout this morning, the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was brought up. Does the Secretary-General have any specific position on these two areas?
Deputy Spokesperson: Not beyond what he’s been mentioning in his reports and to the Council. If there is nothing else for me, John Holmes will be at the stakeout. Did you have a question for me?
Question: Yeah, on Wednesday you said that the Secretary-General will give a press conference. Will that be here?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes. [The Spokesperson’s Office later announced that the Secretary-General's monthly press conference had been postponed and a new date would be announced as soon as possible.]
Question: Will it be in the morning in conjunction with the announcement in The Hague, or will it timed…?
Deputy Spokesperson: All I told you is that he will have a press conference scheduled as of now at 11 a.m. here. Nothing for me? We’re almost wrapping up Matthew.
Question: I know, that’s why I am going to ask you a question. I saw that the Secretary-General came out with this report about Somalia saying that there are encouraging developments, etcetera. I want to ask again whether the Secretary-General or the Secretariat has made any communication to Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah about the comments that he made about the (inaudible) report on the killing of civilians by AMISOM peacekeepers that took place some three weeks ago. Human Rights Watch and others, Reporters without Borders, a variety of NGOs, said that for the UN to be calling for non-reporting of killing of civilians is…
Deputy Spokesperson: We had a clarification from his office that we can share with you upstairs. I don’t have it with me now.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later noted that Mr. Ould-Abdallah has spoken personally to Somali media representatives about this issue. He said he always maintained that Somali journalists are professionals working under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances, risking their lives every day and he was suggesting measures to try to protect them. This was a misunderstanding. He has always worked closely with Somali journalists and hopes to continue to do so.]
Question: And also, in yesterday’s Journal there was an announcement in a new Secretary-General Bulletin about how the UN Office in Nairobi is organized. And it is my understanding that it actually would result in currently the most senior of HABITAT or UNEP is running the Office in Nairobi, and that the new policy the Secretary-General would get to choose between the two. Is that accurate and is it his intention to switch Nairobi from Ms. Tibaijuka to Mr. Achim Steiner?
Deputy Spokesperson: If the Secretary-General’s Bulletin is what you read that’s all I have for you right now.
Question: Well, what’s the rationale of changing the existing policy under which an African official runs the Africa office of the UN to a policy that would have it the other way?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what you read in the Bulletin. If there is nothing else for me, have a good weekend. And John Holmes will be at the stakeout shortly. Thank you.
* *** *