|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.
**Guest at Noon Today
Our guest at the noon briefing today will be Michael Schulenburg, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone. He will brief on the situation in that country.
And I was just told that the Security Council President is going to the stakeout, but it looks like the action is out there anyway, with the P-5 stakeout already out there. So if you need to get to the President, he is also going to the stakeout now.
Turning to Lebanon, the Secretary-General has been calling the Lebanese leaders this morning, following the elections that took place on Sunday. He spoke by telephone earlier today with President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and just spoke to Saad Hariri, the leader of the 14 March Coalition.
He congratulated them on the elections and expressed the hope that the formation of the new Government will proceed expeditiously and that it will take place in a calm and secure environment. He said that he counts on the new Government to proceed with the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701.
As you will recall, in his statement yesterday, the Secretary-General called on all Lebanese to respect the results of the elections and urged them to work together in the spirit of coexistence and democracy.
I just mentioned to you the Security Council just finished its consultations. This morning it heard an update on the situation in Burundi, first in an open meeting and then in consultations.
Youssef Mahmoud, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi, briefed the Council on the significant progress that has been achieved in the implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement and preparations for the 2010 elections. Yet, despite the improvement in the political climate, he said that concerns continue to be expressed about the persistent disruption of the activities of opposition political parties by the police, the intelligence service and local officials.
He said that the two most immediate security challenges are the conclusion of the demobilization and reintegration progress and the sustainable socio-economic reintegration of former combatants. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General has recommended that the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) should remain unchanged through the end of 2009.
** Somalia -- Humanitarian
Turning to Somalia, the UN refugee agency, that is UNHCR, together with UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, have expressed grave concern over the extent of civilian death and suffering caused by the escalating violence in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
They are also concerned about human rights violations that are being committed in the latest fighting between pro-Government forces and armed opposition groups. In the past one month alone, it is estimated that more than 117,000 people have been displaced, according to UNHCR.
The majority of the displaced are women and children, with many carrying very few belongings and having to endure extremely difficult circumstances. Agencies are particularly concerned that women are vulnerable, with reports of rape and sexual exploitation as they flee the fighting.
The situation has become worse for children, with at least 34 schools temporarily occupied by armed groups since the beginning of the year. There is a joint press release from UNHCR and UNICEF issued in Nairobi, together with an update from the UN refugee agency in Geneva on this subject.
** Somalia -- Rome Meeting
Meanwhile, a two-day, top-level international meeting on Somalia has opened today, with the aim of generating fresh support for the legitimate, internationally recognized Government of Somalia.
The meeting of the International Contact Group ‑‑ which is chaired by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah ‑‑ will discuss the political, security, humanitarian and development situation in Somalia. Piracy is also on the agenda.
Somalia’s Prime Minister is scheduled to participate in the deliberations along with representatives from more than 35 countries and international organizations. The meeting is taking place in Rome.
** Myanmar -- Secretary-General Report
Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict in Myanmar. The report provides information on the grave violations against children and identifies responsible States and non-State parties to the conflict.
The Secretary-General stresses the need for the Governments concerned to facilitate dialogue between the United Nations and the Karen National Union and Karenni National Progressive Party for the purposes of signing an action plan in accordance with [relevant] Security Council resolutions.
While steps taken to date are appreciated, the Secretary-General strongly urges the Government of Myanmar to put into place a tighter mechanism to prevent the recruitment of children. It also urges the Government to demobilize unconditionally all children who participate in any capacity in its Armed Forces, in coordination with the country task force on monitoring and reporting.
And you can read more about that in that report.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), meanwhile, is trying to get more details about a group of Karen people who have fled from Myanmar since last Wednesday. UNHCR staff have been sent, today and yesterday, to villages in northern Thailand trying to ascertain the number of people who have recently arrived. Estimates vary greatly from about 2,000 to some 6,400 people.
UNHCR says that from their preliminary discussions with a few new Karen arrivals, it seems some were fleeing fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is allied with Government forces, and the rebel Karen National Union (KNU). Others said that they were fleeing forced recruitment or forced labour by Government forces.
UNHCR says it is working closely with the Thai authorities to best respond to the needs of the new arrivals. There is more in the UNHCR briefing notes on this subject upstairs.
And turning to Pakistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is continuing to look for land to develop more sites to accommodate an increasing number of displaced people seeking shelter in camps. The agency’s field teams report that more and more people who have been staying with host families, with relatives or in schools are now arriving in camps.
UNHCR said that it is working with its partners to improve conditions in the camps, by developing shading structures above individual tents to offer residents better protection against the heat. It also continues to put fences around the camps and to construct privacy walls for families. The agency says that it still requires $67 million for its operation in Pakistan until the end of the year.
Meanwhile, UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, reports on the work it has been doing to ensure that the growing numbers of pregnant women uprooted by the conflict can receive essential medical care at its facilities. A 19-year-old woman last week, who had walked 50 kilometres in two days to reach a camp, became the first woman to give birth at one of five UNFPA-supported reproductive health clinics in camps for the displaced.
And on the subject of Pakistan, we will have tomorrow Martin Mogwanja, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan. He will be briefing you on the situation there at noon via videoconference from Islamabad. And our daily briefing will follow that press conference. So we’ll try to get a voice from the field on this subject tomorrow for you.
On Darfur, the Deputy Joint Special Representative of the UN-AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was this morning in a South Darfur village to meet with officials representing some 1,500 residents. Most of the villagers had just returned to their homes after lengthy stays at UN-protected camps for the internally displaced. The UNAMID official met with traditional leaders and some of the returnees to discuss how the Mission could help them resettle in a more secure environment.
He later met with peacekeepers stationed at a nearby town of Muhajeriya, which was the scene of deadly clashes earlier this year. Together they reviewed issues concerning the protection of local civilians.
And the new Deputy Force Commander, meanwhile, was visiting troops at their base near the Zam Zam camp for the internally displaced in North Darfur. You can read more about this in today’s briefing notes from Darfur.
**Horn of Africa
On the Horn of Africa, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning today that millions of people in the Horn of Africa are facing a deadly mix of persistent drought, poor rains, conflict and the high cost of food. In addition, the impact of the current global financial crisis is threatening to make worse levels of hunger and desperation across the region, according to WFP.
WFP is currently providing food assistance to 17 million people in the region but funding for its operations is low. Almost $450 million is required over the next six months, for operations in the area. There is a WFP press release with more details on that.
On Afghanistan, since candidates filed their nominations last month for the 20 August presidential and provincial council elections, Afghanistan’s election hotline set up by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is ringing non-stop.
UNDP says its call centre provides public information on the election to about 25,000 Afghans each week and this number is expected to rise after the final list of candidates is announced on 12 June. There is a press release on that.
And tomorrow, here at UN Headquarters, the International Advertising Agency and the Japanese agency Dentsu will co-host an awards ceremony, in collaboration with the Department of Public Information, for its global student poster competition.
The competition was launched last summer in support of the UN action on climate change and was open to students in the fields of advertising and marketing communications. A total of 145 entries from 13 countries were received. The world champion is from the Universidad Argentina de la Empressa in Buenos Aires.
The awards ceremony will take place tomorrow in Conference Room A from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. And journalists are welcome to attend; this is an invitation from the Department of Public Information.
Our guest, Mr. Schulenburg, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone has just joined me. If I could just get through a couple of announcements, I will turn…
Mr. Schulenburg: Do you want me to sit here? They asked me to sit here, I don’t know… I hope I don’t disturb you!
Deputy Spokesperson: You’re welcome to sit anywhere you like in this room.
**Secretary-General Statement on Gabon
Just to flag for you, yesterday afternoon, probably closer to the evening, we did issue a statement on the death of the President of the Republic of Gabon, just for those of you who may have missed it.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
And, as I mentioned earlier, we have the press conferences for tomorrow. We have the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan, who will be joining us at noon via videoconference.
And at 2:45 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein who is the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and we have the Ambassador of Jordan to the United States and the Chairman of the Inter-sessional Meeting on the Crime of Aggression. And they will brief on the work of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC.
And finally, I have one trip announcement.
The Secretary-General on Thursday is set to travel to Saint Louis, Missouri, for a one-day visit, as part of his continental United States outreach programme. As in similar trips, he will speak to local audiences about the challenges posed by climate change, the economic crisis and food security issues.
He will address students and faculty at Saint Louis University on “Solving the World’s Food and Security Problems”. While he is there, he will be holding a meeting on food security issues with various representatives and experts in the local agricultural and commerce sector. He will invite them to share views on the role the UN can play in the biotechnology arena, promoting the beneficial application of biotechnology and life science research, while managing the accompanying safety and security risks.
The Secretary-General will also be meeting with the Governor of Missouri, senators and congressmen. He will also talk to the Junior Chamber of Commerce on climate change issues and visit the Boeing Company in Saint Louis, where he will discuss global warming, environment, energy-friendly corporate culture and business responsibilities. The Secretary-General is expected to be back in New York by Friday evening.
And that’s what I have for you. And since our guest is already with us, I can take… Okay, Matthew will have to have his daily two and then I’ll turn over. Okay.
**Questions and Answers
Question: This situation in Peru, where the indigenous people are being killed as they try to block a road protesting a free trade agreement, does the UN or its Permanent Forum, the Secretariat, does it have any comment? Is there any involvement with the UN?
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll get you a contact for the Indigenous Forum people, so you can follow up after that.
[The reporter was later referred to a press release issued by the regional office for Latin America of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which deplored the serious acts of violence that have occurred in the cities of Bagua Chica and Bagua Grande, in the Department of the Amazon, in Peru. The office stressed that the use of force and firearms by the law enforcement authorities must be limited and exceptional and must comply at all times with the full respect for human rights, in particular the right to life. The Regional Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also called on all indigenous communities and the social sectors who participated in this protest, not to use violence.]
Question: I guess then on Sri Lanka, where the Secretary-General has said he is closely monitoring compliance with the joint statement, a couple of questions. There is this law, the anti-terrorism law, which has been extended which involves a [inaudible] being arrested, without having to be brought to court, various provisions… Is that consistent with what Ban Ki-moon was calling for the country to do after the defeat of the LTTE?
Deputy Spokesperson: Specifically on the press reports you’re mentioning today, I have no comment. But, the Secretary-General’s comment on the current challenges in Sri Lanka have been mentioned daily, and for the sake of time, right now, I think will stop there, so that I can turn the floor to our guest. Mr. Abbadi, one question?
Question: Thank you, Marie. The Stockholm Institute of International Peace Research has just published its report, and the findings are that the world spends close to $1.5 trillion on armaments. Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to these important conclusions?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t a specific comment, I’m sorry, on the report that you mention, but his views on disarmament have not changed.
With that, Mr. Michael Schulenburg.
* *** *