Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

5 January 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

5 January 2010
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.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon and welcome to the briefing.  Just something to help you.  Anyone who wants to ask questions, it’s probably better off for you if you sit in the first five rows because that’s where the microphones are.  People who are here for the ride, it’s okay to sit at the back.  But if you want to ask questions, it’s better at the front, or further forward at least.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning adopted its programme of work for this month, in its first consultations for this year.  And Council members also decided on the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of its Sanctions Committee for this year.  Today’s consultations were the first to include the Council’s five new members for 2010-2011:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria.  And after my briefing, at 12:30 today, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China, the Council President for January, will brief you on the programme of work for this month.


The World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended its operations in much of southern Somalia due to rising security threats and attacks on humanitarian operations. 

WFP offices in half a dozen locations in the south have been temporarily closed, and food supplies and equipment have been moved out of these areas.  Staff have also been moved to safer areas to ensure that food assistance reaches as many vulnerable people as possible. 

The decision means that about one million people in southern Somalia will not be able to receive much-needed assistance.  WFP is deeply concerned about rising hunger and suffering among the most vulnerable.  WFP, however, continues to provide life-saving food assistance in the rest of Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu.  And we have more details in a WFP press release in my office.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Bo Schack of Denmark to serve as his Deputy Special Representative in the Central African Republic.  Mr. Schack will also serve as the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative in that country. 

Joining the newly established United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) at a critical period as the country prepares for legislative and presidential elections, Mr. Schack brings with him a wealth of development, humanitarian assistance and leadership experience.  And we have more information in my office.


As temperatures drop around Afghanistan, United Nations agencies, their partners and the Afghan Government are working together to provide relief supplies to help some 200,000 vulnerable people cope with the harsh winter across the country.

The UN refugee agency says that its winterization package for this year is much better than last year’s because the number of items for each family has been increased.  For instance, the package now includes warm clothes, shawls and gas cylinders.  And the number of blankets given to each family has been increased from three to six.

The World Food Programme has completed its winter pre-positioning programme in eastern provinces, for the areas where roads could be blocked during winter due to heavy snow.  A total of 5,064 metric tonnes of wheat has been placed in the stores.  And for its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) has distributed essential medicines to the hospitals of Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.

**Staff Security

At least 28 civilian UN staff members and seven peacekeepers lost their lives due to acts of violence against United Nations personnel during 2009, the United Nations Staff Union said today.

Nine civilian staff members were killed in four separate incidents in Pakistan.  Seven were killed in two separate attacks in Afghanistan.  Five were killed in the Gaza Strip.  And two were killed in Somalia.  More than two thirds of the victims were national staff members.  At least 34 United Nations personnel lost their lives in 2008 and at least 42 in 2007.  And we have a press release available on this.

[Later, the Spokesperson issued a correction that:  Eight civilian staff members were killed in three separate attacks in Afghanistan].

**Questions from Yesterday

I was asked yesterday about the UN presence in Yemen.  Well, we have 127 international staff and 450 national staff in Yemen.  And the UN operates out of 12 offices in Sana’a and three sub-offices in the provinces.  In addition, the UN refugee agency operates from several refugee camps in the south and now in the north.

Regarding the question I was asked about Operation Amani Leo in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, I would refer you to Alan Doss’s extensive briefing to the Security Council on 16 December, in which he announced that Operation Kimia II would be ending and that Operation Amani Leo would begin in January.  And as he told the Council, the new operation would concentrate on holding ground recovered from the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and preventing attacks on civilians, and would include targeted actions where the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda may have regrouped.

As for Alan Doss’s op-ed in the Washington Times, it was written in his capacity as the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And as I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General will be speaking at a stakeout on Monday, 11 January, and he mentioned to me this morning that he would also like to hold a full press conference a little later this month.  And so we’ve fixed a date, 25 January, at 10:30, presumably here, but we’ll confirm the location.

Linked to Monday’s event, UNTV has prepared a news package that has news material featuring the Secretary-General and other staff moving to the new building, the temporary building.  And if broadcasters require that, they can contact UN Television.

Okay.  That’s what I have for you.  We have time for some questions until 12:30.  Going to the back here first.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Jordanian News Agency was reporting that this [inaudible] the Jordanian intelligence officer who was killed in Afghanistan with the seven CIA agents was performing his humanitarian duty with the Jordanian contingent of UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan.  Do you have anything on that?  Do you have any reaction to that?  Do you know about that?  Are you concerned…

Spokesperson:  It’s the first I’ve heard about that.

Question:  Are you concerned that there’s intelligence officers operating within peacekeeping forces?

Spokesperson:  That’s the first I’ve heard about that.  And we’ll have to find out.  I’ve read the news reports, not this news report, but the previous news reports about the incident.  But we’ll need to follow up on that.

Question:  Are there any details on the Secretary-General’s meeting with Robert Serry this morning?  And also, what does he plan to discuss with Senator Mitchell this afternoon?  And will Mr. Serry be involved in that meeting also?

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, the meeting with Mr. Serry was by phone, rather than a physical meeting, but let me check on that to be absolutely certain.  The meeting with Senator Mitchell, I think that it would be fairly clear what the subject matter is.  We’re trying to see whether Mr. Mitchell would be prepared to speak at a stakeout or another position after that meeting.

Yes, James.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  To repeat my question yesterday… an update on the staff… UN international staff leaving Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Right.  Yes.  I don’t have anything further for you on that.  I’m sorry.  We were seeking more information, but I don’t have more for you at the moment.  Yes, Benny.  And then Edie.

Question:  What is the status… who is protecting the staff in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  In any country, there are arrangements with the host authorities to take care of security.  But that is obviously in close coordination with UN security officials.  So there is the role of the host country and the assessment of UN security personnel.

Question:  So the decision to withdraw, is that made by local authorities, or by the UN, or by both?  Or half…

Spokesperson:  Any decision on staff safety is clearly a UN decision.  That’s taken by the appropriate department here at DSS (Department of Safety and Security).  And that is not done in isolation, of course.  An assessment is carried out first.  That’s entirely normal.  Edie.

Question:  Martin, I wonder if there’s any response to my question yesterday about asbestos?

Spokesperson:  I understand that you did speak to Werner yourself, Werner Schmidt, who is the person in charge of PR, if you like, public information for the Capital Master Plan, the big refurbishment and renovation for the Secretariat.  And he gave some fairly precise details which I won’t go into here, except to say that where you are located is not where this asbestos abatement, as it’s called, where this asbestos removal work is going on.  And in fact it’s taking place in empty premises somewhere away from where you are located.  We also checked with Werner Schmidt whether he would be prepared to speak to you.  If any of you have individual concerns about this he’s very happy to speak to you.

Spokesperson:  First here and then here.

Question:  [inaudible] did you find out whether this is true?  This news report in Pakistan that the Army Chief of Staff, or that the UN Commission looking into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination wanted to meet with the Army Chief of Staff but that he refused?  [inaudible] Do you have that information?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything now.

Question:  The other thing I want to find out [inaudible] what’s happening in Yemen since the United States and Britain have shut down their embassies.  Does the United Nations now also have plans to reduce or lower their profile in Yemen?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned already yesterday, and as I was just explaining, we do have a presence there.  As I explained, it’s scattered across various offices with different agencies.  Security is assessed continually, and in this particular case security is being looked at.  I don’t have any word on any decision to do the kind of thing that you’re talking about, but clearly, this is kept under close review.  Yes.

Question:  In recent days, has there been any particular threat that the UN has received, like the [United States] and the British said that they received the threats?  Was the UN involved in that?

Spokesperson:  I’m not are of any specific threats against the UN, but that’s from my side.  I’m not aware of that.

Question:  I also had a follow-up question on Senator Mitchell.  I’m sure you’re following the reports about a lot of movement concerning the peace process.  Do you expect something from the United Nations, I mean, in terms of these renewed efforts to resume talks between Israel and the Palestinians?

Spokesperson:  As I told you yesterday, the UN is clearly closely involved in this through the Quartet.  And if there is any movement, then clearly the UN has its role to play within the Quartet.  The fact that the Secretary-General is seeing George Mitchell today is an indication of that continued engagement to try to figure out exactly how you move things along.  I think that if you wanted to find out more about what George Mitchell’s position is, then you’ll be able to do that this afternoon if we can get hold of him.

I’m going over this way and then coming back this way.  Yes.  Matthew.

Question:  I have questions on two of the things you read out and one other thing.  On Somalia, I’ve seen the WFP statement -- their reports that the Al-Shabaab was requesting that NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that offered services in southern Somalia pay $20,000 fees, commit to not promote democracy or HIV education.  I’m wondering what the UN’s view of that, whether John Holmes or anyone has provided guidance?  Are you aware of NGOS that have paid those fees?  And what would the UN say to its humanitarian partners about those requests?

Spokesperson:  On the question of the fees, the WFP spokesperson in Nairobi (Peter Smerdon) has talked about this.  And I don’t need to repeat what he’s already said.  As for what OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has to say through John Holmes, nothing specific on NGOs.  Except to say that there are some agencies that do continue to work in the areas where WFP has temporarily suspended its operations, because obviously different agencies are affected differently by what’s going on.  And another angle here is that work is still going on in Mogadishu and also in the Afgooye corridor, which is an area where there are very many vulnerable internally displaced people.  And also, clearly, it’s a temporary measure.  It’s not good and we’re keen that the United Nations is obviously very concerned about the humanitarian consequences of this kind of suspension.  But as I say, work is going on in other areas.  And work is also going on to try to be able to work again in the area where that relief assistance has been suspended.

Correspondent:  What I was trying to ask is that there is an AP (Associated Press) story that quotes an Al-Shabaab document, that says that those who work in these areas should distance themselves from anything that will affect popular Islamic culture by promoting adultery and establishing women’s groups…

Spokesperson:  I heard what you said, Matthew, and I said that Peter Smerdon,  the spokesperson in Nairobi, has addressed this.  And I don’t need to repeat what he said.

Question:  On the Congo…

Spokesperson:  Let me just go here.  There are many people who have questions.

Question:  I have two interrelated questions.  As you well know, there will be an international conference on Afghanistan later this month hosted by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  What role will the UN play in this conference, and what is the agenda at this stage?

Spokesperson:  The role of the United Nations has been clearly spelt out already.  It’s quite clear that the United Nations is not only supporting this conference, but is helping to organize it.  I’ve mentioned here that Kai Eide’s team in Kabul is working precisely on helping to shape what comes out of that conference as we speak.  The agenda is something that we can come back to you again if it’s necessary.  It’s something that is still part of the work in progress that’s being done, partly by the people, as I mentioned, in Kabul, partly by the UK authorities, and also by the Government of Afghanistan.  Okay, I saw… Yes, Rhonda.

Question:  I have two questions.  One I asked yesterday about the role of the UN with regard to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the treaty or armistice activity.  And I guess you mentioned something about whether the DPA had some understanding about it.  And I appreciate whether you have some follow-up on that.  And then the second question has to do with, there‘s been some questions raised about the Secretary-General’s participation in the Quartet by the past president of the General Assembly and by one of the rapporteurs.  Article 100 of the Charter says that the Secretary-General shall not seek or receive instructions from any Government or any other authority and they should refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization.  So I wonder if there’s some explanation of how the activity in the Quartet maintains the independence of the Secretary-General, with regard to his obligations only to the UN and not to the opinion of other nations?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Well, on the second question, the Secretary-General is clearly mandated, or his representatives are clearly mandated, for their activities with the Quartet. On the first question, I think what I’d really prefer is that we don’t turn this briefing into a history lecture or into a public diplomacy lecture.  It’s easier for me to handle questions like that -- I’m happy to take any question, but it’s easier to handle questions like that, which don’t have a news element to them -- outside of the briefing.  Matthew.

Question:  …[inaudible]… this report [inaudible] that asked the UN to come and observe or even conduct the upcoming elections in Georgia.  There’s also supposedly reports that Sri Lanka has asked for similar electoral observation for the 6 January elections. In either case, is the UN going to provide electoral observers or something else?

Spokesperson:  On Sri Lanka, this is something that you’ve asked repeatedly and we’ve sought guidance on repeatedly.  We don’t have a clear answer on that yet, but I think the clock is ticking.  On the second one, on Georgia, it’s up to a Government to request assistance and then we look at each case.  But, as I think you know, the UN is not actually in the observation business.  It’s providing technical and other assistance.

Question:  I think this falls under your news definition.  There’s a report where the Congolese military spokesperson has said that the purpose of Amani Leo is to quote, “completely eradicate the FDLR and that the UN will be fighting alongside them along with combat helicopters”.  So to me it’s inconsistent with this statement that Mr. Doss made that this was just to hold ground and protect civilians.  So the UN… MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) didn’t contradict the Congolese statement… the Government.  What I’m wondering, is the goal of this Mission to completely eradicate the FDLR and is the UN going to be supporting with combat helicopters?

Spokesperson:  On the combat helicopters, I need to come back to you specifically, but I seem to recall that we sent quite detailed guidance to you from DPKO this morning.

Correspondent:  Oh no.  I got that… [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  …we sent quite detailed guidance to you this morning that spelled out in fairly clear terms precisely what the mandate is, the conditionality for the support and so on. I didn’t see, you’re quite right, any reference to combat helicopters or any other kind of helicopters.  So I’m going to go back and have a look and see if we can get something on that specific point.  Yes.

Question:  Two questions on Côte d’Ivoire.  The Secretariat wrote to the Security Council to extend the job of their Force Commander of ONUCI (United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire), and I was wondering if you could tell us what are the reasons why they extended his term?  And the second question:  are you aware of the letter that the Burkina Faso Foreign Minister gave to the Secretariat regarding 500 troops from Ouagadougou to join their ONUCI forces on the ground?  And if so, why the Secretariat would like to extend to reinforce the troops on the ground while they themselves are asking for a reduction of the troops?  Is this because of the election coming, or can you just explain why?

Spokesperson:  I can’t.  I’m not aware of the letter you referred to and we’d have to ask DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) if they can give us anything on that.  And likewise, on the first question, I think I would need to ask DPKO to get some details on that.

Question:  So you’ll get back to me on that… those two questions?

Spokesperson:  That’s implicit in the answer I’ve just given you.  Yes.  Make that the last question.

Question:  You mentioned right before the holidays that Mr. Christopher Ross is working on a new round of negotiations between Morocco and Western Sahara early next month, which is this month.  I was just wondering if there’s any updates on the specific dates for indirect negotiations?

Spokesperson:  No updates on specifics.  I can tell you what I told you last time, that he clearly is looking to keep and build some momentum, but no specific details at the moment.  And also, as I think we’ve mentioned before, this is of an informal nature.

So I think we have a little interlude and then you will have the President of the Security Council from China, Ambassador Zhang Yesui.  Okay.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.