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

25 January 2010

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

25 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.

Good afternoon, everybody.

Tony and David, can you hear me?  Apologies…  Our apologies for this slight delay.

Chief of Public Information for MINUSTAH, David Wimhurst:  Yes, we can hear you, thanks.  And we can see you too.

Spokesperson:  My apologies for this slight delay.  Without further ado, I’m going to hand the floor over to you, Tony Banbury, Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and David Wimhurst, who is Director of Communications for the mission.  And just briefly, to tell people here that at 4:00 p.m. today, there will be a further briefing here by Josette Sheeran, who is the Executive Director, as you know, of the World Food Programme.  And she is back from Haiti and will be able to tell you more at 4:00 p.m. here in this auditorium.

So Tony and David, over to you with thanks in advance already.

(Briefing on Haiti issued separately.)

Spokesperson:  I’m also happy to take questions.  I have a couple of things I can update you on.

**Iraq

First of all, I’ve got a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the bomb attacks in Baghdad.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the bomb attacks in Baghdad today that have killed dozens of people and injured scores more.  No cause can justify these attacks on civilian targets.  He extends his heartfelt condolences to the Government of Iraq and to the victims of these criminal acts, as well as to their families.

The Secretary-General appeals to the people of Iraq to remain committed to a path of reconciliation despite such attacks, including through the ongoing election preparations.  The United Nations remains committed to supporting them in that process.

**Haiti-Montreal Conference

And just to come back to Haiti, I just had a couple of other points I wanted to bring to your attention.  As you have already heard, the Montreal Ministerial Conference on Haiti is taking place today.

And Edmond Mulet, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti is at the conference -- along with the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, and the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Helen Clark.

We have Mr. Holmes and Mr. Mulet’s presentations in my office and we are expecting to get Ms. Clarks remarks as well for you later.

And on Wednesday, in Geneva the Human Rights Council will hold a special session on the human rights aspects of supporting the recovery process in Haiti.

And just a few additional points:

The World Food Programme says it has delivered 2.6 million rations, the equivalent of nearly 8 million meals, to nearly 400,000 people.  And the World Food Programme aims to reach 100,000 people each day as the operation scales up.  And this is one of the most complex operations WFP has ever launched.  Haiti’s entire supply chain infrastructure has been devastated and WFP’s operation has been launched from scratch.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 235,000 people have left Port-au-Prince using the free transport provided by the Government.  And the number of people living in temporary shelter sites in Port-au-Prince could be as high as 800,000.  And water continues to be distributed daily at 115 sites in Port-au-Prince reaching an estimated 235,000 people.

**UNDP

In just a few hours, at the Benfica stadium in Lisbon, more than forty international football stars from across the world will be competing in the seventh annual “Match against Poverty” which has been organized by the UN Development Programme.

More than 50,000 tickets have been sold.  The proceeds from this year’s game will go towards the Cash for Work programme in Haiti, which was called for in the UN’s flash appeal.  And thanks to MINUSTAH, arrangements have been made for people in Haiti to follow the game on the radio and television, where possible.

The players, brought together through the efforts of UNDP Goodwill Ambassador’s Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, include two rising Haitian players from the Portuguese football clubs, Jean Sony and Joseph Peterson.

**Afghanistan

And on Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) highlighted the importance of the conference on Afghanistan that will take place in London on Thursday.  As you know, the Secretary-General will be attending that conference.  The UN Mission expressed its hope that the London Conference will secure the political commitment needed from Afghanistan’s international partners to build peace, ensure security and boost development.

**Ethiopia/Lebanon

And I am sure you’ve all seen the news of crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane in the Mediterranean Sea today.  At the request of the Lebanese authorities, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is participating in joint search and rescue operations for any possible survivors from the aircraft, which crashed off the coast of Beirut early this morning.  Two ships from the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force, as well as two UNIFIL helicopters, have been at the crash site throughout the day.  The search and rescue operations are still continuing in difficult weather conditions.

And that’s what I have for you.  If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to take them.  I see Bill over here.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two things:  One, can you bring us up to date on what the status is of the selection of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan?  There is a report out that Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura has declined the Secretary-General’s nomination, and are we going to get something done as planned by the London conference?  Secondly, has the Secretary-General or anybody at the secretariat heard anything from the Government of Myanmar concerning their announced intention to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when her latest confinement is up in November?

Spokesperson:  On the first, I think you can expect an announcement very soon.  And on the second, we’re aware of the reports from Myanmar and we’re trying to get more details from our people on the ground. 

Question:  I’m sorry, I need to follow up:  When you said very soon on the first point, you mean at the conference in London?

Spokesperson:  I meant what I said:  very soon.

Question:  Thank you.  Oxfam has called for the cancellation of the debt of Haiti, which amounts to close to $1 billion.  Does the Secretary-General support that call?

Spokesperson:  We’ve said before here that the Secretary-General supports any efforts towards debt relief, including in this particular case with Haiti.  And this is already a subject that is being discussed in Montreal in outline terms, and it’s being discussed on the sidelines.  The Secretary-General has said quite clearly that he supports efforts towards debt relief.

Question:  Can you please update us on the death toll in general in Haiti and especially from the UN personnel?

Spokesperson:  As regards the overall death toll for the Haitian population and anybody else, this is something where you will have seen figures from the Haitian government.  And we don’t have a specific figure ourselves, I think probably for obvious reasons.  But you will have seen the Haitian government figure.  As regards the UN death toll itself, that stands at 82 UN staff are now known to have died or confirmed to have been killed.  And there are 53 people who are still unaccounted for.  But, as we’ve said before, and as you have seen, that number is coming down and could still go down further as people do get in touch. 

Question:  As far as this conference on Afghanistan is concerned, will the Secretary-General provide a new plan for Afghanistan, which will be all inclusive?  People have been suggesting time and again that one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan is that there are conflicting priorities, whether to bring in the Taliban or not, and whether to [include] moderate elements or not.  What should be done, because without the inclusive process it will never be solved?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan has been speaking about this topic, and I think you can expect that he will be bringing with him to London -- meaning the Special Representative -- specific ideas.  And I think we need to wait until we get to London to see precisely what they might be.

Question:  Are you saying that there will be a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General attending?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what I said.  I said Kai Eide, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General who is in Kabul, will be attending the London conference.  And he has been speaking, as you will have seen, publicly both through the mission and in an interview about the prospects for the conference.  So you can expect him to bringing ideas with him to the conference in London.

Question:  Can you elaborate?  Any new ideas…?

Spokesperson:  No, I can’t.  I think we need to wait to see what he brings with him. 

Question:  I want to ask about elections and corruption.  On elections, in Sudan the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] have called for a boycott of any and all elections in South Kordofan State.  Given the importance that the UN has put on these elections, are they aware of that?  And what is UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan], or anyone in the UN system, what is their response to that?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure my colleagues on the ground are aware of it, and we’ll need to get full guidance from them on that.  But, in general terms, I think the Secretary-General has made very clear that the election, this year, and the referendum the following year are crucial for the future of Sudan and for the region.

Question:  Since he’s said similar things or slightly different on Sri Lanka, given that the election is tomorrow there have been since his last statement about the importance of lack of violence, there have been grenade attacks on opposition’s homes; a reporter has gone missing; and Reporters without Borders has called a search and also has accused the government of forcing cell phone companies to text out messages in support of the President.  On the eve of the election, does Ban Ki-moon have anything to say about those events?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has made his views known and very clear on the conduct of the election campaign.  We don’t have presence on the ground for the election, as such.  Therefore, we’re not able to assess precisely how the election itself will be conducted.  But the Secretary-General is very clear on two things.  One:  that the election needs to be free and fair and credible.  And that, second, any violence in the run up to, or indeed during the course of the election itself is to be condemned.

Question:  There is a New York Times article that took place either Friday or Saturday with a headline “Contractor charged with trying to get corruption from UN procurement” but the actual indictment, USA Vs. Bistrong, seems to indicate that the contractor actually got what he was looking for, that is he was able to influence the bidding practice within the UN.  I just wondered whether, in response to these allegations, the UN is going to conduct its own investigations, whether through that OIOS unit or otherwise?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Office of Internal Oversight Services has completed an investigation into a matter where many of the facts at issue here were with respect to Mr. Bistrong.  And I think you can expect a report from OIOS.  It’s forthcoming.

And while the criminal information refers to a UN agent, the United Nations considers this person to be an individual already investigated by the United Nations, who has been separated from service and convicted by the United States authorities.  And the United Nations will, however, confirm with United States authorities to ensure that there are no other UN personnel implicated.

Question:  Are you referring to Mr. Jacob Loeb, just to be clear who we’re talking about?

Spokesperson:  I’m telling you what I have here.  I can also give you a couple of other details. The events reported in the press refer to actions which occurred in 2001 to 2006.  And since 2006 procurement processes have been tightened to ensure the bid-rigging and bribery described in the criminal information are no longer possible.  The UN Procurement Division (UNPD) believes that the allegations refer to persons who are no longer employed by the United Nations.

And the Procurement Division is aware of the issues referred to in the criminal information filed on 22 January 2010 against Richard T. Bistrong.  And in consultation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and Office of Legal Affairs, the Procurement Division is reviewing the matter to identify what actions are warranted.

And also, following a review, existing or prospective procurement vendors will be referred to the Senior Vendor Review Committee for appropriate action.  Okay.  I’m going here, and then I’m going over here.

Question: About this London conference on Yemen, is there any input from the United Nations how this conflict could be resolved?

Spokesperson:  The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs will be attending.  And I’m sure he’s not going empty-handed.

Question:  Can you elaborate on that?  Any suggestions?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment, no I can’t, no.  But he is clearly going there, representing the Secretary-General.  It’s clearly an extremely important event, and that’s why he will be there.  There are two strands to this:  The UN’s existing humanitarian work that it’s doing on the ground there, and the clear understanding that there is a political element that needs to be looked at internationally, and that’s why this meeting is important, and that’s why Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe will be attending. 

Question:  On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are indications that the United States has made new proposals, and they include the fact that Israel will stop military activities in the West Bank, and that would allow for the entry of construction material into Gaza.  Is the Secretary-General aware of that?  And if yes, is he cautiously optimistic about the resumption of the peace talks?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has repeatedly called, including last week, for crossings to be opened so that construction materials can be allowed in, because clearly there is a lot of work to be done, and you can’t do it without the construction materials.  As to the broader question about what Mr. Mitchell may or may not be carrying with him around the Middle East, I think you need to ask the Americans that. 

Question:  There is a report on Israel in the New York Times about this, about the Israeli government’s decision to rebuff the Goldstone report.  Have the Israelis informed the Secretary-General about it, and when is he going to present the rebuttal?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has asked for the appropriate parties to comment on the Goldstone report, and we’ve requested Israel’s comments and we will be looking at their response when we receive it.

And of course, whenever there are allegations of serious human rights violations anywhere in the world, then investigations should follow. 

Question:  On this compensation which you have received from Israel recently regarding the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], did they indicate whether they are going to repay the overdue compensation for the camp destroyed in Qana in 1996?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t hear the last bit of your question, I’m sorry.

Question:  The UN Qana camp, which was in southern Lebanon, which was destroyed in 1996; there are so many resolutions by the General Assembly that Israel should pay the United Nations.  However, they have been reluctant.  Did they indicate whether they are going to pay or not?

Spokesperson:  Look, we made very clear last week what this payment refers to.  It refers to seven incidents that were looked into and investigated by the Board of Inquiry that was headed by Ian Martin.  It doesn’t go beyond that.  Now, that clearly does not preclude any other further claims.  Of course, it doesn’t preclude that.  But this [interrupted].

Question:  [inaudible] I mean, when they came forward with the payment, was the other issue raised with them, that they should pay?

Spokesperson:  Look, this was a very specifically narrowly-defined undertaking to receive payment to cover damage to UN property and persons during that specific incident and the dates of which you’re familiar with.  And the incidents that were investigated were within that timeframe.  So, it was focused on that and not on other matters.  As I said, that doesn’t preclude further claims, of course, but this was very narrowly defined.  And I think we’ll just take one more question.

Question:  On Haiti there is a report out of Canada of a company there called Guardian Helicopters.  It claims that it brought two strong helicopters and pilots were sent to a UN, they say, base in the Dominican Republic, and from which they have been there since Tuesday.  They said they’ve been there for a week, offering their services, but the quote, the guy’s quote is that the UN has been very disorganized.  I just wonder, is the UN, you know, maybe you will look into that, whether they are aware, is the UN against the idea of people like this who have helicopters bringing them there or why has this been sitting there for a week, if it’s true?

Spokesperson:  Well first of all, we need to check to find out whether it is true.  Second thing is, as you’ve heard, there is clear communication and coordination going on.  In the initial days, of course, again as you’ve heard repeatedly, it was pretty chaotic, and that was understandable in the circumstances.  But things are really on track, and now the coordination is tight and clearly is going to get even tighter with this Joint Operations and Tasking Centre that you heard about; that will be starting work round the clock from tomorrow. We’ll find out more; I’ll ask our colleagues -- you could have asked our colleagues on the call.

Question:  I understand.  He seemed to be talking about the conference.  I had also wanted to ask about the Hotel Christopher, whose rent was being paid on it.  Now that it’s collapsed, what the UN, does it continue to pay rent or is that suspended?  That’s something, I don’t know if Banbury… [inaudible]..

Spokesperson:  Again, you could have asked these questions when we had…

Question:  I thought of that…

Spokesperson:  But you chose to ask other questions.  I’m not in a position to answer them right now.  Let’s see if we can find out the answers for you.  Okay.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Thanks very much, thank you.

* *** *

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