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

25 March 2010

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

25 March 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.  Welcome to the noon briefing. 


We have with us today Mr. Alain Le Roy and Ms. Susanna Malcorra, as you know, respectively, the Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support.  I understand that both of you would like to say a few words first and then take questions.

[Following their participation, covered as a separate press conference, the Spokesperson continued the noon briefing.]


The Secretary-General, as you well know, reconvened his Group of Friends on Myanmar today to review developments ahead of this year’s elections -- the first in two decades.

The Group met for an hour and a half.  After that, the Secretary-General spoke to the press, saying that the Group stressed the need for elections to be inclusive, participatory and transparent, in order to advance the prospects of stability, democracy and development for all the people of Myanmar.  And we have his full remarks available in my office. 


Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, met today with the visiting Hezb-e-Islami delegation, in accordance with the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) renewed mandate and in consultation with President Hamid Karzai.  The Special Representative listened to their points.  He said that their visit in Kabul and the ongoing discussions with Afghan authorities further underscored the importance of Afghan-led dialogue in order to bring stability to the country.  The United Nations, in accordance with its traditional role and expertise, will be available to assist Afghans in order to find proper avenues for pursuing constructive political dialogue.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment -- Burundi

The Secretary-General has appointed Charles Petrie of the United Kingdom/France as his new Executive Representative for Burundi and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in that country (BINUB), and also United Nations Resident Coordinator, Resident Representative, Humanitarian Coordinator and Designated Official for Burundi.  Mr. Petrie succeeds Mr. Youssef Mahmoud of Tunisia, who has led BINUB for the last three years.  We have more information on Mr. Petrie in my office.

I am happy to take a couple of questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.  In Nigeria, the Nigerian press has a report on the Bakassi peninsula, where the UN had this role of reaching an agreement, that despite the agreement, Cameroonian gendarmes have, according to the Nigerian press, chased out thousands of Nigerians who now live in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps.  I am just wondering, one, if the UN can confirm, and two, what the UN’s role is on the Bakassi peninsula following its role in negotiating the agreement?

Spokesperson:  I need to find out about that.

Question:  And I wanted to, since what the Secretary-General said yesterday about his panel of experts to advise himself on accountability in Sri Lanka, there have been a couple of reports, but one has been that a position on that panel was offered to Mr. [Yasushi] Akashi of Japan and Mr. Akashi turned it down.  That is a report in the Sri Lankan media.  And I am just wondering, could you confirm that?  Or at least that individuals have been approached?   I was trying to get a status yesterday.  If the status is that people are being reached or not, do you have any response to that report?

Spokesperson:  Well, you heard what the Secretary-General said yesterday:  that this is a process that is under way, it is actively under way.  And while that kind of process is under way, when you are trying to identify people and approach people, it is not a good idea to talk about specific names.

Question:  There is one name that even he himself mentioned yesterday.  He said that his Chef de Cabinet was meeting with the Ambassador of Sri Lanka.  I wondered if you could just clarify a little bit?  Because there have been, some have questioned whether a panel to investigate, at least in part, possible war crimes by the Government of Sri Lanka, what the role of the Ambassador of Sri Lanka is in setting that up.  And also, some have questioned the Chef de Cabinet, again with all due respect, because he may be a witness to at least one of the identified incidents in which surrendering leaders of the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] came out with white flags after having spoken with Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar [Chef de Cabinet] and were shot.  Given that he may have evidence to give on these matters, whether it is appropriate to have him involved in selecting the people that would advise how to look into that.  What is the response?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on the first point.  We have made this very clear, that this panel of experts is to advise the Secretary-General on matters of accountability.  It is advising the Secretary-General.  It is not a commission of inquiry; it is not an investigation in Sri Lanka.  It is advising the Secretary-General, it is a panel of experts to do that.  That is what it is about.  It is entirely consistent and logical for the Secretary-General’s team to liaise with Sri Lanka, which has expressed views on this subject which you are perfectly well aware of -- to be able to talk to them so that they understand precisely what it is that this panel of experts is about.  And I think you need to see that meeting in that context. 

And as for the other matter you mentioned, I am not going to comment on that.

Question:  Despite the…

Spokesperson:  I said I am not going to comment on it.  So you can ask me again, I am not going to say anything more, okay?  So if you have another question, I am happy to take it.

Question:  I actually have a follow-up on this.  And the question is, although it is advising the Secretary-General on issues of accountability, presumably one of the advices that the panel could give is to convene a commission of inquiry?  I am saying, that is why people are concerned about, if somebody that could be a witness to such a commission [is] helping to set it up.  That is why I am asking.  If you say you have no comment on it…

Spokesperson:  That is right.  I said I have no comment.  I have already explained, as have other people, including the Secretary-General, what this panel of experts would be for -- to look into accountability and looking at standards that there are for that kind of activity.  That is what it is about to advise him.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General responded to the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] letter?  And, another letter matter, has he received a letter from the Myanmar Government, in response to the one that he said to us some weeks ago that he had sent?  I know that is two separate letter questions.

Spokesperson:  Yes, that is two separate letters, but that is alright.  On the Sri Lanka question from the Non-Aligned Movement, the Secretary-General has said publicly that he will respond.  And I am sure that he will.

Question:  And has he received a letter from Myanmar in response to the one that he sent some time ago?

Spokesperson:  I need to look into that.  Any other questions? 

[The Spokesperson later replied that no letter had been received recently from Myanmar.]

Question:  I know you have already told me that the Secretary-General joins others to regret Orlando Zapata’s death -- the Cuban political prisoner who died on hunger strike in prison under the supervision of the Cuban Government.  But France has already asked the Cuban Government to release other political prisoners that are right now on hunger strike, too.  My question is, can we expect positions from the UN, other than regret?

Spokesperson:  It is not for me to pass comment on what individual Member States do with regard to other individual Member States.  I have said what I have to say on the subject before.  And I can repeat it if you’d like, but that is what I have to say.

Question:  Yes, but there is another political prisoner called Guillermo Fariños, who is in a grave situation on hunger strike, too.  If he dies, too, will you regret it, or will you say something about it?

Spokesperson:  I do not think it is a good idea to answer hypothetical questions.  That is the first thing.  The second thing is the Secretary-General is kept fully up-to-date on what is happening, not just in Cuba but in other countries, too.  So he is aware of what is going on.  What I have mentioned to you in the past is what I have to say at the moment.

Question:  That would be your final position?  Can we expect other positions on that, or that is it?

Spokesperson:  Again, that is a very difficult question to answer -- is it my final position or is it the final position of the United Nations?  There is not much that is finite in this world and final.  If things change, I will let you know.  Okay, any other questions?

Question:  On Burma and Myanmar.  As you know, later this year there will be general elections in the country.  Has the UN offered any kind of assistance for conducting free and fair elections, even as far as structure or sending observers to Burma, or Myanmar?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point.

Question:  Do you plan to?

Spokesperson:  Look, what happens in any case with any election, it is up to the country concerned to approach the United Nations to ask for assistance.  And that has happened in many cases in the past.  And if and when such a request was submitted by the Government of Myanmar, then it would be looked into.

Question:  Has there been a request so far from the Government of Myanmar?

Spokesperson:  Not that I am aware of.

Question:  Turning to Afghanistan, as you said, the reconciliation process has to be Afghan-led.  You know the UN has a very good will inside the country because of its humanitarian aid that has been ongoing.  Does it want to facilitate any kind of reconciliation of the peace talks between the groups and the Karzai Administration with your own contacts? 

Spokesperson:  Well, you have heard what Mr. de Mistura has been doing.  You will have seen that already.  I do not have anything further to add to that, except that, coming out of the London Conference on Afghanistan, it was very clear that there was a consensus view amongst all of those countries that were present there that reconciliation is absolutely crucial.  It is going to be a key factor for Afghanistan, and the United Nations, as always, will be available to assist Afghans in the efforts that are led by them to find a more peaceful way to live together. 

Okay, I think we will have to leave it there.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

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