|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.
The UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire, UNOCI, is calling for the immediate cessation of the negative campaign carried out by Laurent Gbagbo’s camp via Radio Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI). The mission says that RTI has continually broadcast images of two injured persons presented as victims of shootings by a UNOCI patrol in Abobo.
UNOCI once more denounced the violations of human rights, including the raids by armed elements sent by Mr. Gbagbo’s camp to the headquarters of the Rally of Houphouétistes for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) yesterday morning, which resulted in many arbitrary arrests and victims.
Also, last night we issued a readout of the Secretary-General's telephone call with Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. They spoke on the latest negotiations in Côte d'Ivoire, noting the importance of finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is stepping up its aid delivery to about 21,000 Ivorians who fled to Liberia – mostly women and children in urgent need of food, shelter and clean water. The World Food Programme (WFP) has confirmed to UNHCR that it would immediately make food available for the refugees.
UNHCR is focusing on delivering aid to the area of Luguato, the largest refugee—hosting area where the influx first began. It has also deployed additional staff to the border areas in order to speed up registration, which, as you know, opens the right to assistance and protection for the refugees.
The Security Council held its first consultations for the year this morning, and adopted its programme of work for the month of January. Ambassador Ivan Barbalić of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council President for this month, will talk to you about the programme of work in just a few minutes, at 12:30 here.
Council members also received an update on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy, who visited the country and the UN mission there last week. I understand from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] that Mr. Le Roy intends to speak to you at the stakeout once the Council’s consultations on Côte d’Ivoire have ended.
Then at 3 o’clock this afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled a formal meeting, followed by consultations, to discuss the UN Mission in Nepal.
As some of you would have already heard, an international civilian staff member of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, Istvan Papp, has been freed today, 91 days after he was abducted in El Fasher. The staff member, a national of Hungary, will be flown to Khartoum and back to his home country as soon as possible.
Ibrahim Gambari, the Joint Special Representative for Darfur, expressed the mission’s thanks for all who assisted in the safe release of Mr. Papp. And he also called on the Government of Sudan to ensure that all those responsible are quickly brought to justice.
Press Conferences Today
And as I mentioned, Ambassador Ivan Barbalić, Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina and President of the Security Council, will be here to brief you at 12:30.
And I can also tell you that the background briefing on Southern Sudan, originally scheduled for 10 this morning, will now take place at 2 this afternoon, here in this room.
I was asked yesterday and previously about possible rapes at a camp in Darfur.
I can tell you that a UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] verification team was sent to Tawilla. This consisted of two human rights officers. The team left for Tawilla yesterday and has just returned today. The team was tasked with verifying reports for the whole week, not just possible rape cases. The team is now compiling its report, which will be ready tomorrow.
UNAMID reports that on 25 December, an unknown number of Government "paramilitaries" and police started shooting in the air in Tawilla. UNAMID military intervened and persuaded them to leave the market. A 19-year-old girl was reportedly raped; a 60-year old woman said she was robbed and beaten; and a 12-year-old boy was also beaten. All three were treated at the UNAMID team site clinic in Tawilla and then went home.
The human rights team has been able to verify that one rape occurred and there is no confirmation of suspected perpetrators. When we have more on that, we will let you know.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just wonder, in general, when the UN Secretariat political department is meeting with the Member State who is presiding in the Security Council for the month. Do they have any suggestion, for example, whether the topic that will be discussed, the main issue for that month, would be on the ministerial level or the ambassadorial level? Do they interfere, or have any advice for the missions?
Spokesperson: As you know, there’s a Security Council Affairs Division that provides technical and other advice within the Department of Political Affairs. The Department of Political Affairs, as I say, is in charge of that Division. It’s providing technical, logistical support to the Security Council members and, obviously, including each presidency as that comes around. I would suggest that you ask the President of the Council what kind of advice he has sought and received. I don’t have any information on it. Yes, Joe?
Question: On the Ivory Coast. These radio messages we’ve been hearing about, are they targeting only the UN, or also supporters of?
Spokesperson: It’s not just radio, it’s TV. And, in fact, perhaps more significantly TV.
Question: When Le Roy mentioned that a couple of weeks ago, he said, I think, at the time they were targeting peacekeepers. Is it only the UN that these messages have been against, or is it also supporters of [Alassane] Ouattara, which would be in line with them marking the houses with ethnic symbols?
Spokesperson: What I’m talking about is because it directly concerns the safety of our personnel who are trying to help the people of Côte d'Ivoire. I’m talking about those specific messages which have, as you know, been targeting — or directed at is perhaps a better expression — the mission and its operations. Just to be clear, we’ve said repeatedly — we said at the time that the mission’s peacekeepers during this patrol in Abobo — they did not fire into the crowd. This is what RTI has been saying; this is simply not the case. They fired into the air. There were shots directed at our peacekeepers from buildings and the mission’s peacekeepers, as they are allowed to do, fired into the air and then they were able to leave the scene. Obviously, the mission is extremely indignant at the kind of messages that are being put out on this State broadcast system.
Question: What I’m asking is, though, are they also putting out messages against?
Spokesperson: That may or may not be the case. I don’t know the answer to that directly. I’m sure that our colleagues in the mission would be able to tell you that, but our primary concern here is to make sure that people understand that the mission, and indeed the United Nations as a whole, takes a very dim view of this.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a position on the threat of the use of force by ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States]?
Spokesperson: What we have said, as I said yesterday, is that ECOWAS and the African Union are very closely involved in seeking a peaceful resolution to this. And that is the primary aim — to peacefully resolve this. And for Mr. Gbagbo to step down, in line with the will of the people who voted in Côte d'Ivoire clearly for Mr. Ouattara.
Question: So he’s against the use of force at this point, the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: At the moment, what we’re saying is that, at the moment, our focus is on the efforts that have been undertaken by ECOWAS and the African Union to seek a peaceful solution to this, and to resolve it peacefully. As you know, the Secretary-General did speak to Jean Ping yesterday, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. The Secretary-General is aiming to speak to the Nigerian President, but he has not done so yet, with the aim of getting feedback from them. As the readout said — of the telephone call with Jean Ping — there is, if you like, a process in train of speaking to both Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara, and as the readout said, a return visit by those Presidents and the African Union envoy is imminent. Yes?
Question: On Côte d'Ivoire, I just wanted to ask, the Gbagbo camp has now said that their condition for removing the blockade on the Golf Hotel is that “rebels return to Bouaké”. That the rebels — they call them rebels — that are inside return to Bouaké. I wanted to know whether that is what UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire] has thought, and what they think of this condition? What’s the state of play in front of the Golf Hotel?
Spokesperson: The state of play is, as I told you yesterday, that the blockade is still in place and should not be in place. And this is not about setting conditions. This is simply about freedom of access. That’s what it’s about.
Question: I wanted to ask about the two people that you say are shown on RTI television. The head of the military has said — he said in an interview that he believes the UN peacekeepers shot the two individuals. But I’ve seen him also praised by UNOCI for helping to patrol the borders, and also, according to the head of the Ivorian military, he saved 13 peacekeepers and returned them directly to Mr. Dje. What is the state of relations between UNOCI and the military of Ivory Coast?
Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, we’ve said very clearly that no shots were fired into the crowd — shots were fired into the air. The reports being put out by RTI are simply not correct. It is simply not correct.
Question: With live ammunition?
Spokesperson: They obviously are armed appropriately for the situation. They did not shoot into the crowd, and they fired warning shots into the air. The key point is, of course, that the mission seeks to keep a line of communication open with the military forces, the security forces, and indeed has a good line of communication to the security forces. That’s important because it’s obvious that if patrols are going out, they need to be able to do that with the knowledge of the security forces that our people are out and about.
Question: But is the UN condemning RTI or the head of the Côte d'Ivoire military, who says that these two people were shot by the UN?
Spokesperson: You have seen the statement, and it speaks for itself.
Question: Were the 13 — I’m sorry, just one more on that — because he said in an interview that…
Spokesperson: Matthew, there might be some other questions around the room. And then I’ll come back to you, OK? Yes?
Question: Hello, Martin, thank you. It’s a question on this issue of natural gas reserves under the sea. Israel’s using them, Lebanon has complained to the Secretary-General about that. I suppose my question is: can you confirm that the Secretary-General has received this complaint, and explain what kind of mechanism there is within the UN to assess this kind of dispute?
Spokesperson: Well, as I said yesterday, it is not the mandate of UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] to delineate this maritime line, and UNIFIL has reiterated that point again today. On the question of a letter or complaints addressed to the UN, we checked just before I came here, and we have not received that yet. It doesn’t mean it’s not coming, but we haven’t received it yet. More generally, I’m also seeking advice on what the mechanism would be to address such concerns. As you know, generally — not just in this specific case, but generally — if two sides in a dispute, whether it’s to do with boundaries, frontiers or other topics, ask for UN assistance to settle their differences, then that can be looked into. But it’s obvious that you need to have both or more parties asking for assistance. But on the specifics of this, I will let you know; we’ve asked for some more information. Yes, Nisar?
Question: But in the case of Kuwait and Iraq, the Security Council and the United Nations interfered and forced Iraq to accept their mission and to accept the delineation of the borders, in resolution 833. Why is it not the case here? Obviously, you have maps for Lebanon and you may have a map for Israel —
Spokesperson: Well, as I said yesterday, UNIFIL — you’re referring to the Security Council; UNIFIL operated under a Security Council mandate — that is not part of its mandate. As I say, there may well be mechanisms. I’ve asked for more information; when I have it, I’ll be happy to give it to you. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: On Côte d'Ivoire, still, you did mention something about the readout of the Secretary-General’s conversation or talk with Mr. Ping of the AU. How could you describe the state of mind of the Secretary-General on this conversation? Is he encouraged that there is some kind of move towards a peaceful resolution?
Spokesperson: I think the point is that the Secretary-General is appreciative of the intensive diplomacy and the efforts of ECOWAS, the three presidents from Cape Verde, Benin and Sierra Leone, plus, of course, the Kenyan Prime Minister, Mr. [Raila] Odinga. He’s obviously extremely appreciative of those efforts and supportive of those efforts, and that’s why he’s keeping in close touch both with the African Union and with the Nigerian President who, as you know, is chairing ECOWAS at this point.
Question: But so far, is he encouraged by that conversation?
Spokesperson: What I said to you is that he is appreciative of those efforts. What the Secretary-General has also repeatedly said is that the key point is that the will of the people needs to be respected. That is the key point. Ali, right at the back there?
Question: My first question is whether there is a date that has been set for the meeting of the Quartet regarding the peace process in the Middle East? And I have another question; do you expect the referendum in Abyei to be held on time on 9 January, as well as in Southern Sudan? And if you’ll allow me a third question on Iran, whether the Secretary-General considers that the invitation from Iran to the international community to visit the nuclear facilities — whether this is a positive sign, or just another manoeuvre?
Spokesperson: I did answer that question yesterday, I’m happy to answer it again briefly. And that is that the key point is that Iran needs to comply with existing Security Council resolutions, and it also needs to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. On Abyei, I would ask you to consider attending the briefing at 2, and my colleagues who are experts in this area…
Question: But what about Secretary-General’s position in this regard? On Abyei?
Spokesperson: Look, Ali, I’ve said what is important on Iran here, and that is…
Question: I said, what is the Secretary’s position on whether the referendum in Abyei should be delayed or not for technical reasons?
Spokesperson: As I say, the key thing is that huge progress has been made, and the referendum in South Sudan is set to go ahead on Sunday, on the ninth. And that’s an important development, a positive development. On Abyei, clearly there is work to be done, and I would ask you to ask my colleagues a little bit later and they can give you more detail on that. And on the first question — I’m going in reverse order — on the Quartet, I would say that we don’t have anything to announce at this point. The Secretary-General has said that he would welcome a Quartet meeting in the near future, but we don’t have anything to announce at this point. I’m going to take one more question; I’m going to take one more question from other colleagues of yours, Matthew, because I can see that the Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina is here, and as you also know, Matthew, Nepal will be discussed this afternoon in the Security Council.
Question: Do you have any information about some rebel groups or armed groups moving from Darfur to South Sudan, and insecurity there? And which party is helping to release the UNAMID soldier in Darfur? What are the parties that helped?
Spokesperson: Right — I just couldn’t hear — it’s probably better to sit closer to the seats that have the microphones. But on the first one, on the movement of people from Darfur to South Sudan, I would ask you to ask my colleagues who are real experts in this area. On the release of our colleague — he’s a civilian, he’s not a soldier, he’s a civilian — and this was, the release was courtesy of the Sudanese authorities. The Sudanese authorities, obviously, the United Nations, and indeed the Hungarian Government, as I understand it; both have been liaising very closely with the Sudanese authorities on this.
Question: Why don’t you call him a peacekeeper?
Spokesperson: Because he’s a member of the mission but he is a civilian. He’s not…
Correspondent: They’re all peacekeepers.
Spokesperson: He’s a member of the mission, but he’s a civilian, he’s not a soldier. That was the question.
Question: Why did Ban Ki-moon transfer Ms. [Karin] Landgren into Burundi while the [Nepal] Mission was still working…?
Spokesperson: Matthew, as I said, we do have our colleague, the President of the Security Council, here; thank you very much. [He later informed the correspondent that Karin Landgren was named by the Secretary-General on 31 December to be the new Special Representative in Burundi. She remains currently in charge of the UN Mission in Nepal, UNMIN, and will continue there through the scheduled end of its mandate on 15 January. She will take up responsibilities in Burundi soon thereafter. Charles Petrie left Burundi on 26 December. Until the arrival of Ms. Landgren, the Chief of Staff of BINUB in Bujumbura has been designated as Officer in Charge.]
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