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

3 March 2011

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

3 March 2011
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, and welcome to the briefing and welcome to our guests.

** Libya

The Secretary-General convened a video and telephone conference call this morning with regional organizations and UN agencies to discuss the humanitarian situation in Libya and on its borders.  This was the first meeting of its kind, involving not only the UN agencies but also other regional and international organizations to reflect the urgency of the situation and the shared desire to act with unity of purpose.

All the participating organizations joined in urgently appealing to the Libyan authorities to allow immediate and unimpeded access into Libya to determine humanitarian needs and provide assistance inside the country should it be required, including in the west.  They agreed to further strengthen their coordination to deal with the developing humanitarian situation in Libya.

They noted assistance had been scaled up significantly in the past 24 hours.  But they agreed a high priority was assisting people to move away from the border areas and helping people return to their countries of origin.  In addition, there is a strong need for urgent relief — food, water, sanitation and shelter to the thousands on both sides of the Tunisian and Egyptian borders due to significant population movements, mainly of migrant workers.  It is also necessary to prepare for a further possible escalation of humanitarian needs should conditions deteriorate inside Libya.

Those on the call expressed their sincere thanks for the strong support provided by the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities, and their people, to those leaving Libya and to the organizations working to assist them.

The Secretary-General made clear he intends to name a special envoy shortly.  He also emphasized that political change must be locally owned and locally led.  He stressed the need to monitor the situation as it evolves.

**Libya — Humanitarian

And I have some more details from the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos; she has allocated $5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to galvanize emergency efforts to help people fleeing violence in Libya.  The funds will primarily be used to scale up the relief operations along the Libyan-Tunisian border.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), up to 147,000 people have escaped fighting in Libya.  The vast majority of those leaving the country are immigrant workers.  The United Nations and its partners are working closely with authorities in Egypt, Tunisia and Niger to meet the basic needs of the large numbers of people who have fled from Libya.  But as the situation escalates, it is evident that a much larger response is required, the Office stresses.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is mobilizing its staff and relief supplies to Libya’s western and eastern borders.  Two of its charter flights loaded with more than 160 metric tonnes of supplies are expected to reach the area shortly.  The numbers of families crossing the border into Tunisia are reported as being relatively low to date, and UNICEF is concerned that women and children have been severely affected by the unrest within Libya.

And the World Food Programme (WFP) says that a ship chartered by the WFP that was carrying more than 1,000 metric tonnes of wheat at the request of the Red Crescent in eastern Libya has returned to port in Malta today without unloading its cargo, due to security concerns.  It was headed to the Libyan port of Benghazi at the time.

**Security Council

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, is briefing the Security Council this morning in closed consultations on Côte d’Ivoire.  As he told you yesterday, he will discuss the mounting tensions in Côte d’Ivoire, with an increased number of clashes, escalating violence and further incidents of peacekeepers being harassed.

The Security Council also expects to receive a briefing in consultations today on the situation in Sudan, where fighting has been reported in Abyei in recent days.  Council members are expected to issue press statements on both topics.  And we also expect Mr. Le Roy to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout following consultations if time allows.

Earlier, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution concerning the UN Mission in Liberia’s support for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Just returning to Côte d'Ivoire, the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) says that 50 people have died during the past week in violent clashes across the country.  Twenty-six people died in the Abobo district alone and 200,000 people have fled the neighbourhood, according to the Mission.

The Mission adds that it is working with other partners to open a humanitarian corridor in Abobo and is planning on requesting a halt in the fighting to provide water and food to the population there.

** Sudan

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) says that, in reaction to the recent clashes north of Abyei town and to prevent an escalation in violence, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has started to enhance its presence in this location by reinforcing its current capacity of four companies with an additional company.  The strengthened deployment will intensify the frequency of both patrols throughout the Abyei Administered Area to provide a continuous rolling presence, as well as foot patrols within Abyei town itself to increase visibility of UNMIS troops while carrying out the Mission’s mandated duties.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Resources available to meet the needs of hundreds of thousand of victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are at best inadequate, and at worst non-existent.  That’s according to a new report by a special high-level panel appointed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

The report says that medical and psychological treatment, justice and accountability for perpetrators, and other forms of remedies and reparations are not routinely available to victims of sexual violence.  And Congolese victims of sexual violence are extremely concerned that whatever they are given now to restore their lives could be destroyed again if there is no peace in the region.

The report was released today in Geneva.  It is the result of a 17-day field trip by the special panel, whose members visited seven locations in three different provinces and the capital, Kinshasa.  The report is available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

** Western Sahara

As agreed by the parties during their last round of informal talks in January, delegations of the parties to the Western Sahara conflict, Morocco and the Frente Polisario — and the neighbouring States, Algeria and Mauritania — will gather in Malta for informal meetings from 7 to 9 March this year.

These meetings will take place at the invitation of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Mr. Christopher Ross, within the mandate given by the UN Security Council.

At their last talks, the parties continued to discuss innovative approaches and subjects for discussion in order to create an environment that could be more propitious for progress to be made.  In preparation for the coming meetings, the parties have been asked to work on these approaches and subjects to find common ground on which to build at future sessions.

** Somalia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says more than 5,500 Kenyans have been temporarily displaced from Mandera, which is just across the border from the Somali town of Beled Hawo, where fighting continues between Somali forces and Al-Shabaab militants.

The Office says some 6,000 Somalis have sought asylum in Kenya, with unconfirmed reports saying that a number of would-be asylum seekers are stranded in a no-man’s land between the two countries.  The newly registered Somali asylum seekers, meanwhile, are in need of shelter support, but increased security risks are hampering humanitarian efforts.

**Food Prices

Global food prices have increased for the eighth consecutive month, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Except for sugar, prices of all commodity groups rose again in February.  The cereal price index — which includes the prices of main food staples such as wheat, rice and maize — climbed by nearly 4 per cent, reaching the highest level since July 2008.  FAO cautions that unexpected spikes in oil prices could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And just a note on a press conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. here in the Auditorium; there will be a press conference on the preparations for Rio 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.  The participants will include Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; he is Secretary-General of the Conference; and John Ashe, Co-chair of the Bureau for the Preparatory Process of the Conference.

And then the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and she will be here to brief you on Libya and other areas of humanitarian concern.

That’s what I have.  I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I believe I heard you say that the parties to the conflict in Western Sahara are going to meet in Malta?

Spokesperson:  Malta.

Question:  What were the reasons for selecting this site for the talks?

Spokesperson:  I can’t answer that at the moment; I’ll see if my colleague can help you with that.  But typically, a venue is found which is mutually agreeable to those taking part in the discussions.  Yes, James?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I was wondering if we could get an update on a few issues, maybe with some dates?  The flotilla panel — has the report been submitted to the Secretary-General yet?  Where does that one stand?  Also, I understand this month we should be getting the report from the Haiti cholera investigation.  Another one that I have been asking about is the Lebanese request from the Secretary-General for assistance on the off-shore hydrocarbon reserves.

Spokesperson:  Right, on the last one; no update at the moment.  On the second one regarding the cholera panel, I think we should have something further to say on that in the next few days.  Let me check precisely on that.  But as I think we said at the outset, there was a need for this investigation to be carried out quickly.  And I know that they are getting towards the point where they would be able to submit their findings.  But let me find out exactly for you.  And on the first point about the flotilla panel, the report has not been submitted to the Secretary-General yet.  As you know, that is an important task that involves balancing and reading all the material that has been provided from the parties.  So I don’t think we are at that point just yet.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  That one’s behind schedule then, isn’t it?

Spokesperson:  The point here is that the panel, as you know, received some of the documentation quite late in the day, and therefore it needs to take time.  This is an important exercise; it’s high visibility, as you know, and they need to be carrying that work out in a very painstaking way.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Yes, Martin, I just want refer back to the first statement you read on the Secretary-General meeting with the leaders of the regional organizations.  You said that the Secretary-General said that the political change in Libya should be locally owned and locally led.  I was just wondering:  is this an indication that the Secretary-General doesn’t support any of this talk about the no-fly zone or possible military action?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think that there is a linkage there.  This is talking about internal political change in Libya and indeed, by extension, as you have heard, the Secretary-General said on other occasions, and you’ve heard me say on other occasions, this applies across the region.  And he is simply reiterating and emphasizing the point that political change must be locally owned and locally led.  And I wouldn’t read anything further into that.  Yes?

Question:  We have seen lately aerial bombardments from the [Muammar Al‑]Qadhafi forces in Brega.  Would the Secretary-General call the Libyan authorities to halt these aerial bombardments and would he seek a no-fly zone should those bombardments continue?

Spokesperson:  On the second part of your question, it is not for the Secretary-General to do that.  This is something that the Security Council would need to consider.  And I think that the President of the Security Council yesterday, sitting right here, addressed that topic.  As for the aerial bombardment that is going on and has been carried out in the last couple of days, obviously the Secretary-General is concerned about what that means for the civilian population.  And he has been very clear that it is unacceptable for civilians to be targeted, and it is also important that, as we have just said, as I just mentioned, that humanitarian access can be provided.  That needs to take place swiftly, obviously with the consent of the Libyan authorities.  And that is why the organizations on this call — it was a long list; I didn’t read out the list, but it will be in the list that you receive by e-mail — all the organizations on the call are urgently appealing to the Libyan authorities to allow that immediate and unimpeded access into Libya to determine humanitarian needs that there may be.  And I think what happened today with the World Food Programme ship — there is more on that in their own press release — is an indication that this is precarious.

Yes, Iftikhar, and then I am coming back to you, Khaled; I am coming back to you.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Martin, Resolution 1970 (2011) explicitly asked the Libyan authorities to stop violence against civilians.  Since this resolution is under Chapter VII, does it open the way to military intervention in Libya?

Spokesperson:  Again, this is for the Security Council to speak on and not for me.  The Secretary-General has repeatedly made clear the need to stop the violence.  He made that clear already, when he spoke to Colonel Qadhafi personally, as you know, and I have told you about that already, and he has mentioned it himself.  The Council, as you mention, has also made it clear that the violence needs to stop, and that includes civilians being under attack.

Question:  Martin, has the deadline been crossed?  Has the deadline been crossed, in the opinion of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Again, this is something that the Security Council needs to deliberate on, and it is for them to decide whether they would take that up.  I just would reiterate the Secretary-General’s concern about the humanitarian situation in Libya and on its borders.  And it was in that context that he convened this very unusual video and telephone conference call this morning.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Qadhafi yesterday in his speech, he offered to accept a delegation of investigation.  He mentioned he is ready to receive African or Arab nations, and I was wondering whether the Secretary-General is involved in contacts with region leaders to accept such an offer.  And there is also a similar offer from [President Hugo] Chavez of Venezuela, saying that he wants to send a mediation team to Libya.  What’s the Secretary-General’s position on those offers?

Spokesperson:  On the first, the idea of sending some kind of investigation; the Human Rights Council already said that it would be setting up an investigation to look at what has been happening.  That team, once put together, would need to have access.  The second part of your question about this reported peace proposal; I’ve heard the reports, and it is not directed at us at this point and I don’t have any comment on that.  I am going this way; yes, Bill?

Question:  Martin, two things about the conference call:  one, will your office have a full list of the participants?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I have them right in front of me; I just didn’t want to read them out because it is not terribly easy to read out a long list like that.  But if you would like me to, I am happy to do that right now.

Question:  That’s all right; I just wanted to make sure I’ve got the names and titles of the persons; that’s what I meant to say.

Spokesperson:  Well, we are saying that they are senior officials from the organizations and listing them.  I’d be happy to provide the names and titles of particular organizations you are interested in; for example…

Question:  I respect the fact that you don’t really want to read them out; I can go over to your Office and get them.

Spokesperson:  Okay, what was your other point?

Question:  In addition to the agreements, general agreements you spoke about, is there anything concrete coming out of this call?  Anything, any specific plan or follow-up that is going to come out of it?

Spokesperson:  Ms. Amos will be in charge of following up specifically on the phone call and the video conference call.  And I think that she would be able to brief you a little bit more on that tomorrow.  As I said, she will be here at the noon briefing tomorrow.  An important part of this is that this has already been — already, at this point — been a demonstration of unity of purpose amongst those in the international community.  And this was simply, and importantly, a way to bring those organizations together to underscore the need to coordinate even better.  They are already coordinating on the ground, and this is to ensure that they do so in an even more efficient way; not least because there is a need to prepare for a possible escalation, should conditions deteriorate inside Libya.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask quickly about Libya and Côte d'Ivoire.  On Libya, can you, has the Secretariat received a letter from the Qadhafi Government seeking to remove the credentials of Ambassadors [Mohamed] Shalgham and [Ibrahim] Dabbashi; and if so, where does it stand?

Spokesperson:  Yes, a letter from the Libyan authorities has been received, and it is being studied.  Yes?

Question:  Can I ask about Côte d'Ivoire?

Spokesperson:  Yes, you can.  I’ll come back to you, yes, I will.

Question:   Sorry, Martin; is Secretary-General’s report on Cyprus is going to be available today or when is that going to be?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out; I don’t know.  I am going back to Matthew, and then I am coming to you, Ali.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  On Côte d'Ivoire, it was said yesterday by Mr. Le Roy that there is going to be some kind of an investigation into how the statements were made on the Belarusian helicopters.  I wanted to know who is on that panel, who is leading it, who it will report to, if there is a deadline and whether the information found in it will be in fact be made public, given the interest in how the UN could have come out with that mistaken information?

Spokesperson:  I’ll find out.  Yes, Masood, and then Ali?

Question:  Martin, in view of this phone call that the Secretary-General had with all the heads of the organizations, there is one figure that was given out by the United Nations, UNHCR, that there were 100,000 refugees flowing into Tunisia and Egypt.  Now, is that figure been revised? Of course, it must have gone up to 150 [thousand] or so forth.  Are these, did they tell the Secretary-General that the figure has now gone up or gone down?  That’s number one.  Number two, as far as food supply is concerned, is it, I know WFP is doing it, but has it been able to meet the needs of the people of refugees over there?

Spokesperson:  On the figures; the latest figures are the ones that I just gave to you:  147,000.  Obviously that is a figure that is growing.  It is a different picture on the two main borders that we are talking about:  the border with Tunisia, the border with Egypt.  And it is primarily the border with Tunisia where there is the most movement.  I think that you will be able to get a better assessment tomorrow, a further update from Ms. Amos, who will be pulling together the various pieces of information that there are.  The key thing that came out of that meeting, in this particular regard, you could break into two parts.  One is that the assistance that is being provided to the people who have crossed the border, particularly into Tunisia — that assistance has been scaled up quite significantly in the past 24 hours.  People are being provided with a meal each day, and there is a concerted effort to help those people to move on and to be able to be taken back to their country of origin. 

So, that’s the first part.  And the second part is of course that despite that, there is still an urgent need for food, water and sanitation and so on, and shelter, because there are still people who are crossing, and it is still not clear how many people there are inside Libya who would like to cross.  And that is something that we would be hoping to get a better fix on in the coming hours and days.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Is there any United Nations corresponding nowadays in a regular basis with the Libyan authorities, and in what kind of channels?  And the other question:  during the conference call, were there any suggestions to create a safe humanitarian corridor through Libya?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, the organizations are urgently appealing for the Libyan authorities to allow immediate and unimpeded access into Libya to determine humanitarian needs and also to provide assistance inside the country, should it be needed.  I think that is going some way to addressing your question, I think.  Yes?

Question:  Are there contacts between the United Nations and…?

Spokesperson:  Contacts; as you know, there are few people, international staff members who are inside Libya.  As you know, the UN country team left the country.  But that doesn’t mean that contacts are impossible.  And if they are needed, as they obviously will be if you want to talk about access into Libya, then those contacts can be made.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, the Secretary-General has been extremely busy recently, travelling, making speeches, attending conferences and otherwise just attending to the major issues before the United Nations.  Given this busy schedule, would he have time to give his traditional monthly press conference?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he would.  And I’ll be able to give you a date in the next couple of days.  But, the answer is yes.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Darfur and then sort of relatedly, on the Secretary-General.  On Darfur, there are these reports in Radio Dabanga and elsewhere of renewed bombing in east Jebel Marra, and this comes from the SLA [Sudanese Liberation Army] forces of Ali Carabino, saying that the bombs continue to be dropped by the Government in that area.  Is that something that UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur] is looking at, is verifying?  What can it say about the continued bombing the air by the Sudanese Government?

Spokesperson:  Let me ask.  I’ll find out what my colleagues have on that; I don’t have anything right now.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask, there was this interview that appeared in Yonhap with the South Korean Permanent Representative to the UN, Park In-kook, in which he says — the headline is “UN tacitly agrees to reappoint Ban for second term” — and I just wonder, what does the Secretariat think of the article?  It describes; I have also heard yesterday that there is some idea that a vote would be taken as early as June.  I understand that this is a quote by Park In-kook, but does the Secretariat have any response to this article?  Is it aware of it and does it think it is an accurate description of the state of play?

Spokesperson:  I think you can take it as right that we are aware of the article, Matthew.  And the position has been stated many times on this question and I don’t propose to repeat it now.  That has not changed. 

Question:  Are they writing; are you writing to Yonhap to… do you like the, I guess I am saying, well, I guess it’s just his assessment…

Spokesperson:  First of all, it’s not a question of whether we like an article or not.  There are many, many articles out there, Matthew, and I don’t think that we would be responding and writing to the esteemed authors of each article.  I don’t think that’s necessary; do you?

Question:  Just one last thing on this because there were some, there were previous quotes in this South Korean press by senior, it was called “senior Ban official”, Administration officials, saying please don’t list him as a candidate in South Korea; it’s not official, and that it’s not helpful.  And this was recorded.  So, there does seem to be some interplay.  I just wanted to know…?

Spokesperson:  I am not quite sure where you are going with this, Matthew, but I think we have made the position clear any number of times — the Secretary-General personally, and me — and I don’t think that I need to repeat it here and now, all right.  Okay, yes, final question?

Question:  Yes, final question.  About the letter from the Libyan authorities; do you know when it was dated?  And my second question is:  is the Secretary-General considering making a statement, taking back the earlier statement accusing the Belarus plane arriving in Côte d'Ivoire?

Spokesperson:  First of all on the letter, I haven’t seen the letter; so I don’t know what date was on it.  But it was in the past few days that it was received.  It doesn’t mean that the date, that was coinciding with when it was received, of course.  And on the second question, I think the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations very graciously and sincerely expressed everything that needed to be said on that matter yesterday, and I don’t propose to say anything further on it.  Okay, thanks very much.  Thank you.

* *** *

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