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

5 August 2011

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

5 August 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 and welcome to the briefing.

** Darfur

A peacekeeper serving in the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was killed and a second one was seriously wounded when their vehicle came under attack by unknown gunmen this morning in Duma village, which is 37 kilometres north-east of Nyala in South Darfur.  UNAMID personnel have been sent to assess the scene of the incident.  Government police are also searching the area.  The vehicle has been recovered.  The mission says that the attack is a deplorable act and that it is working with the Sudanese police to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

**Horn of Africa

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the number of daily arrivals of Somali refugees in the Dadaab camps has increased to an average of 1,500 a day in the first four days of August — that’s up from an average of 1,300 a day in July.

On arrival, all new refugees receive a 21-day food ration from the World Food Programme (WFP), plastic sheets, cooking utensils, jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats and soap.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 80 per cent of new arrivals in Dadaab are women and children.  UNICEF is ramping up operations to meet the rising humanitarian needs of Somali children and families in the Dadaab refugee camps and surrounding host communities.

In Somalia, UNICEF has already delivered close to 2,000 metric tons of emergency supplies by air, land and sea.  Since last Tuesday, UNICEF has been using two planes for daily flights between Nairobi and Somalia to move supplies into the country.  And tomorrow, UNICEF will have a ship arriving in Mogadishu with 600 tons of corn soya blend as supplementary food for the affected southern areas.

UNHCR, the refugee agency, is also expecting to soon carry out its first airlift to Somalia in five years.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

Today, the Secretary-General announced his intention to appoint Martin Kobler of Germany as his Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  He will replace Ad Melkert of the Netherlands, who served in Iraq since July 2009.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Melkert’s leadership of UNAMI.  Mr. Kobler has been the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan since March 2010.  We have more information about Mr. Kobler in my office.

That’s what I have.  Questions?  Yes, Masood, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question I just wanted to ask you, Martin, is there a particular reason that the United Nations has not issued a flash appeal for Somalia?  Basically, like for instance, when the floods came in Pakistan, there was a flash appeal; in other emergencies there was a flash appeal.  So there has been no flash appeal although aid has been going on from various channels, from UNICEF and from UNHCR and so forth.  So, is there a chance that there is going to be a flash appeal for this also?

Spokesperson:  Ms. [Valerie] Amos has said, and we’ve repeatedly said, that there is an overall number for what is required, and that’s in excess of $1 billion that is still required, in addition to some $1 billion already pledged or received.  And I know that the colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will have up-to-date figures.  And as I recall, there are appeals already in place for separate countries.  But we’re talking about an overall number here, because obviously this has a regional dimension.  And of course, it’s a figure which is likely to go up as the needs increase, as well; as you’ve just heard, the numbers of people arriving in Dadaab are going up every day.

Question:  Famine as it is, it is very, very urgent business, so one would have thought that a flash appeal of more than that would have been forthcoming.  So, that’s the reason why I ask this.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, there is a very large number out there, and indeed the urgency of this emergency has been made repeatedly extremely clear.  And obviously, everyone is extremely grateful for what has been received so far.  But it is obvious that, as you have pointed out, speed is really of the essence here.  We really cannot waste time, because as each day passes without having the full funding that is needed, more people are going to die.  Okay, other questions, please?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask you about this incident of the three Ethiopian peacekeepers and the medevac [medical evacuation] helicopter.  Yesterday, Mr. [Alain] Le Roy said that Sudan threatened to shoot at the helicopter.  After that, a Permanent Representative on the Security Council said… what I want to do is sort of check if this is true and get the UN version of it; he said that it was requested by the UN to have a helicopter from Wauin South Sudan come and that Sudan said no, because that’s, quote, that’s a different country.  And eventually a helicopter came from Kadugli, but three hours late and the people had expired.  Is that in fact what happened?  And what, also, I wanted to know if the UN is… what’s the compensation that’s going to be given to the families of the Ethiopian peacekeepers that are dead, and does the UN… what precautions are being made that if the same incident happened tomorrow, would a helicopter be able to fly from Wau or what… where do things stand in terms of the safety of these UN peacekeeping operations of UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei] in that area?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Le Roy was quite clear yesterday that this was a serious incident, and as I also said, any delay was unacceptable.  The Secretary-General, I can tell you, made this extremely clear and quite forcefully to the Permanent Representative of Sudan.  I am sure that my colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] could give you more details about the precise logistical difficulties that there were.  But it is my understanding, but I would ask my colleagues in DPKO to help here, it is my understanding that the helicopter was to come from Kadugli.  This is not to exclude that other avenues were being explored.  But it is my understanding that the helicopter was supposed to take off from Kadugli to bring the peacekeepers, the wounded peacekeepers, to collect them and bring them back to Kadugli, where there is still a hospital available.

Question:  And then Sudan threatened to shoot that helicopter flying within, from Kadugli to Abyei?

Spokesperson:  The whole point is that it could not take off in the first place because there was, as you heard Mr. Le Roy say, there was a delay, a long delay, and it couldn’t take off.  So, just to be very clear, it is not a question of having gone to collect the peacekeepers and having tried to return, it never got to that point.  The helicopter could not take off to go to collect and medevac [medically evacuate] the wounded peacekeepers.  As for compensation, this is something that… for which I am sure there is an established procedure.  I do not know the details of that.  I’d have to ask my colleagues in DPKO to help me with that.

Question:  And, do you think, is it the Secretary-General’s understanding after having met with Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman that this would not… that now Sudan gives permission for flights of medical evacuation helicopters from Kadugli to Abyei or any… I am still thinking this Wau thing, there is a Permanent Representative of a permanent member of the Security Council who believes that the request was made to fly from Wau and that Sudan turned it down.  That’s why I want to sort of… I understand, I really appreciate your answering it that way, I just… I’d like to dispense of that.  If it’s not true…

Spokesperson:  Well you said it for a second time, and as I have said, I have explained what I understand to have been the case.  And as I have also said, it is not to exclude that… given the urgency that other avenues were not being explored, but I do not know that for a fact and I would expect that my colleagues in DPKO would help with an answer to that particular question.  The fact remains that three peacekeepers died — four, of course, in total — but three peacekeepers died [of those who were wounded].  As Mr. Le Roy said, one obviously cannot say with certainty whether a medevac would have made the difference, but of course the whole intention is to be able to move very quickly.  And Mr. Le Roy also said that it is standard procedure in missions that medevacs do not require clearance because, self-evidently, you need to move very quickly.  And this has been made clear to the Sudanese authorities.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Ali?

[The Spokesperson later clarified that the initial plan called for a helicopter to come from Wau in South Sudan.  That request was denied by the Sudanese authorities on the basis that the aircraft would be coming from another country.  The second attempt involved a helicopter based in Kadugli.]

Question:  Thank you.  Has the SG had any contacts with the Syrian authorities lately, recently, and do you know whether there is any development regarding the access for the humanitarian agencies?  And my question also, how is the Secretary-General going to update the Security Council, possibly on next Wednesday, if he has nobody, no access to anybody in Syria?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first question, as I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General has said that he will be trying his best to contact Syrian officials directly.  That remains the case.  He has not, since I last spoke to you, meaning in this briefing room 24 hours ago, he has not spoken to Syrian officials, but continues to try to reach Syrian officials directly.  The second point about humanitarian agencies having access; this was promised long ago.  It hasn’t happened yet.  And as the Council, the Security Council said, and as the Secretary-General has said, it is extremely important that that access be given without further delay.  And that also applies to the fact-finding mission mandated by the Human Rights Council.  And what was the third point again?

Question:  How is the SG…?

Spokesperson:  Ah, yes, on the reporting, yes.  Our colleagues in DPA, [Department of] Political Affairs, and other parts of the UN system will be helping in compiling the report which the Security Council has asked for.  Remember that we do have a presence on the ground, and remember that we do have obviously contacts with many players in the region.  So it is possible to compile a report.  The Secretary-General has made clear that he will be doing his best — I am just trying to find precisely what he said — he will “to mobilize all possible United Nations agencies, and I will fully cooperate with all international NGOs and other relevant agencies, to first of all gather information and monitor the situation, from today until I make the first report to the Security Council.  I will spare no efforts in that regard.”  And that remains the case.

Question:  Just one more question; whether any officials from the Lebanese Government have requested a meeting with the SG in the coming weeks.

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  What I can tell you, I can confirm, in response to, I think, questions that had been asked previously, that the Secretary-General has received a letter from the Permanent Mission of Lebanon, which is being translated from the Arabic, and that letter is intended for circulation.  And in addition, we are aware that the President of the Security Council has also received a letter from Lebanon, concerning the Blue Line incident from earlier this week, and that letter, I understand, will be issued as a document.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I know this is another oft-repeated question:  yesterday the Palestinians again protested 900 homes approved in East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities.  Has that been brought to the attention of the Secretary-General, has he taken up this thing?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of that report.  His views on settlement activity are well known, and I don’t think I need to repeat them here.

Question:  I want… some questions about… in the Horn of Africa.  One is, you know there is this… obviously this incident in Mogadishu being pretty widely reported of shooting, including deaths at a distribution site and some… it is… so I just wanted to know what the UN… some people are saying the Government soldiers were engaged in the fighting or they were people dressed as Government soldiers.  What’s the UN’s understanding of… who did the shooting and who… who died?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, the World Food Programme (WFP) is aware of this incident at a food distribution site for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, and they are obviously aware that casualties have been reported.  And as I understand it, the World Food Programme is working to clarify the details.  I don’t have anything further at this point.  But it is obvious that this incident — and we are still trying to ascertain the details — it really highlights the challenges that are there for the humanitarian agencies to try to deliver assistance in what is obviously an extremely difficult environment.

Question:  The other one is that there was a very detailed report by BBC Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about the political use of aid in Ethiopia.  They travelled undercover to southern Ethiopia and found villages where they said no aid is being… is arriving because the villagers didn’t support Meles Zenawi and that they feel that the international aid, presumably including UN aid, is being used as a political tool in this way, and I wanted to know what’s the UN system… it’s a pretty… it’s a pretty damning report.  What do they think of it, what’s going to be done, particularly given the hunger in the area?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask my colleagues.  Okay, all right, have a good weekend.  Thank you very much.

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