Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at United Nations Headquarters

9 May 2013

Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at United Nations Headquarters

9 May 2013
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York





Following is a transcript of UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s press conference held in New York, 9 May:

Spokesperson:  Welcome to the Deputy Secretary-General, who is here to brief you on the Somalia Conference that took place in London earlier this week, and also on your recent visits to Thailand and Singapore.  I believe we have about half an hour.  So, first of all, the Deputy Secretary-General has some remarks and then he will take questions.  So, please; welcome back.

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much, Martin.  Thank you for staying after the briefing.  There is an expression in Europe, Swedish, that “whoever makes the trip has something to tell”.  I will just say a few things about my travels to Asia and to London for the Somalia conference this week.

Last week, I was in Bangkok for the ESCAP meeting — the Economic and Social Commission for [ Asia] and the Pacific — a meeting that was very much organized by Noeleen Heyzer, our Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.  It was a discussion about cooperation with this very important region, but also, very interestingly, the potential of cooperation within and also between regions.

There were Executive Secretaries of the Economic Commissions from the other four parts of the world assembled, and this turned into a very important discussion about South-South cooperation, a new dynamic factor in the world economy.  I took a great interest in this, and was reminded of, as always, the UN Charter, where Chapter VIII plays a very important role — regional arrangements — I think we should take that very seriously.

So, apart from the dynamics of the regional cooperation, perhaps the most important meetings I had was a very substantial and very good meeting with the President of Myanmar, Thein Sein.  And a meeting, I would also add, with Prime Minister [Xanana] Gusmão of Timor-Leste.  And also a very interesting meeting with the President of the Solomon Islands.  I mention these three because they are of particular interest for the agenda of the United Nations in different respects.

Myanmar is going through a period of reform.  I think we all need to, and should, commend the efforts of the President of Myanmar in reforming his nation, and also giving a place for Myanmar in the regional context and in the international context.  He spoke openly about the need to bring Myanmar out of isolation.  The disturbing elements in the developments inside the country are obvious.  You know the Rohingya problems, of course, who, many of them, are now abroad and not voluntarily wanting to return.  I, myself, by the way, negotiated the return of 50,000 Rohingyas when I was Emergency Relief Coordinator in 1992, so it was, for me, a reminder that this problem has been there for a long time and is still there.

And the other issue, of course, which was of concern for the President, and which we hope that he will handle in a positive way, and that is the communal violence that has been breaking out recently between the Muslim and Buddhist communities in another part of Myanmar.

But, all in all, it was very good cooperation.  He spoke very positively about his contacts with the Secretary-General and with our representative, Vijay Nambiar, and was hoping very much for continued cooperation from the side of the United Nations, and I assured him, of course, of our interest in encouraging the reform process in Myanmar.

On East Timor, there is now a sense that they are through the political difficulties.  They would rather have an accent on development than on peace and security, and they would very much like to strengthen the relationship with the United Nations on the economic side and the development side, and they are interested in having a special adviser working with the Government on behalf of the United Nations in the development area.

The Solomon Islands I mention because we sometimes tend to forget a great number of countries — small-size countries — some call themselves a “silent majority” — very much often exposed, on the margin of their existence when it comes to climate change issues, and very much the victims of the ever more serious natural disasters:  floods, hurricanes, well, you know it all.

I found it very interesting to be in contact with the Solomon Islands, representing, not only itself, but also the small island developing States.  I hope they wouldn’t mind that I was thinking of their situation, with salt water entering their fresh water resources in the outer islands; the level of the sea rising; and that they are actually threatened in their very existence.  I could understand, I could feel, really, the passion with which they spoke about climate change and also the need for disaster risk reduction, being so exposed.

As I said, I would hope they wouldn’t mind that I was thinking of the metaphor of the canary in the coal mine.  These countries, so exposed, are their own canaries in the coal mine, giving us very, very serious signals about threats to the environment and with the problems of climate change.  So, that is why I wanted to mention this meeting with the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands.

I will turn quickly to the Somalia Conference in London.  It was a show of solidarity and support of the new leadership in Somalia.  The President was met with great respect and appreciation of his efforts from the international community that was assembled in London.  It wasn’t an event to raise funds for Somalia, but there were $300 million pledged for the security sector, which is, of course, very crucial at this moment, when the Al-Shabaab problem is less dramatic but still there, if I may put it that way.

It was also a show of support in the efforts of the President and his Government to create a well-functioning federal State.  The disturbing element was, of course, that representatives of Somaliland and Puntland decided not to attend his delegation.  We hope very much that all parts of Somalia and all factions, all clans of Somalia, would see it in their interest to support the reform efforts of the President, who has been selected by all clans and all parts of the country at an earlier stage.  So, his challenge is, of course, to establish the authority in all of Somalia.  I think it is important for the international community to support this desire to create a well-functioning federal State.

The second challenge for Somalia is to develop neighbourhood relations that [are] positive.  If I can go back to my own country — Sweden — if I were to explain our progress, apart from creating good institutions and good infrastructure and making big investments in education, I would say to be in a neighbourhood which is very peaceful, where the dynamics of positive regional and neighbourly context are part of the social, political and economic fabric, I think would be a main reason why we are where we are in the Nordic countries.

If I then move to the Horn of Africa, I would say that the crucial relationships between Somalia and Kenya and Somalia and Ethiopia came out very strongly.   And I was very glad to have very good meetings, apart from the President of Somalia, with the President of Kenya — President [Uhuru] Kenyatta — and with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.  And I was encouraged by the growing dialogue [among] these three countries, and I would hope that we would see a development with a strengthened direction of a federal, well-functioning Somalia, supported by the new structure of the UN, after the Security Council decision [on 2 May] and also a relationship with neighbours that will also help Somalia continue on the reform path.  

It is good for once to say that we have good news from Somalia, and I would hope that the support for the new Government in Somalia would be widespread, so that we could help this new Government to succeed in their efforts.

Question:  Thank you, Deputy Secretary-General. It is clear that, in Somalia, security is linked to food insecurity, and I am wondering if there is any discussion about real-time food initiatives that are being implemented, because what we hear about so often from that country is malnutrition and so many deaths from a lack of proper food.

Deputy Secretary-General:  Well, thank you.  I was there in 1992.  This was the closest to hell that I have ever been, personally.  Hundreds of thousands of people died.  They died even inside the camps that I visited at that time.  At that time the crisis was both a political crisis — civil war-like conditions — and an enormously serious food and water security crisis.  We have had another outbreak of a similar situation three or four years ago, when 280,000 people died and half of them children under the age of five, where there was mainly a food security crisis, as you pointed to.  Still, the problem of Al-Shabaab was there.  It was not as deep as the crisis of 1992, but of a similar nature.  In my speech, on behalf of the Secretary-General, in London, I recalled what had happened in 1992, I recalled what had happened three or four years ago, and I said that this must never happen again.

So, we hope that this meeting would be a call for action, to help in the political aspect that you raised, with, first of all, the physical security, and second of all, the humanitarian crisis.

There are still millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance, and as usual, as you probably have heard here many, many times, our appeals are not met to the degree that we would wish.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is carrying on a programme which is not fully funded.  OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] is also working very actively, and we need to also remember that we have a humanitarian imperative to follow and many of the statements in London were supportive of humanitarian programmes, and pointed also to the food security issue that you raised.

Question:  A couple of questions on Somalia.  Did you say that Somaliland and Puntland, they boycotted the London Conference, as well as boycotting the Government, or did they attend the Conference?  And secondly, did you have any discussions on that horrific refugee centre on the Kenyan border, because the Somalis are drifting into something that is really dreadful for them.

Deputy Secretary-General:  Yes, it is correct that Somaliland decided not to join the delegation.  They were asked by the President to join, and given all the good reasons to join, but they have ambitions that go beyond autonomy, go beyond taking part in a federal structure.  In the case of Puntland, there were high hopes that they would join, because Puntland actually, as I understood, has accepted to be part of a federal structure, with probably advanced autonomy, I suppose, but they also decided to stay away.  This was openly stated by the Somalis, and regretted by most.  But, I would hope that the Conference, in itself, was a message also to Puntland and Somaliland, that it would be much better for their own future and for Somalia, as a whole, to take part in these types of discussions and be part of the international solidarity that was so clearly expressed in their direction at the meeting.

The horrific refugee situation that you refer to in the border areas between Kenya and Somalia were discussed on my part, mainly with the President of Kenya, who was very dramatically describing the refugee pressures on Kenya, and the difficulties that his country was going through, not least because of the pressures on border areas and, of course, the need for funding for these camps, but also that he really felt also that there was a danger that it created reactions among local communities against the Somali refugees, and that this was a problem that was also felt politically in the capital.  He also referred to the fact that there was common history of the clans across the border and that there was solidarity going in both directions, so he clearly indicated that this problem was a problem of a humanitarian nature, but also of a social and political nature.  His explanation of the conditions probably has to be found in the fact that the country was under tremendous pressure.  But, that is how the matter came up from my side.

Question:  Could you elaborate somewhat, in your discussions with the President of Myanmar, regarding any specific steps that he might have mentioned in integrating the disaffected minority groups into his Government further, and also in beefing up security and law enforcement when riots break out and attacks on minorities take place?

Deputy Secretary-General: I would put it in the context of his efforts to bring about a reduction of violence in the country and achieving ceasefires from the different areas where fighting has been going on, to create secure conditions in the country through ceasefires and negotiations with the different groups was mentioned — Kachin, and Karens and others.  He also mentioned that the country was a country with many, many minorities; I think over 130 minorities are registered as minorities, and given rights as people of Myanmar.  However, the Rohingyas are not recognized as a minority.  This goes back a long time, and it is a discussion that has been going on.  But, that was the reason I was there 21 years ago, to negotiate, because there are doubts in the Government about Rohingyas coming in great numbers, not long ago, but more recently.  I, at that time, found that the people that I was negotiating return for had been there for many years, and also had identity cards to prove it. 

But, this is almost the same problem today:  that they are not recognized as a minority, and that they more or less have to prove that they have been there for some time, and this suspicion among, unfortunately, part of the majority Buddhist population leaves the danger that you will have an ethnic and even religious dimension involved in this issue.  I know the President is very concerned.  He spoke out very strongly after the communal violence, and I commended him for that.  He is, of course, a propos the last part of your question, very much, with his background, anxious to see that law and order prevails.  So, I would hope that this desire to see security established and law and order established would lead to the reduction of such incidents that we saw so seriously some weeks ago.

Question:  Mr. Deputy Secretary-General, I would like you to elaborate, if you can, just a bit on this issue of neighbour relations in your discussions with Mr. Kenyatta.  Are there plans for any security cooperation, and are there, perhaps, any Kenyan aid projects to their neighbours to the north east?  What do they have in the pipeline, what is being done?  And I understand, it strikes me that the Kenyan situation is very much like the Jordan situation some hundreds of miles to the north, because they are overwhelmed by people from the country next door.  What can you tell me about that, and the possibilities there?

Deputy Secretary-General: You are right, in a way, that these problems are pretty similar.  There is a conflict like in Syria — the horrors in Syria — it has automatic repercussions on, in this case, Jordan and Lebanon, mainly, but also Iraq and Turkey.  And also creates the risk of a regional crisis of larger proportions.  In the same way, in Somalia, where there is a period with Al-Shabaab choosing a military road to go, and also planting bombs — the State Attorney was just killed in an explosion the other day, and eight to 10 ten Somalis died in another explosion.  That type of life has led to great refugee flows, and you have it perhaps very visibly in Kenya.

But then there is also the historic relationship between that part of Somalia which is neighbouring to Kenya.  You may recall that there was a strong Kenyan action around Kismayo some months ago, when the Al-Shabaab were dominating the city, and the Kenyan action led to Al-Shabaab leaving the city.

So they also play a role for the security of the country.  But, there are also tendencies in that part of Somalia to expect more autonomy as other parts of the country request, and here is where Kenya can play a very important role in making sure that that problem does not become, not only a refugee problem, but also a problem for the federal State of Somalia.  I would hope that we would have a situation where the federal Government would establish its authority fully in Kismayo and in that part of the country, and that there would be cooperation between Kenya and Somalia in this regard.

Let me also mention, by the way, something I should have mentioned in my introduction — there is still a very important role for AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) — the force of African States that plays an absolutely crucial role; and here, I want to pay tribute to the countries and to their soldiers who paid such an enormously heavy price.  You would be shocked to learn that maybe it is up to 3,000 AMISOM soldiers that have been killed during these years that AMISOM has been there.   Uganda, Burundi, have paid a tremendous price.  So, I really want to pay tribute to AMISOM and to their role also, and the Kenyan troops are, of course, also a large part of AMISOM.

Question:  The 3,000 soldiers of AMISOM that were killed, that is out of a total complement of how many?

Deputy Secretary-General:  I don’t know the exact number.  I think it is about 17,000; I am not sure.

Question:  Thank for doing this after your trip.  It is useful.  I wanted to know, if in your discussions with Uhuru Kenyatta, he made a request of the Security Council to have the International Criminal Court (ICC) proceedings deferred for a year, or suspended, and I wanted to know if this was raised in your meeting, or if you have any thoughts on, they were saying it would be a danger to regional security to continue it.  And also, I know that you are the head of this review panel on the Charles Petrie report on Sri Lanka, and I wanted to know, I think that was announced back in December, what have you found?  Where does it stand?  What improvements or reforms have been made?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  The matter was not raised.  We are taking the stand that we should be in contact with President Kenyatta.  He is a very important actor, of course, in the African scene; he has just been elected President in Kenya.  He is absolutely crucial for developments in Somalia, and it was an important meeting.  The ICC aspect, we are, of course, completely aware of, but it seems to me that he cooperates fully with the Court, and as long as this cooperation is as good as it is, there are no problems for us to deal with the President of Kenya, and I had a very good meeting with him.

On Charles Petrie’s report on Sri Lanka, it was taken very seriously by the Secretary-General and made public also.  I was asked by him, the Secretary-General, to head a group to look, go through the recommendations of the report, and above all, look forward to the future so that we avoid coming in such situations as we did in Sri Lanka, and as we have in several other tragic situations.  This group was established in January, and they have worked very diligently.  It is co-chaired by Andrew Gilmour of the Political Unit, and Paul Akiwumi, my Chief of Staff.  And we have a very good secretariat headed by Michael Keating, who is a very respected colleague, who was the Deputy SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in Afghanistan.  What I found most important was to bring was to bring in all the agencies, departments, programmes, funds, who indirectly or directly are involved in the situation or the role of the United Nations in Sri Lanka.  

So, we have had a working group with representatives of all groups working very intensely on taking these recommendations seriously.  We also have invited experts from the outside for hearings.  Today, I had a hearing with a group of very respectable colleagues of mine and many others — Jan Egeland, Staffan De Mistura, Michael Van Den Schulenberg — I can’t give you the whole list, but we had a video conference of one and a half hours today, where we got their reactions to the report.  So, it is a big process right now.  And I suppose I will, within a month or so, receive the report and then it is up to me to assess these recommendations and go to the Secretary-General and discuss what measures should be taken.  I hope this whole process will be finished by the middle of June at the latest, I would hope.  We take it very seriously.

We have, of course, situations today where all these questions come up.  I mentioned Myanmar, but above all, I think about Syria.  We need to really prepare ourselves as good as possible for this type of situation in the future.

Spokesperson:   Maybe I could ask you to both ask your questions and then the Deputy Secretary-General will respond?

Question:  Thank you for coming, Sir.  You mentioned that you met the Ethiopian Prime Minister.  Did he say when he would be withdrawing his troops from Somalia?  And did you ask him to delay that at all?  And also, you mentioned the crisis in Syria, briefly.  Does the UN expect any kind of meeting following the Russia-US agreement?  Does the UN expect any kind of meeting on Syria by the end of the month, as some people have mentioned?

Question:  Also, regarding the meeting, I am wondering if the UN envisions that the Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi will play a role, a key role, in that? And I wanted to ask you, too, if you have been following reports that the Iranian Government has confirmed the detention of a senior Iranian diplomat who has spent many years working in multilateral organizations, Bagher Asadi?  He was posted here for quite a while, and he is linked to the reformists, and he has been held for almost two months and no one knows why.  Since he spent so much time at the UN, or accredited to the UN system, I was just wondering if you had looked into it or were aware of it?

Deputy Secretary-General: Okay.  I talked to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia about the Ethiopian troops.  There had been a very sad incident some time ago, recently, in fact, where the Ethiopians had left a town and only hours afterwards the Al-Shabaab troops, militants, came in and four people were beheaded within a couple of days, who evidently were not agreeing with the philosophy of the Al-Shabaab.  And I think that says it all.

The Prime Minister did not accept that the word “withdrawal” would be used.  He felt that they would take their responsibility and that they would stay as long as needed.  And I think this is a sign of the growing cooperation between the Government of Ethiopia and the Government of Somalia, that if they can play a role in reducing the threat from the Al-Shabaab, which is their main objective, then they will stay.  They hope that that threat will be reduced by both factors that are related to security and, of course, better conditions in the country, so that Al-Shabaab would not have sort of a good soil, in which they have been thriving.  But, I think the Ethiopians take a very responsible position, and they will, of course, stay only if the Somalia Government would want them to stay.

On the second issue, I think Martin probably answered that question earlier, but what has happened is very intensive contacts in the last 24 hours or so — conversations that you probably heard referred to, with the Secretary-General and Secretary [John] Kerry and Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov, on the side of the Secretary-General; several conversations with our Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, both today and yesterday.  And we are, of course, commending this initiative.  We have been waiting for it for a long time, and have pushed very hard for a negotiated transition, a negotiated process, because we see very much the risk that there is a belief that there could be a military victory.

First of all, we doubt whether a military victory is possible, particularly within the near future.  And second, that the risks of an explosion of revenge could lead to an even worse situation.  So, this is welcome.  This is good news, that the US and Russia have come forward with this initiative.  We now have, of course, challenges ahead of us, lots of work that has to be done.

The Secretary-General takes it very seriously and he has asked the Joint Special Representative to stay on and he has accepted to stay on, and we also have, of course, a strong team in the United Nations that works very intensely on this matter.  We also hope now very, very much that all partners will seize this opportunity and really contribute to a political settlement, and that is the challenge that we will now have to mobilize everybody to go for the political road rather than a military road.  I hope that we will now have momentum going in that direction.  The Secretary-General is prepared to play the role that he is asked to do, and he sees his own responsibility and accepts that responsibility.

[On the Iranian] I have no knowledge, but I would be interested myself in finding out more.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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