Secretary-General's press conference in Addis Ababa [revised to include questions asked in French]
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2 February 2009SG: The African Union meets today at a critical period in Africa 's search for development in greater peace and security.
Since I became Secretary-General, I have pledged to keep African issues as a high priority of the International agenda.
I have kept that pledge.
We have kept it in engaging warring factions to sit around negotiation tables;
We have kept it in trying to meet the needs of thousands of refugees displaced by wars, and in calling for international support to fight hunger and poverty which are often at the root of peace and security issues.
Nowhere in the world is the United Nations more engaged in conflict prevention and peacekeeping than we are on this continent, and around this table today, we have some of my senior advisers and Special representatives working on conflict issues in Africa :
B. Lynn Pascoe, Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, Alain Le Roy, Under Secretary General in charge of peacekeeping operations,of which half are in Africa, Cheick Sidi Diarra, my Senior Adviser on Africa, Asraf Qazi, my Special Representative for Sudan , Djibril Bassole, our j oint AU-UN Chief Mediator for Darfur, Ould Abdallah, my Special Representative for Somalia , Said Djinnit, Special Representative for West Africa, and Haile Menkerios, Assistant Secretary-General for political affairs and Special Envoy for Zimbabwe.
This group illustrates the breadth of the UN's commitment to peace and security issues in Africa . We have, for example, been working very hard in Somalia to promote a political process that can be combined with security measures to give the people of Somalia an opportunity to have the peace and prosperity that has eluded them for the past 17 years.
Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmad's election gives us hope that the political process can move forward.
We are moving quickly to give major assistance to the African Union's AMISOM forces as well as new Somali security forces. The Security Council will decide in a few months if we should introduce a full UN peacekeeping operation.
While we have been here at the AU summit, dramatic events have unfolded at the city of Muhadjeria as the Sudanese Government has initiated military action against the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group which took the city 3 weeks ago.
I urge maximum restraint on President Bashir and have urged the JEM rebels to withdraw from the city to protect innocent civilians. UN peacekeeping forces in the city are there to protect 15,000 Internally displaced persons, as per our mandate. We will continue to do our duty there despite calls for the UN withdrawal by theSudanese Government.
Despite the international community's humanitarian, peacekeeping and mediation efforts, insecurity and suffering remain in Darfur . The United Nations/African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur will continue to do its utmost to protect civilians in these difficult circumstances.
UNAMID was able to deploy more than 60 % of its troops by the end of December. We shall continue to accelerate the UNAMID deployment.
On Zimbabwe , I welcome the National Unity Government as a first step toward full democracy. But there remains a long way to go.
At my meeting with President Mugabe , I urged him to uphold the human rights and democratic freedoms of all Zimbabweans and promote national reconciliation, including the release of all prisoners arrested over the past few months. I will immediately send a high-level humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe .
In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo , events have now taken a dramatic turn for the better. But the situation on the ground is still fragile. We will strengthen the UN Peacekeeping Mission in DRC (MONUC) to better protect civilian populations and provide necessary humanitarian assistance.
Apart from these security issues, Africa faces immense challenges which may become more difficult due to the impact of the global financial crisis. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have been calling on Africa 's development partners to fulfill their development commitment to the continent even in this time of financial crisis. I will continue to do so at the United Nations, at the G20 Summit and at all pertinent fora.
The world cannot afford to ignore Africa . It is very alarming that this big continent with a huge economic potential, blessed with many natural resources, remains the only one today which will not be able to meet all the Millennium Development Goals.
This is simply not acceptable.
We must mobilize, together with African leaders themselves, to ensure that the continent is given all opportunities to develop to its fullest potential.
I will continue to keep Africa high on my agenda in peace in security as well as socio-economic development areas. I do hope African leaders will forge ahead in the constructive path towards the betterment of Africa with their leadership matched by strong partnership from the international community.
Thank you for your attention.
I and my Special Representatives will answer your questions.
Q: Do you think, Your Excellency, Ban Ki-moon, that the negligence and the discouraging actions (inaudible) the terrorist attacks which would have killed the President of Somaliland on 29 October (inaudible) can you just let Somaliland slip into trouble and without peace?
SG: Whatever the motives may be, the terrorist attacks are just unacceptable. They cannot be justified under any circumstances. That has been the basic principle and firm, determined position of the United Nations and the whole international community. Whether it happened in Somalia, whether it happened in Algeria, whether to United Nations officials or whether to civilians, in all cases, this is the firm commitment of the United Nations and the international community to fight against terrorism. We are very concerned and troubled that we have not yet been able to fully and completely address this terrorism. But we are continuing and committed to fight against terrorism.
Q: You mentioned Sheikh Sherif and Somalia right at the beginning of your agenda. I would like to ask if you have met or are going to meet with Sheikh Sherif. And we're talking about a peacekeeping mission decision maybe in June. But right now is when Somalia is going through this crisis. Do you have anything you can offer Somalia this week, this month, right now, before the peacekeeping mission decision is made?
SG: Right after this press conference, I am going to meet with the new President, Mr. Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed. I am looking forward to having a good discussion with him on the way forward, on how we can ensure peace and stability, how we can bring democracy and freedom to the Somali people and how we can fight against this piracy of the Somali waters. These are all important agendas, on which the international community has been working very hard. I am glad that the Somali people have elected a new President, who is young, with energy and dynamic leadership. I am looking forward to working closely with him.
About your question on peacekeeping operations, in the coming few months, we will strengthen AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, and equip and also train the Somali national forces, including the police. And we will see how they can address their own situation. Now, I am encouraged by the commitment of many African leaders and many African countries who offered their soldiers to participate in AMISOM. And in due course as I said, several months later, if the conditions are ripe, I expect the Security Council will take another decision to introduce a proper full UN peacekeeping operation. The financing will be done through assessed and special trust funds by the United Nations. This will be managed by the United Nations. At the same time, I would really hope that the new President would engage in inclusive political dialogue for national reconciliation.
This is very important so that the country, which has suffered from all this fighting and division during the last seventeen years, can come back to reconciliation and national harmony. That is very important. The United Nations will lead this assistance on humanitarian issues. We will lead this peacekeeping operation with the full support of major international community members. Therefore, I count on the leadership of the new President, and count on the full participation and engagement of the Somali people and Government and leaders.
Q: (inaudible) of Radio France International. Addressing the AU summit this morning, you said you will send a high-level humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe. Can you give us more details? When they're going, what they will focus on and how long will they stay there?
SG: The humanitarian situation, which has reached an almost unbearable point for the people in Zimbabwe, has been a source of deep, deep concern for the international community, for the United Nations. That is the issue that I have been continuously discussing with President Mugabe during the last several months or at least one year. Yesterday I had a meeting with President Mugabe. He assured me that his country and he will be fully open to humanitarian work there. As you may know, the Executive Director of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, visited last week and discussed these humanitarian issues. And about a month ago, after discussing with the Director-General of WHO, we dispatched a WHO humanitarian assessment mission. Now I am going to dispatch the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ms. Catherine Bragg, to Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation and how the United Nations can assist and deliver humanitarian help to the Zimbabwean people.
Q: When (inaudible) expected (inaudible)?
SG: Soon. It will be immediately. But all the technical details will have to be arranged by OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].
Q: (inaudible) for South Africa on Zimbabwe. Could you please indicate to us what over-and-above humanitarian assistance you are prepared to encourage in the form of reinvestment in Zimbabwe? And secondly, how confident are you that this new unity government will actually be formed (inaudible) and have some longevity? Thank you
SG: As you are well aware, the cholera epidemic has reached a very, very dangerous and serious point. Even though some of the neighboring countries have provided some immediate medical assistance, this is beyond their capacity. There is a problem of safe drinking water and medicines and food and all aspects of the humanitarian dimension are in a very dire situation. Therefore, we will have to address in a very comprehensive way this formation of a unity government. Now, while I have welcomed this criticism of Mr. Tsvangirai and the MDC to join this national unity government, I still believe that this is an imperfect situation. I have urged President Mugabe to build upon this new development of the situation and try to make progress as soon as possible so that they can ensure fuller democracy and freedom. As I said in my opening remarks, I urged him to fully protect the human rights of the Zimbabwean people and release all prisoners who have been arrested over the last few months.
Q: (inaudible) Media Group in Tanzania. You talked about the financial crisis in the world and you say that you are arguing with European partners to assist the developing countries, mainly African countries. What special efforts are being done by the UN to make sure that the developed countries include Africa in their bailout packages, considering the fact that fewer tourists will be coming to African countries; and the fact that these countries are selling less in agricultural production? What do you do to ensure that Africa is not left out of the package?
SG: From the very beginning of this financial crisis I have sent a very strong, very consistent message to the world that, while I would welcome the industrialized countries to take immediate measures, including national stimulus packages to recover from and to overcome this financial crisis, they should not lose sight of the challenges and difficulties of developing countries, particularly those most vulnerable countries. I have conveyed this message to the first G20 meeting, which was held in Washington, DC, last November.
That was well and clearly heard, and that was mentioned in the final statement of the G20 summit meeting. During the Doha international conference for financing for development, I made it quite clear again. At the Poznan conference on climate change, again I made it quite clear, and during my participation in the Davos forum and on numerous occasions, during meetings with business and Government leaders. I made it quite clear during my meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, who will chair the G20 summit meeting, and during my meeting with Lord Malloch Brown here in Addis Ababa, I conveyed the same message. This is not just the message of myself as Secretary-General. These are the wishes of all developing countries. I have been continuously engaging in talks with leaders of developing countries and I will carry the same message to London to the G20 summit meeting and you have my full commitment on this issue. This is a top priority issue.
Q: (inaudible) do you think that the election of the new President for Somalia will improve or solve humanitarian crisis in the country?
SG: I think I have already answered that question. There is high expectation with the election of the new President, based on the Djibouti initiative. There is high expectation from the international community, the United Nations, due to this very encouraging development of the situation. Now, the Somali people deserve to enjoy genuine freedom, genuine peace, genuine security, and prosperity. This is what the international community should do to help the Somali people. This is exactly what the Somali people aspire to achieve. I am quite hopeful and optimistic that we are now entering into a new stage with the direct intervention of the United Nations in managing peace and stability there and with the election of a new President by the Somali people themselves. This is a great opportunity. We should not lose this opportunity.
Q: Je voudrais adresser ma question, en français, à Monsieur le Secrétaire Général et M. Alain Le Roy. Étant donnés les derniers développements de la crise qui servit à l'Est de la République Démocratique du Congo, quelle est votre évaluation de la situation? Deuxièmement, l'ONU participe-t-elle dans des opérations de rapatriement et dans les opérations menées par les armées du Rwanda et du Congo? Enfin, l'augmentation du nombre de troupes de l'ONU envisagée, je pense, en juin, est--elle encore à l'ordre du jour?
SG: Merci de m'avoir posé cette question en français. Si vous voulez bien, je vais passer la parole à M. Le Roy pour qu'il vous réponde en français.
M. Le Roy: La première chose, qui est très importante pour nous, car elle est positive, est l'amélioration des relations entre la République du Rwanda et la République démocratique du Congo. Il s'agit d'une très grande réussite de ces dernières semaines. Dans la deuxième partie de votre question, vous avez voulu savoir si l'ONU va participer dans les opérations actuellement menées par les deux pays contre le FDLR La réponse est oui. Nous sommes en attente pour obtenir les détails du plan, nous avons appris connaissance du plan, il y a seulement quelques jours.
Ensuite, la MONUC, le Général (inaudible)... en particulier, sous la direction de M. Alan Doss participe actuellement dans la mise en ?uvre du plan, essentiellement pour veiller à ce que, dans cette opération, la protection de la population civile est prise en compte de la manière la plus sérieuse. C'est là l'état des choses en ce moment.
Troisième partie de votre question: avons-nous encore besoin de 3 000 soldats? Oui. Nous sommes toujours en demande de ce renforcement, qui est actuellement en cours de planification. Nous travaillons avec les pays que nous avons choisis, parce que nous pensons que la situation reste très instable. Le FDR est toujours là ... la LRA est encore très influente dans le Nord ... Nous espérons être en mesure d'avoir ce renforcement de 3000 soldats dans les prochaines semaines ou mois.
Q: Bonjour. Ma question est adressée à M. Le Secrétaire Général. Quelle pourrait être l'incidence d'une éventuelle inculpation du Président Béchir par la CPI sur la paix et sur le déploiement de forces de maintien de la paix? Allez-vous oublier la justice pour des millions de victimes de la violence qui sont toujours en attente de justice? Cette année, et pour la première fois, la CPI n'était ni invitée au Sommet de l'Union africaine, ni accordée l'accréditation nécessaire pour y assister. Quelle est la raison? Monsieur le Secrétaire Général, finalement, qu'est-ce que l'ONU fait concrètement en matière de prévention des conflits? On a l'impression que l'ONU agit uniquement lorsque la situation devient très grave en Afrique. C'est l'impression que nous avons. (in French)
SG: As you know, the function and responsibility of the ICC [International Criminal Court] is distinct and separate from the United Nations. The ICC is an independent judiciary organization. Therefore, I will have to await the decision of the ICC. This is my basic position as Secretary-General, as far as this application for an arrest warrant against President Bashir of Sudan is concerned. I have maintained this position and expressed this position on many occasions. Now then, whatever the circumstances or the decision of the ICC may be, it will be very important for President Bashir of Sudan to first of all react responsibly, ensure the safety and security of United Nations peacekeepers, as well as protect the civilian population, protect IDPs [internally displaced persons], and protect the human rights of all the people there – and also faithfully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which the Sudanese Government and he are obligated to, in accordance with this agreement. And he should fully cooperate with the decision of the ICC. This is what I can tell you at this time. I hope you understand.
Before anything happens, if we can prevent this, that would be most desirable and ideal. Unfortunately, we have seen many incidents, many tragedies, before the international community or the United Nations were able to address them. That is why the United Nations has been focusing on and trying to strengthen the capacity of preventive diplomacy. What is most important is that the leaders of the party concerned should have strong political will and commitment to resolve all the differences of opinions, whether they be they political or historical, in a peaceful manner, through dialogue. That is the most desirable situation. They should also uphold the principles of international humanitarian law.
Ashraf Qazi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan: I don't think I have any thing to add to what the Secretary-General has already said. He has fully responded to the question. I would just very briefly add that 2009 is going to be a critically important year for the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and a number of benchmarks. Reported benchmarks will have to be fulfilled here, particularly the elections and all the benchmarks which are necessary for the preparation for the elections. And they will need also a legislative framework for the elections and hopefully for the referendum which is due to be held in 2011. We hope that whatever the outcome of the ICC, the parties will remain focused on the implementation of the CPA, which is the framework of the [inaudible] for peace throughout Sudan. Thank you.
B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs: The main principle that the Secretary-General constantly reiterates is that we need to be out there fast. We need to be wherever there are difficulties developing. We need to try to mediate problems. We need to not only analyze them well, but be able to talk with the parties involved. And as many as we can resolve before they get to be the kind of problem that Mr. Le Roy and the peacekeeping people have to do, that is obviously very good and exactly what the UN wants to do. To do this we have quite a bit of work in making sure that our mediation is more professional. We are making sure that our people are out in the field and we have different kinds of things. For example, Mr. Said Djinnit is responsible for West Africa and is in the area trying to work with the Governments there on the various international issues that may come to the fore. We are trying to, as I said, get these resolved early before they blow up.
Said Djinnit, Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa: Just maybe to add that, in addition, the United Nations has been very supportive of the efforts of the AU and the regional mechanisms to establishing early warning arrangements. And this is part of the strategy of the UN in preventing conflicts. Thank you
Q: Ma question est sur le Sahara occidental.... Aujourd'hui, nous avons entendu le président de l'Union africaine dire qu'il n'y a pas eu beaucoup de progrès sur ce dossier, même avec la nomination du représentant de M. le Secrétaire Général des Nations Unies. Que pouvez-vous nous dire à ce sujet, Monsieur le Secrétaire général?
SG: Thank you very much. The Western Sahara question has also been a very long-standing unresolved conflict issue unfortunately. We have had in the last year a series of, I think, 4 rounds of negotiations between the parties concerned. Unfortunately again, with the resignation of former Personal Envoy Mr. van Walsum the negotiation process has been stopped. With the appointment of Mr. Christopher Ross, my new Personal Envoy on this issue, who has wide and extensive experience and know-how and who is well respected by all the parties concerned, I sincerely hope that we will be able to make progress. I am going to initiate new negotiations soon. He is now touring, visiting the Government officials and parties concerned in the region, and he is also coming to Addis to have a consultation with the AU Chairman, Mr. Jean Ping. This morning I also discussed with Mr. Jean Ping how to make progress on the Western Sahara situation. I sincerely hope that we will be able to make progress and we are firmly committed. And I myself and Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe have been engaging in very sincere and in-depth discussions with the parties concerned. Thank you.
Q: In the case of Somalia as we all know that a newPpresident is elected and there are some elements like Al Shabab who are opposing this peace initiative. What stand will the United Nations take up on this group if they become an obstacle to peace initiative?
SG: If you allow me, maybe I would like to ask my Special Representative, Mr. Ould Abdallah, who has been tirelessly engaging himself in bringing progress to this situation, including through the Djibouti process, and I give the floor to him.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia: Thank you Mr. Secretary-General. Yes unfortunately, in Somalia there are always groups finding a reason to fight. For the last two years, it has been said, “We are fighting because of Ethiopian troops.” The Ethiopians have totally left the territory of Somalia on 15 January. We are all – IGAD, UN, independent observers -- shocked that Somalis keep finding reasons to kill Somalis.
Like today for instance some Somalis killed a number Somali at (inaudible). There are no Ethiopians on the ground. Religion is often mentioned and this is a reason - political also. To me and on behalf of the Secretary-General and all my colleagues in the UN, we think every Somali should take part in the process. I welcome every Somali. No Somali should have a veto power on the peace process and we will not have conferences (inaudible) for the pleasure of paying for conferences and hotels. (inaudible) I don't think that it will happen. The peace process is open and all Somalis are of the same religion and we think that it is about motivation rather than political. Thank you.