17 March 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Statement of Secretary-General Madagascar

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Madagascar.

The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the evolving developments in Madagascar.  He takes note of the resignation of President Ravalomanana.

He urges all parties concerned to act responsibly to ensure stability and a smooth transition through democratic means.  This peaceful path can only be the result of transitional arrangements arrived at by consensus and enjoying wide support.  The Secretary-General calls on all concerned, particularly the police and the army, to ensure the security of the population and work together towards a non-violent resolution of the crisis.

The United Nations, along with all other partners, remains engaged through its Senior Political Adviser to help achieve a peaceful, consensual solution in Madagascar.

** Darfur

The Secretary-General is continuing to make telephone calls to leaders in Africa and the Middle East to address the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

Meanwhile, just a few minutes ago, the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reported that, at about 1:20 p.m. local time, UNAMID peacekeepers were ambushed by approximately eight unknown gunmen who opened fire on them while they were returning to their base in Nyala, South Darfur, after conducting an escort patrol.

The peacekeepers returned fire in self-defence and one of them was injured during the firefight.  The wounded soldier was immediately taken for medical treatment at the mission's hospital in Nyala and later died while being evacuated to Al Fasher for further medical treatment. 

UNAMID strongly condemns these cowardly acts of violence against its peacekeepers and calls on all parties including the Government of the Sudan to ensure the safety of United Nations personnel in the region.

“These ongoing attacks against UNAMID peacekeepers will not dissuade us from pursuing our mandate in Darfur,” UNAMID quoted the African Union-United Nations Joint Representative, Rodolphe Adada, as saying.

Adada strongly condemns the unprovoked attacks against peacekeepers who are here to help the people of Darfur.  This is the second time this month that UNAMID peacekeepers have been ambushed by unknown armed men while conducting their duties in Darfur.

[A statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the attack was issued later.]

**Security Council

Here at United Nations Headquarters, the Security Council began consultations an hour ago on the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), which, as we reported to you yesterday, on Sunday took over the military and security responsibilities of the European Union Force (EUFOR), in accordance with Security Council resolution 1861 of 2009.

Council members received a briefing on the Mission from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Alan Doss, has welcomed progress in the voluntary repatriation of former Democratic Republic of the Congo-based Rwandan rebels and their dependents.  The Rwandan nationals were associated with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that more than 1,430 Rwandan rebels and their dependents were sent back home since January.  This brings to more than 5,700 the number of Rwandans (rebels and others) who have left north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for Rwanda with United Nations assistance in recent months.  The Mission is now working to register and repatriate foreign combatants who are disarming in the wake of a Democratic Republic of the Congo/Uganda joint military campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army in the area around the town of Dungu.

And earlier today in Geneva, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  She said that armed groups and Government forces continue to inflict a host of serious human rights abuses on civilians across the country.  And while international focus has been on the conflict in the east, the public’s right to protest and criticize the Government has been diminished in the rest of the country.

** Uganda

And in Uganda, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the return of internally displaced persons is proceeding across northern Uganda, with only 30 per cent of original IDPs [internally displaced persons] remaining in camps as of February 2009.  That’s a 9 per cent decrease since November 2008.

And according to newly-released figures, some 79,000 more people returned to their villages of origin in the north in the three months since 1 December 2008 -- either from the IDP camps or from transit sites.

Meanwhile, in the north-eastern Karamoja region, general food distributions under the largest emergency food distribution operation ever conducted in the region began within limited locations.  This emergency operation aims to provide food rations to more than 80 per cent of the region’s population over the next nine months.

** Somalia

And just for those of you who may have missed it, yesterday afternoon, we announced that the four United Nations staff members who were abducted early Monday morning were released unharmed late Monday night.

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said that the United Nations is grateful for the efforts and intervention of the local authorities, who used their influence and reach to ensure that the staff was cared for and ultimately released safely and quickly.  He said, “This is an important affirmation that the United Nations presence and its activities in the surrounding areas is accepted and protected by the local communities and leaders.”

The Humanitarian Coordinator added that the quick and positive resolution of this incident will ensure the aid operation can go on unhindered.  And there is a press release with more on this upstairs.

**West Africa/World Food Programme

The World Food Programme, meanwhile, is shutting down its Humanitarian Air Service due to serious lack of financial resources, the agency said earlier today.

The Air Service will ground its fleet for good on 20 March.  This will affect aid operations in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire.

In 2008, UNHAS [United Nations Humanitarian Air Service] carried more than 360,000 humanitarian passengers and 15,000 metric tons of humanitarian cargo in 16 countries, on 58 chartered aircraft.  There is more on this that came in, in the Geneva briefing notes, which just came in while I was leaving the Office.  So you can read more about that.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met under United Nations auspices in Nicosia today.

Speaking to the press after that meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, noted that the focus of today’s discussions was the European Union.

Zerihoun characterized today’s talks as “good”, “thorough” and “substantive”.

The leaders will meet again next Tuesday, 24 March, to continue their discussions on European Union matters.  And there is more on this upstairs as well.

**UNHCR Visit to Nepal, India

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is to visit Nepal and India this week -– on her first official visit to Asia since taking up the post of High Commissioner last September.

She is set to arrive in Nepal on 18 March for a five-day visit in the country, before continuing to India.

While in Nepal, the High Commissioner will see first-hand one of her organization's largest country operations, and assess the overall human rights situation in that country, following a tumultuous period of its history.  You can read more about that in the Geneva briefing notes.

She will also go to India where she will hold discussions with a wide range of officials, and she will also give a key-note lecture hosted by India's National Human Rights Commission.


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today also posted on their website a significantly shorter version of the draft outcome document that is being prepared for the upcoming anti-racism Durban Review Conference.

This shortened text has been prepared by the Chair of the working group established to negotiate a draft outcome document for the Conference -- after consultations at the expert level.

The working group Chair will continue to consult informally in different formats on this “rolling” document during the coming weeks.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights believes the shortened text represents a solid and meaningful basis for negotiations by Member States towards a positive outcome for the Conference.

The Durban Review Conference, which will be held in Geneva in April, will review and assess implementation of the wide-ranging commitments undertaken by Governments at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

** Western Sahara

Representatives of donors and non-governmental organization partners, accompanied by United Nations Refugee Agency and World Food Programme (WFP) staff, will start a three-day mission to the Saharawi refugee camps in western Algeria tomorrow.  The aim is to see first-hand the situation in the sites and to assess the overall conditions of the refugees.

In the last survey conducted in 2008, 61 per cent of the children and 66 per cent of pregnant women in the camps were suffering from anaemia.

You can read more about this in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.

**Former Yugoslavia

On the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Appeals Chamber has sentenced Momčilo Krajišnik to 20 years in prison.  The ruling upholds earlier guilty findings against the former Bosnian Serb leader for deportations, forcible transfer and persecution of non-Serb civilians.  He committed these crimes during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And you can read more about that in a press release upstairs.

**Cluster Munitions

Tomorrow, there will be a signing event for the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Secretary-General has called upon all Member States that have not yet done so to sign the Convention or deposit their instruments of ratification or accession.

The Convention is a major step in global efforts to protect civilians and control the spread of these deadly, inhumane weapons.

The event -- organized by the United Nations Mine Action Team in coordination with the Cluster Munitions Coalition -- will take place in Conference Room 3 here at United Nations Headquarters at 1:15 p.m. tomorrow.

** Afghanistan

And just one more note and a couple of things to flag.

I would like to make two points to clarify a news story that appeared today on the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan.  First of all, the story characterizes the relationship between the United Nations and the United States concerning Afghanistan wrongly.

When the Secretary-General met with President Obama last week, the President spoke highly of the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Kai Eide, as well as of the United Nations role in Afghanistan.  The President also thanked the United Nations for strengthening its international coordination efforts.

Second, the article is not only factually inaccurate but also counterproductive of the United Nations efforts, together with the international community, to bring peace and stability to the long suffering people of Afghanistan.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

The two other things I wanted to flag is the press conference tomorrow.  Following the noon briefing tomorrow, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Nicholas Burnett, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO; and Vernor Muñoz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, will brief on the General Assembly’s thematic and interactive debate on Education in Emergencies.  The debate will take place all day tomorrow in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  And we have more information available upstairs.

**Battlestar Galactica

And finally, tonight, the United Nations Department of Public Information and the SCI FI Channel are co-hosting a panel discussion in connection with the final episode of the television series Battlestar Galactica.

The discussion tonight will explore some of the themes that are of importance both to the United Nations and the show, namely:  human rights, terrorism, children and armed conflict, and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faiths.

Two of the show’s actors -- Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos -- as well as the show’s creators and executive producers ‑‑ will participate in the panel, moderated by Whoopi Goldberg.

Also participating are Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber of the New York Office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning; and Famatta Rose Osode, Minister and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of Liberia to the United Nations.

The event starts at 7 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.  United Nations-accredited correspondents can obtain tickets through the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit here in Room S-250A.

And there is more information on this upstairs as well.

That’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Tarek?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Sorry if I missed that; did you mention the names of the Middle East leaders Ban Ki-moon talked to this morning?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I did not.  I simply wanted to flag the fact that the Secretary-General is continuing to work the phones to address the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

Question:  Can you tell us with whom he spoke?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not at the moment.  I think he just wanted you to know that he is very engaged in this and you heard all about the situation on the ground by John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, yesterday, at his briefing.  Khaled and then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Yes, Marie, thank you.  I have two questions actually.  My first question is concerning statements that have been issued by a number of Congress members attacking UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] and making charges against its performance in the occupied Gaza Strip.  And I was wondering, what’s the Secretary-General’s reaction to that and whether he believes some of these charges are justified?  And then my second question is also whether there is any reaction by the Secretary-General to the call by Desmond Tutu and others to expand the investigation enquiry to include other violations, not just those against the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m afraid I don’t have very much for you on either of those.  I think the question about the letter we answered to you yesterday and, on the other reports that you’re referring, I will try to see what I can get for you on your first question.  Mr. Abbadi.

[The correspondent was later informed that the Secretary-General stands strongly by UNRWA and its staff, who work courageously under very difficult conditions to provide a crucial humanitarian lifeline to the people of the Gaza strip.  The Deputy Spokesperson added that UNRWA’s activities are very closely followed by the international community and its donors, including the United States.  The Agency is transparent about its activities and maintains strict control over contributions to ensure aid goes directly to civilians in need, she said.]

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  You indicated that one peacekeeper in the Sudan was injured and died subsequently in the hospital.  What was his nationality?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not sure I can give it to you just yet because this happened [literary, we] just got the report right before I ran down.

Question:  And what you read was a statement by UNAMID, not by the Secretary-General right?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It was not really a statement; it was a phone call.  We just took it over the phone right now because they wanted to let us know what had happened before the briefing.  Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  Actually, first a follow-up on Khaled’s question about UNRWA and the United States Congress.  In his visit to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ban Ki-moon was asked whether UNRWA banks with the Commercial Bank of Syria by one of the Congress people, and I think he said he was not aware of it, but he would get back.  Has he gotten back?  Does UNRWA bank with it, and what’s been the reply to that question?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s why I just told Khaled that I would get back to him as soon as I get some guidance on this.

Question:  Okay, has he answered Congress, because it was like a week ago that the question was asked.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I just said I will get back to him as soon as I get guidance.

Question:  Okay.  And also, may I ask an actual question; that was a follow-up.  In Myanmar, just in the last 24 hours, Myanmar has arrested five more democracy activists.  Meanwhile, at least it’s said from United Nations officials that Ban Ki-moon is considering visiting in and around the ASEAN summit.  First, is there any response to these more recent arrests of democracy activists?  And two, what are the standards that Ban Ki-moon is going to use for visiting Myanmar or not, and does he plan to go on 18 April?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing to announce in terms of any visits today.  In terms of the Secretary-General -- the criteria are spelled and nothing has changed on that as well.  As for the immediate comments to today’s arrests, his Adviser, Mr. Gambari, has been very clear on the subject of arrests.  Let’s go to, sorry… Benny had his hand up first.

Question:  First of all, I am sorry, but you just mentioned that long article, I just want to know where it is so I can see what you’re denouncing here.

Deputy Spokesperson:  It was in the Times of London.

Question:  Okay.  Second question… [interrupted]

Deputy Spokesperson:  If it’s alright, I do have a response to the UNRWA question that you both had.  UNRWA maintains its primary banking relationships -– and all donor contributions –- with reputable international banks, including JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas and Bank Austria Vienna.  The Agency distributes on a weekly basis to field offices operationally required funds to banks in the relevant area of operations.  In this context, UNRWA uses the Arab Bank for transactions in the West Bank and the Commercial Bank of Syria, which until recently held a State monopoly on all banking operations in Syria and remains the only bank to provide the full extent of services throughout the country, for local transactions, such as the payment of staff salary. 

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is all I have now.  Who had a question before…?  You did?

Question:  So he is basically denying the charges that are being made by…

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the factual response that I have.  Go ahead.

Question:  Marie, I just heard you say that you gave an answer yesterday to the question about the letter sent by Desmond Tutu and Robinson.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  But, actually, you didn’t answer it yesterday.  You said he hadn’t even received the letter; you deflected any questions, so…

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, what I said was the letter…I have to check.  But in terms of the response, what I said was the Secretary-General does have an investigation under way; that it’s wrapping up its work and he is waiting to hear from them.

Question:  We know that, but this is completely different.  They’re asking for a new investigation (cross-talk)…

Deputy Spokesperson:  And I said that, separately, the Human Rights Council had also asked for an investigation looking into the wider issues involved.

Question:  So does that satisfy, in your view, the request made by Tutu and Robinson?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have to review the letter; which is what I said yesterday.

Question:  Have you received the letter?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We would have to review the letter.

Question:  Have you received the letter?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will check.  I said that at the beginning of my response to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed the letter was received yesterday and was currently being reviewed.]

Question:  This takes me back to last week a little bit.  One of the things the Secretary-General said in the flap about deadbeats was that the United States owes $1 billion soon to be $1.6 billion.  Can you tell me, what is this based on and how?  Can you break down the money here?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that’s exactly what he said; that there was $1 billion in arrears and plus $600 million coming up.  If you want the exact breakdown, we’ll get it for you in the Office.  I don’t have anything further than that for now.

Question:  The problem I have with that is that I’m told by the United States Mission that they acknowledge $399 million.  That’s a huge discrepancy and it’s a little problematic for me…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t you come up to the Office and we’ll look at the figures together because I don’t have anything further than that.

Question:  One more follow-up on that:  how much of this is actually the fact that the United States pays in October as opposed to the United Nations that wants it in January?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Benny, I have nothing further than what the Secretary-General has said publicly on this; that the United States is the biggest donor; we count on the US support and, in that context, he mentioned that figure.  Mr. Abbadi and then Talk Radio.

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Usually, when we refer to an article in the press covering the United Nations, the usual answer we receive is that we don’t comment on the press.  What was unusual about the article in the Times of London?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Please pick up this clarification; I think you’ll see why.  Talk Radio, yes.

Question:  Marie, there were further expulsions I heard today on the wire from the Darfur-area NGOs.  Is there a statement -- is there anything in terms of follow-up on those expulsions?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I was just in touch with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs right before I came down to make sure that there was nothing new, and I was told that there was nothing new to report.  So if they’re listening now and they have more, hopefully, they’ll give me an update.  But, I have not heard of anything.  I have no confirmation of any further expulsions.  The fact that the Secretary-General is working the phones is obviously to make sure that the humanitarian concerns are addressed, and he continues to be very concerned about the expulsions.  Yes, Rhonda.

Question:  I had asked a while ago about the [inaudible] report about the confounding of the laws of war and criminality and with terror, about mixing that up, and I was told somebody would get back to me on that and I haven’t heard from anybody yet.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, I’ll look into that for you. 

Question:  And the second is that British parliamentarians have gone to Gaza and have been in dialogue with Hamas and there was [inaudible]… Palestine a caravan from Britain and joined by people that did get in Gaza through Egypt.  I wondered if the Secretary-General has any comment about these events and if there is any way that this can help to open up the crossing points into Gaza so that there can be relief to the people?  Do you have any idea…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing; I have no new updates on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but, in terms of the crossings, you know, the Secretary-General has been working very hard, along with our people on the ground, to get those crossings open and enough humanitarian aid flowing to the people of the Occupied Territory.

Question:  [inaudible]…to hear this, but there are no details of that and particularly the Egyptian crossing; that agreement is from 2005 [interrupted]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Rhonda, I don’t have anything further.  I understand your concern and the Secretary-General shares that concern.  Yes, can I get somebody who hasn’t had the floor?  Yes.

Question:  I have one quick question.  There used to be a tapestry hanging right outside the Security Council of the Guernica where did it go?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I understand that the Guernica tapestry has been moved in advance of the Capital Mater Plan renovation of the United Nations Headquarters building and it was moved last week by the owners to a gallery in London.

Question:  And who are the owners?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not sure I’m in a position to identify them, but there was a story in the press identifying who they were, so.  Yes.

Question:  Marie, the United Nationshas just had a mediation effort going on in Madagascar, and it has obviously broken down, if not completely failed, based on pictures from there yesterday.  And it’s been 24 hours since we’ve seen a storming of the palace and yet the United Nations has not made any statement like, “We condemn the violence and require both sides to come back”.  Maybe you have it on your desk now.  But why was there no statement?  Why hasn’t there been one for 24 hours, and an obvious call by you to have both parties to knock it off and get back to the table, to condemn this coup?

Deputy Spokesperson:  When I first came in, I said I was expecting a statement on Madagascar…

Question:  Why has it taken so long for the United Nations to respond to what the whole world has seen on television?  A storming of the palace, and the United Nations is saying nothing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Can I read the statement?  Thank you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson reads the statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the situation in Madagascar.]

Question:  Okay.  So that means that he supports the coup that took place in Madagascar. 

Deputy Spokesperson:  The developments are unfolding still and that’s what (interrupted).

Question:  The President has just resigned (interrupted).

Deputy Spokesperson:  Exactly.

Question:  Because the army storms the palace.

Deputy Spokesperson:  He takes note of the resignation.

Question:  By a man who was not elected.  And you’re not condemning this as a coup as the African Union has?  Is that what you’re saying?  You’re just taking note of the President’s removal after a coup?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further than this.

Question:  I’m sorry, one follow-up to this.  Who is, according to the United Nations, who is the Head of State currently, in Madagascar?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations right now has just taken note of the resignation of President Ravalomanana and, as I read to you, the Secretary-General urges all concerned to act responsibly to ensure stability and a smooth transition through democratic means.  The Secretary-General is calling on all concerned to ensure the security of the population and work together towards a non-violent solution is ‑‑ the important part is, that all partners engage to achieve a peaceful, consensual solution in Madagascar.  Obviously, the situation on the ground is very confused.  We have a Senior Adviser there, and he is doing his best to achieve what we just mentioned in the statement and he is reporting back what he knows.  But at this moment, this is the picture that we have.

Question:  Is there a clarification about the democratic means?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is all I have.  I have nothing further than this statement.

Question:  Marie, on this question, on Madagascar, has the Secretary-General spoken to the Chairman of the African Union this morning?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He has made a number of calls this morning, including the calls on Darfur and others.  I’d have to check for you on that one.

Question:  Just one follow-up on Afghanistan.  So is Peter Galbraith going to be number two?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The selection, the appointment process, is still ongoing, so I don’t have an announcement to make on that.

Question:  Has it been finalized yet, or is it…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The appointment process is still under way.  I have…

Question:  Is Peter Galbraith…? [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond that.

Question:  I have a question on that, and one on Sri Lanka.  But on this Galbraith question:  the issue surrounding his role in, essentially, violating United Nations sanctions and bringing in Iranian weapons to Bosnia during the Balkan war.  Was that something that was looked at by the United Nations before considering him either for the Bhutto panel or for this post?  And this [inaudible], what’s the United Nations, I guess, response to those -- what many in Congress… you read the article.  The article says he can’t be confirmed by Congress because of that issue.  So he’s being foisted on the United Nations.  Are you aware of that issue?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re talking about an appointment that we have not made.  And we’re… I was just [interrupted].

Question:  If you make it, will you then respond to this public issue that involves [talk-over].

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the fact that the regular appointment process is ongoing.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s a regular appointment process.  If you’re asking about a position that is of the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General level, which is what you’re asking, the regular appointment process is being followed.

Question:  On Sri Lanka, the Associated Press has reported on this letter about the conflict zone, saying that 500 people have died due to the lack of medicine during the conflict, is the United Nations or specialized agencies or OCHA aware of this?  What do they intend to try to do about it?  And also, there was a report by something called the… by a group in Sri Lanka, a Government-affiliated thing, that would storm the United Nations in Colombo, if the United Nations refers the Government to a war crimes trial.  What’s been the response to that quote by them in the Daily News of Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What I can tell you about Sri Lanka is that the humanitarian workers on the ground are obviously doing their best to try to assist the most vulnerable on the ground.  The Secretary-General just spoke with the President of Sri Lanka, during which he appealed for, expressed his concern for, the safety of the civilians, especially those trapped in Vanni.

Question:  See, that’s what he said.  Did he get any commitments back from the other side?

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is that the President did express his cooperation.  But the Secretary-General, as I mentioned, did express his strong concerns for the civilian population on the ground.

On that, have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record