8 May 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.

**Press Conference Today

I was going to try to start a little later because the Security Council stakeout is going on, but we have the President of the General Assembly, who will be here to brief you at 12:30 p.m. on the upcoming UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development.  So I’ll have to zip through this briefing.

** Pakistan

We’ll start with Pakistan; the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says it has been working to address a situation of massive displacement in north-west Pakistan following the recent fighting there.  The agency cites estimates from the provincial government that between 150,000 to 200,000 people have already arrived in safer areas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) over the last few days, with another 300,000 already on the move or about to move.  Those fleeing the latest escalation of hostilities join some 555,000 previously displaced Pakistanis who had fled their homes in the tribal areas and the North West Frontier Province since August of 2008.

UNHCR adds that, in the last two days, an increasing number of families from Swat have gone to one of the camps it has set up for displaced persons, travelling in rickshaws, cars, small trucks and buses.  Most carry little more than the clothes on their backs.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that, even before these most recent days of conflict, WFP had been aiming to feed about 600,000 people this month in the affected area.  It has set up seven hubs that humanitarian organizations could use for distributing material.

** Sri Lanka

On Sri Lanka, while fighting remains ongoing in northern Sri Lanka, another food shipment of 25 metric tons went into the conflict zone aboard an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) boat.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of yesterday, over 196,000 people had crossed to Government-controlled areas, while over 1,700 wounded and their caregivers are in hospitals.  Of those who are in camps, some 177,000 are in Vavuniya, where congestion continues to be a problem.  No other IDPs are reported to be in transit and the number of civilians remaining in the conflict zone is still estimated at at least 50,000.

Aid agencies continue to work full speed to put in place assistance for the displaced.

Protection agencies conducted a survey of 100 randomly selected shelters in zone 3 of Menik Farm, in Vavuniya, which showed that 72 per cent of the interviewees were separated from family members in some way while trying to flee the conflict zone.  In addition, 22 per cent of the families reported that an immediate family member had died and some 15 per cent of the households were female-headed, according to OCHA’s latest update.

**Security Council

At UN Headquarters today, the Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Dmitry Titov, briefed the Security Council on the recent fighting in eastern Chad, in an open meeting.  And he said that the UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic was able to confirm that the Chadian National Army was conducting air strikes against a rebel column in eastern Chad, in the area of Goz Beida.  As you know, two days ago, the Secretary-General expressed increasing concern at the fighting and called for the respect of the humanitarian character of the operations of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in eastern Chad.

And Titov said that the deteriorating security situation has prompted humanitarian actors, including three UN agencies and 11 NGOs, to relocate their non-essential staff as a precautionary measure.  He added that, as of yet, no significant population displacements have been reported as a result of the fighting.

The open meeting was followed by consultations which just ended, and that’s why the stakeout is going on.

** Chad

And we do have a humanitarian update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also on eastern Chad, saying that more than half of its consolidated appeal for $385 million for Chad remains unfunded.

** Darfur

And on Darfur today, the African Union-United Mission there (UNAMID) reports that one of its peacekeepers was shot and killed last night in South Darfur during a carjacking incident.

At approximately 8:30 p.m., unidentified gunmen shot the male military observer as he was opening the gate of his residence in Nyala, the state capital of South Darfur, to park his vehicle.  The peacekeeper was rushed to a nearby UNAMID medical centre for treatment but died upon arrival.

UNAMID says that it has informed local officials with Sudanese Government police and national security, who are also investigating the killing.  The military observer’s vehicle was later found abandoned about seven kilometres away from Nyala.

The peacekeeper’s name, rank and nationality have not yet been released pending notification to next of kin.  He is the fifteenth peacekeeper killed as a result of hostile action since UNAMID deployed at the start of 2008.

And the Joint AU-UN Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, condemned the killing, emphasizing that attacks on peacekeepers constitute war crimes.  And you can read more about that in a press release upstairs.

**Southern Sudan

Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, John Holmes, landed this morning in Juba in Southern Sudan.  He subsequently went to Akobo in Jonglei state, where thousands are taking shelter after fleeing recent violence there.

John Holmes met men, women and children, who discussed their plight with him.  Currently, 24 humanitarian organizations are responding to these increasing needs in 7 of the 10 states of Southern Sudan.

Since January 2009, more than 100,000 people have been displaced in seven states in Southern Sudan due to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and inter-ethnic clashes there.

Holmes also met with Riek Machar, Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan, and they discussed humanitarian needs in Southern Sudan.  And on Saturday, that’s tomorrow, he will be travelling to Darfur.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the fact-finding mission, which the Human Rights Council established last month to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of the recent conflict in Gaza, began its work in Geneva this week.

During their week-long session in Geneva, the four members of the mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, held meetings with a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including representatives of Member States, the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations.  The mission also established terms of reference and a three-month programme of work.  In the course of its work, the mission intends to conduct visits to affected areas of southern Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Gaza.  It has requested Israel’s cooperation in this regard.

According to Justice Goldstone, the mission will focus its investigation not on political considerations, but on an objective and impartial analysis of compliance of the parties to the conflict with their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law ‑‑ especially their responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians and non-combatants.

Justice Goldstone has also said that he believes that an objective assessment of the issues is in the interests of all parties, will promote a culture of accountability, and could serve to promote greater peace and security in the region.

And there is more in a press release on this upstairs.


And on the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that the number of lab-confirmed cases has increased to 2,500 -- that’s from 2,099 yesterday.  Those cases include 44 deaths.  WHO says that 25 countries are now reporting cases.  Those countries now include Brazil, which has reported four cases.  But regarding WHO’s influenza alert level, we are still at phase 5, the agency says.

WHO is still working to get more than 2 million doses of antivirals to 72 countries, primarily in the developing world.  So far this week, the agency has already begun dispatching antivirals to 49 countries.  Delivery will take several days to reach each of the countries.  In addition, WHO has sent some 600,000 doses to its six regional offices.

**Burundi/Somalia/Horn of Africa

And we have updates upstairs on the situation in Burundi, and Somalia and the Horn of Africa.  These are all humanitarian updates, which you can look at upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Trip Announcement

And just a couple of more items for the week ahead, one trip announcement, actually two trip announcements.  The Secretary-General is scheduled to travel to Manama, Bahrain, and Geneva, Switzerland, starting a week from today.

His two-day visit in Manama will focus on the official launch of the 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, which will take place on 17‑18 May.  The Secretary-General is set to deliver opening remarks at the launching ceremony, hosted by the Prime Minister of Bahrain.

This is the UN’s first global report that identifies increasing disaster risk factors and recommends 20 actions to reduce such risks, which will have beneficial effects on broader global security, stability and sustainability.  The main message in the report is that investing in disaster risk reduction will help reduce poverty, safeguard development and help to adapt to climate change.

While in Bahrain, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with His Majesty the King, as well as the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister.

After that, the Secretary-General will travel to Geneva, where he is set to deliver the keynote speech in the plenary of the World Health Assembly. He will also participate in a high-level meeting, convened by the World Health Organization, with representatives of some 20 pharmaceutical companies, to ensure that developing countries will have access to vaccines.

The Secretary-General will also participate in the launch of the Innovative-8 Group (or I-8 Group) on financing for the health-related Millennium Development Goals.  He will also take part in the plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament, also to be held in Geneva.  He is also scheduled to meet with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.  And that’s in the week ahead.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel

Also travelling this weekend, the Deputy Secretary-General is in Pretoria, where she will represent the Secretary-General at the inauguration ceremony of President Elect Jacob Zuma tomorrow.  During her visit to South Africa, she will also hold bilateral meetings with South African and regional leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) -- focusing on issues related to regional security, economic development, and progress towards the conclusion of an agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit later this year.

On Monday, the Deputy-Secretary-General will travel to Hanoi, Viet Nam.  She will hold high-level consultations with the Government of Viet Nam on their “Delivering as One” experience.  Viet Nam is one of the pilot countries for this UN reform aimed at better coordinating UN activities at the country level.  And you can read more about her travels in “The Week Ahead”.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

Also, as you know by now, on Monday, the Security Council will hold an open meeting on the Middle East, under the chairmanship of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  At 12:30 p.m., Mr. Lavrov is scheduled to brief you in this room, in Room S226.  That’s at 12:30 p.m. on Monday.

And on Tuesday, at 10 a.m., in the General Assembly Hall, 18 members of the Human Rights Council are expected to be elected.  And that morning, that’s also on Tuesday, 12 May, the Security Council is scheduled to hold a debate on Somalia followed by consultations on Somalia.  And you can pick up the Week Ahead for your planning purposes for next week.

**Yedioth Ahronoth

And we have a response to a question regarding an article in Yedioth.  I emphasize that the statements attributed to the Secretary-General by Yedioth in describing his meeting with the Israeli President on 6 May are inaccurate and completely misleading.

In line with our standard practice, we wish to reaffirm the readout of the meeting that was issued by us on that day itself, and that the Spokesperson, Michčle Montas read to you from this podium.

That’s what I have for you.  In five minutes, we will have the General Assembly President.  Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, on this issue of whether the UN and its Mission in the Congo, MONUC, are aware of indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda working with the Congolese Army, the minutes have come out of an 4 April meeting of the Congolese Army in which it is said that Bosco Ntaganda participated in the meeting, took the floor as adjunct coordinator of this operation, and spoke.  And so I am wondering, is… earlier, I think on 29 April, Farhan Haq had said “well, we haven’t seen the document, but we have been given assurances…”  Now that these minutes… Does the UN dispute that minutes from the Congolese Army show that Bosco Ntaganda is the adjunct coordinator of the operation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything beyond what was already said on the subject.

[The correspondent was later reminded that he had already been given the following guidance last week:  “The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has not seen the documents referenced in the media report allegedly showing that Jean-Bosco Ntanganda is a part of the joint operation.  On the contrary, the Democratic Republic of the Congo authorities have shown MONUC relevant documents defining the operation’s command structure, which does not make any mention of Mr. Ntanganda.

MONUC has clearly stated that it will not conduct or support joint operations in which Mr. Ntaganda plays a part.  This has been communicated directly to the DRC Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff, who in turn have assured MONUC that Mr. Ntanganda is not a part of any joint operation’s command structure.  MONUC leadership continues to engage with our Congolese interlocutors on this matter.”]

Question:  Just in reference to this question I asked last week concerning the two American journalists in North Korea.  You said you had nothing on that.  Has the Secretary-General’s office made any appeal to the North Koreans to free them?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific on that case, but yesterday and on several occasions before that the Secretary-General has been emphasizing the importance of the freedom of the press around the world.

Question:  When will he make some sort of, at least something to try and…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that for you today.

Question:  On the invitation by the Government of Sri Lanka to the Secretary-General to visit, is there any progress in thinking?  In the alternative, is the Secretary-General, is he considering invoking Article 99 or responsibility to protect or making some other move of some type on the situation in Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what we’ve been saying from this podium this week on Sri Lanka, including what the Secretary-General himself has said earlier this week.

With that, if you can wait a few minutes then, we will have the General Assembly President himself.  And have a good weekend; see you on Monday.

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For information media • not an official record