Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

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

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

Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Lebanon

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack earlier that day against a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) convoy on the coastal road near the town of Saida.  The Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by this attack on UNIFIL, the second in the last two months.  And the Security Council, in a press statement, also condemned the attack.

The UN Force in Lebanon says that six peacekeepers were wounded in the explosion.  Three of those injured were transported to hospital for treatment, where their condition is stated to be stable.  Three others with minor injuries were provided first aid on the spot.

UNIFIL forensics and investigation teams are working with counterparts from the Lebanese Armed Forces to determine the facts and circumstances of the incident.  Among other things, they have said that the explosion was clearly directed at the UNIFIL convoy.

**Horn of Africa

Yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia; the Emir of Kuwait; the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar; and the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa.  He called for urgent international efforts to meet the gap in the humanitarian requirements for the region.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the number of internally displaced persons moving from pastoral to urban areas is increasing in the region.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has scaled up its operations to reach 175,000 people in the Gedo region, while the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is distributing supplies to 189,000 people in southern Somalia.

The Office also expressed concern about the worsening situation in Ethiopia, where 4.5 million people are in need of food aid.  The price of wheat in the capital, Addis Ababa, is more than 80 per cent higher than it was one year ago.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Major General Abdul Hafiz of Bangladesh as the Force Commander of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  Major General Hafiz succeeds Major General Jingmin Zhao of China.  And we have more information on this appointment in my office.

**Security Council

The Security Council began a meeting this morning to hear from some of the Force Commanders of UN peacekeeping missions who are at Headquarters at the moment.  The Force Commanders for the peacekeeping missions in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lebanon all addressed the Security Council, and, as you know, they will also speak to you in this room at 1 p.m. today.

Prior to that meeting, the Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) by a year, until the end of July 2012.

And then, this afternoon at 3 p.m., the Security Council will have a meeting followed by consultations on Sudan.  On that, the Secretary-General has sent the Security Council members a report on the work of the new UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).  In it, he said that he is encouraged to report that more than 400 troops are already on the ground in Abyei.  He added that it is incumbent on the parties to ensure the optimum conditions for the Force’s success.

And I can also tell you the Secretary-General has appointed Lieutenant General Tadesse Werede Tesfay of Ethiopia as Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei.

** Pakistan

A year after devastating floods hit Pakistan, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says its response programme has benefited more than 7 million people.  The Food and Agriculture Organization adds that about half a million households were provided with wheat and vegetable crop packages, while more than 290,000 families received support for livestock.  Farming families, too, have benefited from repaired irrigation channels from more than 1,000 cash-for-work schemes.  The agency, however, says there’s more work to be done.  For that, it requires a further $100 million to support 430,000 families over the next two years.

**Secretary-General’s Meeting with Côte d'Ivoire President

I am also told that we have a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with the President of Côte d’Ivoire this morning, and that will be available for you online and in my office.  So, questions, please?  Yes, Masood, then Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On this talk that the Secretary-General had with the King of Saudi Arabia and the other monarchs in the region on North Africa, did any of the monarchs or khalifas promise any aid or any help to mitigate the suffering in the Horn of Africa, at all?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General received overall positive responses from those he spoke to.  And as I think you will have seen from our readout, the possibility of a fundraising conference was also discussed during those telephone calls.  So, not going into details of each individual leader who was called yesterday by the Secretary-General, but simply to say that there was an overall positive response from his interlocutors.

Question:  No immediate financial commitments were made to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, typically we would not want to speak on behalf of those individual Member States, but simply to say that there was an overall positive response.  I think everybody is mindful of the urgency here, and I am pretty sure that if you were to approach the countries concerned they would be able to give you some details of their side of the conversation, if you like.

Question:  On this report about the Bolivian President, Mr. Evo Morales, saying that his plane could be in the United States when he comes for the United Nations to this conference, that he fears that somebody may plant something in his plane and he may be detained there.  Did he at all talk to anybody in the Secretariat about his fears?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  If other colleagues have information on that, I’ll let you know.  But I am simply not aware of that.  Yeah. Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Regarding still the situation in East Africa, the Secretary-General is discussing now the possibility of holding a conference.  And what kind of a conference would that be?  Of donors or an international conference, and where would its venue be?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, there is the possibility of a fundraising conference.  There is already a donors meeting taking place in Nairobi today.  This is amongst officials in Nairobi.  So we would need to see what comes out of that today.  And further steps are in the works, but I don’t have the details yet because they are still being worked out.  But I think it is clear that, at some point, there is likely to be a larger scale fundraising conference.  That’s a likelihood.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Some of us saw The Whistleblower movie last night. And it cries for reaction from the United Nations, even though the Secretary-General was not Secretary-General at the time.  I understand there has been a meeting; well, the producers said that was a meeting already held at the UN of how to react to it and the sooner you can get us a reaction or no reaction, it would be very good because people have been writing about that movie.

Spokesperson:  Well, yesterday at the briefing, I gave the reaction even before the film had been shown here by UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association].  But simply to say that we welcome the showing of the film here.  And we welcome the film because of the important subjects that it raises that are high on the agenda of the United Nations, including the fight against human trafficking; against organized crime, particularly in areas where there has been conflict.  It also is important because it looks at the role of women in peacekeeping operations, particularly military and police officers.  These are all topics that are on the agenda of the United Nations.  And I would anticipate that a little later in the summer, there would be a kind of discussion organized here at the United Nations to look at some of the topics that are raised in that film.

Question:  Do you have any more background of those years?  I think it was NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] who had the peacekeepers, and the UN had the police.  This was not during the big UN peacekeeping phase.  Do you have any idea who was doing what, where?

Spokesperson:   I think we have some details on that.  I don’t have them at hand, but we do have some details on that.  And I think it’s a matter of public record in any case who was doing what on the peacekeeping front at that point.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I have a film question, too, but first on, just because we have President [Alassane] Ouattara just here earlier this morning, there is a letter that the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) has put out, put online, that it says it faxed to the Secretary-General’s Office, asking him in keeping with his meeting in the statements on press freedom to specifically raise with Mr. Ouattara the case of a journalist there, Hermann Aboa, and also cases of the FRCI [Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire], Guillaume Soro-aligned forces cracking down on media organizations in Abidjan, and I wanted to know if I could from you, whether this is… whether… one, whether the Secretary-General got CPJ’s letter and two, whether this topic arose in the meeting with Ouattara.

Spokesperson:  On the letter, I would have to check.  I don’t know the answer to that.  As for the other part of your question, what I can tell you from the readout, which I am sure you can get — maybe you already have it in your hands or it’s online — but it was just brought to me a little earlier: The Secretary-General and the President discussed issues related to the strengthening of State institutions, the restoration of the rule of law, the protection of human rights for all, the fight against impunity, and national reconciliation.  The Secretary-General expressed the hope that the legislative elections would draw broad participation, including the opposition parties.  So, that’s the middle of the readout.

Question:  Sure.  Is it fair to… I mean, and I understand it wouldn’t normally go in a one-paragraph readout, but just to know, yes or no, whatever, however it plays, whether the case of this journalist was in fact raised.  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I know that you also asked the President about that case, and he answered you.  So if there is anything further on that particular aspect, then I will let you know.  But for now, I have given you the broad scope of what was discussed.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General was aware of the letter from the Committee to Protect Journalists.]

Question:  And I just have one sort of a film follow-up, I wanted to… it brought to mind… I know I have asked before about this Killing Fields film that came out, that again also covered in some negative light the UN actions in Sri Lanka.  I wondered, I understand that the producer actually gave a copy of the DVD to your Office, and I just wanted to know whether the Secretary-General or his most senior advisers have yet seen the film, what they think of it and what the status is of the UN revo… reviewing its own actions in Sri Lanka?

[Inaudible exchange between correspondents]

Spokesperson:  Advisers to the Secretary-General, of course, have seen the film.  I do not know at this point whether he himself has seen that documentary.  But he is well briefed on it, I can tell you.  And as you know, the Panel of Experts made a number of recommendations and one of them was indeed for the United Nations to look inwards at how it had responded at the time and to learn lessons from that.  That process is in train, and when I can give you more details about precisely the form it is taking, then I’ll let you know.  But at this stage, it is something that is being discussed and put in place between the relevant parts of the UN system.  That’s what I have for you on that.  Other questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  At the high-level discussions on the youth in the GA [General Assembly], some of the young people have been saying that there should be less talk about youth and more about meeting with them.  What does the UN plan to do in that regard?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are many different forums for young people to meet with officials of the United Nations or with Member States, and that’s an important part of the equation.  And certainly, the Secretary-General, when he travels, very often interacts with young people, whether they are students —university students or school students — or working with NGOs.  As you know, he spoke quite passionately about this in his remarks and he will continue to interact with young people as he travels.

Question:  Speaking of that forum, UNTV spent an exorbitant amount of time on the diplomats and ministers who came and gave motherhood and apple pie speeches that certainly would not help the youth in their country or anywhere else.  I mean their contribution to the discussion — not all of them — but 90 per cent of them were really dreadful.

Spokesperson:  Whose contributions?

Correspondent:  The ministers, just dreadful. The General Assembly… the countries…

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, I don’t think you expect me to comment on that?

Question:  No, I am just wondering why that was featured in the first place.  Who needed them?  I think there was no interaction with the youth there.

Spokesperson:  This is a General Assembly meeting that is covered.  And let’s be clear that that meeting is not the end of the story.  It is a part of the story.  There are other chapters to that story that are taking place simultaneously on the margins of that meeting, and indeed continue today, as the Secretary-General is interacting with young people, and has been in the last hour.

Question:  This is not the Secretary-General’s problem.

Spokesperson:  I am not suggesting that that’s what you are saying; I am simply saying that it is a part of the story.  And it is important for people to be able worldwide — to be able to see what is being said in the General Assembly.  And that’s, I think, quite obvious.  Yeah?

Question:  Maybe this will draw some reaction.  The military of Nepal has complained that one of the… the appointment that you announced for Western Sahara, they… I mean, obviously losing candidates complain, but they’ve said that their Major General Pawan Pande was a candidate, but they think that, the quote from a Defence Ministry official of Nepal is the vacancy announcement and competition was just a formality; that because Bangladesh gives more troops, they got the job.  And I just wonder, what’s your response to that?  They are the sixth biggest peacekeeping contributor.  Is there a correlation between the size of a country’s troop contributions and getting these posts?  Relatedly on UNISFA, was it a condition of the peacekeepers that the Force Commander be from Ethiopia as well?  I guess these are two questions on the… related to today’s peacekeeping decisions.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you know, the Force for Abyei is Ethiopian.  I think logic would dictate that the Force Commander would also be Ethiopian.  On the other appointments and appointments in general, these are done taking into account a number of factors, and this is done on merit.  It’s based on experience; it’s based on a number of factors.  I am not going to comment on individual Member States’ reactions to appointments, that would not be proper, and I don’t think you would expect me to do that.

Question:  And one other one, there is a bill in the House [of Representatives], and I understand that it’s… you may say it’s a pending bill, but it triggers… one of the its… beyond trying to cut funding to the UN, it says that 30 per cent of the funding should be cut if the UN’s internal financial audits aren’t put online.  And I wanted to know, on that fact, on that aspect of it, is there a reason that the UN doesn’t put its audits online?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you answered your own question, that we don’t comment on internal legislative process of Member States.  I think as for the question of audits, I need to look into that.  I think there are differing practices between agencies, funds and programmes and other parts of the United Nations.  I do not know the details for each.

Question:  And Mr. Yamaza… the Controller [Jun Yamazaki], have they… have you… they put his job out on The Economist, I mean, they have advertised for a new Controller.  So, I just wanted to know if, given that, it can now be confirmed that he is in fact leaving and when that would be.

Spokesperson:  Well, I also read The Economist, Matthew, and I have seen it, too.  But I don’t have any further details.  If and when appointments are made, then we’ll let you know.

Question:  What about his leaving day?  I mean, with Mr. [Alain] Le Roy there was a date named.  Is there a date for the Controller’s departure?

Spokesperson:  Well, again, as and when I have details on that, if it is really of interest to you, then I am sure that we could let you know.

Correspondent: Okay, thanks.

Spokesperson:  All right, thank you.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record