|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Following is a near verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, and welcome back and Happy New Year.
Tanzania has assumed the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of January, and Ambassador Augustine Mahiga is holding bilateral talks with other Council members today about their work over the coming month.
As the year begins, five new Council members -- Ghana, Peru, Qatar, the Republic of Congo and Slovakia -- are taking up their new seats. The Security Council is expected to hold its first consultations tomorrow on the programme of work for January. And, as is tradition, Ambassador Mahiga will then brief you here in this room once consultations have ended.
** Sierra Leone
The new United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone began functioning this week, on January 1st. The Office was established following the successful completion of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, which closed on December 31st of last year. The Security Council has asked the new Office to support the sustainable development of Sierra Leone and help prepare for elections in 2007.
And, we have the new year’s statement available upstairs from the head of the new Office, outlining the goals of the new UN Office for the coming year.
** Pakistan Earthquake
And we have an update on the follow-up to the earthquake in Pakistan. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that harsh winter weather over the weekend has created miserable conditions in some of the camps for quake survivors. Additionally, below the snowline, there have been heavy rains, which have led to flooding in some of those camps.
UN agencies are now working with partners to move families out of the damaged tents and into drier accommodations. They are also providing high-energy biscuits and dates to families who have been unable to cook because of the bad weather.
OCHA also says that, because of heavy snow, landslides and mudslides, a majority of the main roads used by the UN and other humanitarian agencies for the distribution of relief items have now been closed or declared unsafe for travel, and many helicopter flights have been grounded, also because of the weather.
And, also, in nearby Afghanistan -- following heavy rains in the last few days in the northern part of the country, the UN Mission in Afghanistan is coordinating distribution with other UN agencies of transport items like blankets and stoves to affected areas. UN agencies were informed that the Deh Dadi district of the province of Balkh appears to have suffered the worst, with some 50 to 60 houses reported to be damaged.
And, we have additional information from the briefing notes from the Mission upstairs.
Also on Afghanistan, we had told you last week of an exchange of letters between the Security Council and the Secretary-General about the new head of that Mission, and that is now official. The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Tom Koenigs of Germany as his new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). He will replace Jean Arnault of France, who will complete his assignment in February of this year.
And, we have a full bio of Mr. Koenigs available upstairs.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has been providing aid to Sudanese refugees with UNHCR documentation, who were released by the Egyptian authorities over the weekend. Many of those refugees have been congregating in churches in Cairo, and UNHCR has sent medicines and 1,000 blankets to one of the bigger congregation points. UNHCR is also working with Egyptian banks on a shelter assistance programme for homeless refugees, which would allow those refugees to receive a one-time monetary grant for housing.
And, we have more information on that from UNHCR upstairs.
And, that is it for me. Any questions? Yes, sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On those refugees, in Cairo, can you confirm or deny that the UN was assured by the Egyptian Government that none of them would be deported?
Spokesman: I cannot, from here. I would urge you to check with the UNHCR office here in New York.
Question: Happy New Year, Steph. Does the SG have anything to say about the demand, the call, by the Mehlis investigation to interview Assad and Al Shara?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General would urge Syria and anyone else who’s asked to cooperate by Mr. Mehlis to do just that. And I’m not aware of any contacts between the Secretary-General and any Syrian authorities over the last couple of days.
Question: Just a follow-up. Could you maybe explain how Mehlis will be leaving, and who’s running the Commission now, and who’s operating it?
Spokesman: Mr. Mehlis continues to be in charge of running the investigation and the Commission until a successor is in place. And we do expect an official announcement on that in the middle of next week.
Question: Abbas said he was going to postpone elections if Israel refuses to allow the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to take part. And, I know the EU is working with elections, but there’s also some UN coordinators there. Does the UN have any comment on this?
Spokesman: In terms of the voting, I would refer you back to the Quartet’s statement of last week, in which, obviously, the Secretary-General was a party to, in which they said that both parties should work to put in place a mechanism to allow Palestinians resident in Jerusalem to exercise their legitimate democratic right to vote.
As for UN participation, UN support, we do have a small electoral assistance team working with the Palestinian Authority, offering them technical advice, and also working on the coordination of international observers, as we have done in the past.
Question: Does the UN have any comment on the reports that Sharon intends, if he is re-elected, to abandon the Road Map?
Question: Just to follow up on the Quartet statement, if I remember it correctly, it also said that factions who want to participate in the political process should also recognize the right of Israel to exist, and, as well, to disarm, both of which Hamas has vowed not to do. How do you square that with Hamas’ participation in the election? How does the Quartet square that?
Spokesman: The Quartet, as far as I’ve been told, has nothing to add to its rather lengthy statement that was issued on the 28th. Yes?
Question: Happy New Year to you, too. The statement of the Secretary-General indicates that the High Commissioner for Refugees had asked the Egyptian Government to negotiate peacefully the situation with respect to the migrant workers. Did the High Commissioner receive any answer following that remark?
Spokesman: We would have to check with UNHCR to see if there was an answer received. Thank you.
Question: If there’s no one else, I just wanted to raise some old business. On the 23rd of December, during the budget negotiations in the General Assembly, there was a group of maybe 15 or 20 of us who were trying to cover the negotiations that were taking place in the General Assembly President’s Office and Conference Room 4 in the basement. And, all day long, we were trudging up and down the escalator and the stairs down to the Conference Room and then back up to the GA President’s Office. At about 6 p.m. that evening, a sergeant named Steve, for want of a better word, assaulted us in the area at the top of the stairs going down to the Vienna Café to announce to us that reporters were not allowed anywhere in the area beyond the top of the escalators outside the General Assembly entrance, a rule that none of us in the group had ever been told about or were aware of in any way, and would never agree to because it would prevent us from covering much of our work here at the UN. And, Steve got into a fairly large shouting match with Nikolai over it, and it was fought to a draw, and Edie and Evelyn have written letters to Fawzi about this. Oh, because Steve said that these were rules that were approved by Ahmad Fawzi. And Ahmad replied to Edie’s and Evelyn’s letters with a non-committal statement saying that he hoped we would be able to cover our jobs here at the UN, not really commenting on whether this was a rule or not and whether or not he had approved it.
And I would just like to reiterate our disagreement with rules that seem to sprout out of nowhere, constantly, without any understanding or explanation or genesis, and, it makes our life difficult. And, I think the budget process was something that was important to cover, and it made our evening unpleasant and difficult to do our work.
Spokesman: What I do know is that these rules, pertaining to journalists’ access to the third floor and second floor, are being discussed right now. There was a last draft left for security, and there’s another meeting scheduled between security and Ahmad Fawzi and UNCA, so I don’t think anything is set in stone.
Question: Well, Steve presented this as set in stone.
Spokesman: I will, we will look into it.
Question: Sorry if this has been asked already. I don’t think it has. There is sort of a series of options that the Secretariat is considering, or suggestions to the Council, regarding the situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea. I was just wondering if any of these options are preferred by the Secretariat, or the Secretariat is just saying, “here’s a bunch of possible things, you decide”. Is there any recommendations here, the way that you think would be better to go forward now?
Spokesman: I think the Security Council will get that report, and we will leave those comments for the day the Council gets the report, discusses the report. And, Mr. Guéhenno will be here, I think it’s on Friday, to brief you on this. Thank you.
Question: Brief us or the ...?
Spokesman: Brief you. Well, he’s briefing the Council and briefing you.
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