15 February 2008


15 February 2008
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.  I’m sorry I’m late, but I’m still waiting for another statement.  But I’ll start with one on Kenya.

**Secretary-General Statement on Kenya

The Secretary-General is encouraged by the progress towards resolving the political crisis in Kenya announced today in Nairobi.  The understandings reached by the parties to the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation process -– including the planned establishment of an independent review of the electoral process -– are important steps towards addressing the most urgent issues that led to the current situation.

The Secretary-General hopes these understandings will contribute immediately to reduced levels of violence in that country.  He reiterates his deep concern for the protection of civilians and full respect for human rights in Kenya.  He applauds all those Kenyans who in these trying times have reached out to their neighbours, irrespective of ethnic differences.

The Secretary-General calls on Kenya’s leadership to continue to display the spirit of compromise and the vision of national reconciliation that will be critical to healing the Kenyan nation.

The Secretary-General congratulates the Panel of Eminent African Personalities for its critical role in this process and reiterates his full and continuing support to the mediation efforts of the Panel led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

** Kenya : UNHCR

And then, we have upstairs a note from the UN refugee agency [the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] which says that it’s registered nearly 1,800 Kenyan refugees at the Mulanda transit centre in Uganda.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Ugandan Government estimates that there are currently up to 12,000 Kenyan refugees in the country.

You can read more about that upstairs.

**Secretary-General in D.C.

The Secretary-General today met with United States President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C.  During the meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, the two discussed UN reform, with the Secretary-General briefing President Bush on his efforts to promote transparency and accountability at the United Nations.  In that context, the Secretary-General mentioned the Ethics Office and the Procurement Task Force.  They also spoke about climate change, with the Secretary-General stressing the need for momentum for the Bali road map.

As President Bush is leaving for Africa today, they also discussed the Millennium Development Goals in an African context, as well as developments in Darfur and Kenya.  On Myanmar, the Secretary-General briefed President Bush on the work of his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari.  The two also touched on Kosovo, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General should be on his way back to New York shortly.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning met to adopt a resolution on sanctions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Council decided to extend certain sanctions, as well as the mandate of the Group of Experts monitoring those sanctions, until 31 March.

Following adoption of that resolution, Council members were briefed by the Permanent Observer of the African Union on the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Council members then moved into consultations to further discuss Somalia and take up other matters.  Consultations began with another briefing on Somalia, this time by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.

** Middle East

Turning to the Middle East, Filippo Grandi, the Deputy Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), today briefed reporters in Geneva on the current situation in Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank.  Grandi said the director of the large public hospital in Gaza had told him that he could no longer deal with people’s health problems since he had to spend his whole day looking for fuel.  Without fuel, generators and vital equipment, such as incubators for infants, would shut down.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are still over 560 blockages of various sorts, which are making people’s lives increasingly difficult.  OCHA is concerned that such constraints may lead to increased political radicalization, particularly among the younger members of society.

In Lebanon, regarding the Nahr El-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees, which was destroyed last year in fighting, Grandi said that Lebanon’s Prime Minister and UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd have announced plans to rebuild the camp.  The reconstruction of the camp proper –- essentially a small town for more than 30,000 people -– is expected to cost $174 million, which represents a scale that is unprecedented for the UN, according to Grandi.

You can read more about that in the briefing notes from Geneva.

**UNHCR: Iraqi Refugees

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has appealed to the international community for further support to Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and other host countries.

Stressing that the international response remains disproportionate to the scope of the challenges they face, the High Commissioner called for nations to increase the number of resettlement places and provide more support to Iraqis themselves through the programmes that assist the refugees.

He also asked the Government of Iraq to be more active in supporting its uprooted people.  He’s on a weeklong mission to the region, with an overall objective to ensure that millions of Iraqis displaced by the conflict receive as much protection and assistance as possible.

**UNHCR: Chad

Turning to eastern Chad, the UN Refugee Agency says it is “very disturbed” about an incident on Tuesday.  UNHCR says unknown armed elements blocked its attempt to move 179 refugee families, newly arrived from West Darfur, away from volatile border camps.  About 70 per cent of the refugees are women and children.  The Agency has a representative at the border, who is trying to broker a solution to this issue.

Meanwhile, in Cameroon, UNHCR tomorrow plans to start its first transfer of Chadian refugees from a transit centre across the river from N’Djamena to a better equipped site some 30 kilometres to the west.  There’s more information in UNHCR’s briefing notes upstairs, on this situation.

**WFP: Cambodia, Colombia

The World Food Programme (WFP) meanwhile has launched an updated online food security map of Cambodia.  The atlas identifies areas of vulnerability, as well as places where improvement has taken place or more intervention is needed.

And in Colombia, WFP has teamed up with the Government on a $157 million project to provide food and other humanitarian aid to more than half a million displaced people over the next three years.  It is the largest such programme ever developed by a UN agency in Colombia, according to WFP.  And there’s more information on both these items upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

And we have an item on the Deputy Secretary-General.  She will travel to Bangkok, Thailand, over the weekend to chair the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Regional Coordination Meeting there.  This visit is part of her commitment to promote the regional dimension of the United Nations development agenda.  While in Bangkok, the Deputy Secretary-General will meet with the Foreign Minister of Thailand as well as with representatives of ESCAP member States.  The Deputy Secretary-General also will meet with UN staff.  She plans to be back in New York next Wednesday.

**Week Ahead

We do have the Week Ahead for your planning purposes.  As you know, UN Headquarters is officially closed for an official holiday on Monday, but if there are any developments over the weekend, of course we will be manning our office.

** Darfur

And finally, in response to a question from Matthew Lee yesterday on a bidder’s conference in Darfur –- this is in answer to that:  the United Nations will hold a mandatory bidder’s conference in Sudan for the multifunctional logistics contract, to support UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], from 17 to 22 February.  This contract is being tendered in support of the Hybrid Package.  It should be noted that the Secretariat has carried out a global sourcing for this tender, in the course of which over 1,000 companies worldwide and all Permanent Missions in New York were notified of this business opportunity.  Upon performing due diligence, the Procurement Division selected 45 companies to participate in the request for proposal process.  Twenty-seven of these companies expressed the wish to participate in the conference.  There’s a little bit more information on this, which you can pick up later.

That’s all you have from me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you Marie.  On Kenya, I know you had said that the Secretary-General had commented on the situation and that he is encouraged by the progress.  But, did he comment on the failure of Kofi Annan to reach a resolution?  I know that both parties had agreed to rewrite the Constitution, but any comment at all on his expired deadline?

Spokesperson:  The statement I just read to you -– I have nothing further on this for today.

Question:  You had also said that the Secretary-General met with President Bush yesterday.  Today.  Did they discuss Darfur and the cutback in peacekeeping?

Spokesperson:  I just read to you what subjects were discussed.

Question:  Any more information on that?

Spokesperson:  I just read to you the topics that they discussed.

Question:  Could we have a readout of that meeting?

Spokesperson:  I just gave it to you.  That’s all I have right now.

Question:  Do you expect any further information?

Spokesperson:  Well, they had the meeting and the delegation is hopping on the plane to come back here.  So, when the Spokesperson gets back, maybe we can get more from her.

Question:  With the tension high between Israel and Lebanon after the terrorist attack in Damascus, is there any effort by the United Nations to prevent further escalations?

Spokesperson:  Well, two things.  One is, on a practical level, in response to recent developments, UNIFIL [the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] says they are adequately postured to implement its mandate under [resolution] 1701 and its operations are in close coordination and cooperation, at the same pace, in order to maintain the cessation of hostilities.  To this end, we will work with all parties whose continued commitment to the cessation of hostilities is key to the process.  This is in response to questions about UNIFIL increasing patrols after the recent tensions.  [Following the briefing, the Deputy Spokesperson added that UNIFIL had not put in place any special measures.]

As far as the Secretary-General is concerned, he is disturbed by the cycle of violence in the region and urges restraint by all.

Question:  The Government of Sudan yesterday rejected the appointment of a United Kingdom officer for UNAMID, saying he’s not African and the whole of UNAMID should be African.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specifically on that, but I will look into that and get back to you.

Question:  Regarding the meeting of Mr. Ban Ki-moon with President Bush -– they discussed Darfur and Kosovo.  Would you give us some more details on what exactly they discussed regarding these situations?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, we just got a very quick readout from the Spokeswoman who was in the meeting, before they went to the airport.  I hope we can get some more when she gets here.  On Kosovo, the Secretary-General reaffirmed the importance of maintaining security and stability there.  On Darfur, I don’t have any specifics until I get some further information from Michèle when she returns. 

Question:  I just want to follow up on Syria and then I have another question.  The Secretary-General -- beyond saying he asked all parties to exercise restraint -- does he have a particular position on conducting the assassination attempt on Mr. Mughniyeh in Damascus?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific, other than a general comment that I mentioned, and that these killings and counter-killings must stop.

Question:  A couple of weeks ago, Israelis threatened to kill Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah.  Is that incitement of terrorism or not?

Spokesperson:  I think I’ve just said what the Secretary-General’s sentiments are on this.

Question:  I just have another question on Western Sahara, please, Marie.  Mr. [Peter] van Walsum [Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara], I assume he’s back from the region, and I was wondering if we can have a readout or if he could give a briefing or a background briefing from his office on the results of those visits.

Spokesperson:  We’ll try to get whatever we can from him on his efforts.  We have not received anything specifically on his efforts, but we can try to see if there’s anything we can make available to you, okay?  Yes, sir.

Question:  On Kosovo, the Serbian Foreign Minister said yesterday that, in the event of Kosovo declaring independence, he invited the Secretary-General to declare such a proclamation null and void.  What is the Secretary-General’s competence in such an issue, which depends on really saying whether any move in relation to resolution 1244 is legal or otherwise?

Spokesperson:  I think, on Kosovo, we’re going to have to wait and see what he’ll have to say, on this issue.  I have no further guidance.

Question:  If there were to be a declaration of independence, say on Sunday or on Monday, when the United Nations is shut down, do you anticipate that the Secretary-General will make a statement in any event when it happens?

Spokesperson:  All I can tell you is that, as I mentioned, that Monday is an official holiday, but should there be any developments, as always, if the Security Council should meet, our Office will be staffed.  As always, if there are statements, we will issue them and you’ll get them in the usual way.  Yes?

Question:  On East Timor, following the attacks on Monday, I know that President [Jose] Ramos-Horta had asked that he only have Timorese protection, but there was some talk that the UN still had responsibility and failed to protect him that day.  Also Khare had said that an investigation of some intelligence it said was available before the attacks that the UN didn’t have –- he said that should be part of the investigation.  I’m wondering if there’s any conclusion to that and also if there’s any change in the plans for handover of police from the UN or change in the mandate of UNMIT [United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste]….

Spokesperson:  Let’s start from your last question.  Any change in the mandate would have to come from the Security Council.  The investigation I have nothing on, as it is ongoing.  However, your first question, I actually did answer to Matthew.  It was included later in the transcript.  If you like, I can give a summary of what was answered. 

Basically, with regard to the shooting:  contrary to press reports, there was an immediate response.  The UN police were dispatched within one minute of the operations centre receiving a call that there was a shooting near the President’s residence.  At 7, two UN police units were dispatched and arrived at the scene at 7:18, et cetera.  There’s a whole series of events that are outlined by minutes and it’s really part of the UN Mission in Timor’s press conference and the transcript of that is available.  But just to conclude, it should be noted that the President’s residence was at least 15 minutes away from the station from where the units were dispatched and that international close protection had been removed at the President’s direct request.  The immediate response was there and it is outlined in detail at the press conference given by the [acting] special representative.

Question:  There were charges that the UN failed to keep peace and security in the city, in allowing the rebels to come into the city in vehicles with Government license plates.  What’s the UN’s response to how responsible the UN was for protecting the city itself, on that level of protection?

Spokesperson:  Well, the mission was performing its duties in accordance with its mandate.  As I mentioned in specific regard to this incident, this is the response.  In specific answer to your question about the investigation, that is a separate thing that is ongoing.

Question:  On the intelligence that some say was available before the attacks –- is there actually an investigation specifically into that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  You’d have to ask the Timorese.  Yes?

Question:  On the pullout of troops from Eritrea, doesn’t this represent a significant setback for the United Nations?  Is there any plan at all that’s being evolved at the moment to try to get those troops back in at the earliest opportunity?

Spokesperson:  We had a statement, as you saw, yesterday, and I’m waiting for another statement today on the restrictions that are being put on our peacekeepers in Eritrea.  I hope that the statement will come down while I’m sitting here, but that may or may not be possible.  But, just to give you an idea of what’s going on:

In the past three days, a number of UN Mission vehicles carrying equipment and personnel from Eritrea to the designated relocation sites on the Ethiopian sites were stopped by the Eritrean Defence Forces or militia and prevented from crossing the border.  In one case, on 14 February, that’s yesterday, UN Mission personnel were threatened at gunpoint and the equipment seized.  The equipment was returned today.

Not more than six vehicles have been allowed by the Eritrean authorities to cross the border since the relocation started yesterday.  In a disturbing development, the Eritrean company that provides rations to UNMEE [the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea] informed the Mission that it “no longer has any vehicles to do business for the Mission”.  The Mission has several days of emergency rations left.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) briefed troop-contributing countries yesterday on this relocation process.  They insisted that Eritrea has an obligation to ensure that the peacekeepers relocate in dignity, safety and in an orderly manner, and also has to supply the fuel required for such relocation.

The UN is conveying this demand to the Government of Eritrea and is exploring contingency options to supply the Mission with the food and fuel necessary to continue with the relocation of Mission personnel and assets.

An emergency troop-contributing countries meeting is being called in the next few hours and the Eritrean authorities are being demarched, also today, at the highest level.  The Security Council is likewise being kept informed of these latest developments, and I understand there will be a briefing in the Council this morning.

[The Spokesperson later announced that Security Council consultations were going to he held at 3 p.m. in connection with Eritrea and Ethiopia.]

Question:  Then the Mission can’t defend itself….

Spokesperson:  The peacekeepers in Eritrea are not able to carry out their mandated tasks.  That’s correct. 

Question:  There’s a question about that.  It’s often said that the UN can only do things in countries with the consent of the Government.  It seems pretty clear that the UN no longer –- or at least that the Mission, UNMEE -– does not have the consent of Eritrea.  We’ve seen all these calls –- give us gas, give us [inaudible] –- but so often it’s said from this podium and elsewhere that the UN puts up with a lot of things because it can only have consent.  Does the UN believe it has the consent of the Government of Eritrea to have UNMEE continue there?

Spokesperson:  Does it sound like the UN has the consent of the Government to operate right now?

Question:  But the intention is to continue….

Spokesperson:  The intention of the UN has been very clear.  The Secretariat has been given a mandate by the Security Council and it is trying to do that job.  The Secretary-General and peacekeeping operations have been loudly reporting the restrictions it has been facing.  The Secretary-General has written; those letters have been made public.  DPKO, the peacekeeping operations and DFS have been informing troop-contributing countries, as I’ve just mentioned to you, but the mandate, as you know, was just extended for six more months by the Security Council.  So that’s where we are.

I did get the approved statement, so I will now read the statement on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea:

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the situation with the relocation of personnel and equipment of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, from Eritrea to designated relocation sites on the Ethiopian side.

Since the beginning of the movement of UNMEE’s advance units on 11 February, not more than six vehicles have been allowed by the Eritrean authorities to cross into Ethiopia.  A number of UNMEE vehicles were stopped by the Eritrean Defence Forces and prevented from crossing the border.  In one such case, on 14 February, UNMEE personnel were threatened and the equipment seized.  In a disturbing development, the Eritrean commercial company that provides rations to UNMEE has informed the Mission today that it will no longer be able to fulfil its contractual obligations.  The Mission has only a few days of emergency rations left.

The Secretary-General is in close contact with the Security Council and the troop-contributing countries, and the Eritrean authorities are being contacted at the highest level to seek an immediate resolution of this unacceptable situation.  The Secretary-General calls on the Eritrean authorities to cease their obstruction of the relocation of UNMEE, with their equipment.  The UN reiterates that this relocation is temporary and that Eritrea must immediately meet its international obligations to cooperate with the Mission.

So that’s what I have for you.

Question:  …food or fuel rations…?

Spokesperson:  Food, food, food.

Question:  So the majority of troops are trapped in Eritrea?

Spokesperson:  The majority of the UN peacekeeping troops, yes, are stationed in Eritrea.  In other words, they’re on the Eritrean side of the border.  That’s correct. 

Question:  But they can’t –- they’re under siege….

Spokesperson:  I think that’s pretty clear by the restrictions required.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  I want to ask about Somalia.  In the discussion today, it was said that a report of the Secretariat was supposed to be filed 8 February, I think it was.  It wasn’t filed.  When is it going to be filed?  And what’s been the reason for the hold up?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, but I’ll look into that for you.

Question:  Also, there’s a report that a Member of Parliament in Somalia was beaten by security guards at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund].  This is a report from Somalia.  And that UNICEF told the Member of Parliament that the guards can’t be charged with a crime, either because they’re immune or for some other reason.  Have you heard of this?

Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on that.  You may want to check with UNICEF.  Yes?

Question:  Some members of the Security Council said that they could not renew the Mission in Somalia without this report and that they may postpone the entire thing.  I was wondering what the Secretariat….

Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that immediately after this.  Yes?

Question:  In Thailand, the Karen National Union leader, Padu Manh Sha Laphan, was shot and killed.  Is the UN office aware about, and also is there any additional security for Burmese refugee leaders in Thailand who are fighting for the democracy movement in Burma.  Are you aware about the incident?

Spokesperson:  I’ve seen the press reports, but I don’t have any first-hand information on that.  Yes?

Question:  Once again on Kosovo -– I’m not asking about the position of the Secretary-General or the UN, but all concerned partners’ positions are well known -– the EU [European Union], United States, Serbia and the people of Kosovo.  The only partner we don’t know about is Mr. Secretary-General.  Could you explain why he keeps silent –- why it’s so difficult for him to express his views on this issue?  Independence is expected to be announced tomorrow or the day after.

Spokesperson:  As you know, it’s a very sensitive issue, and as soon as he has something to say, we’ll issue it and you’ll have it.

Question:  I assume he exchanged his views with President Bush about independence.  The United States Ambassador yesterday, hearing his statement clearly, said that Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan was the only way to solve the problem.  So does he share the views of President Bush?

Spokesperson:  They discussed the issues as they did the other issues.  That’s all I can tell you for now.  I assure you that, if there’s anything that is issued, we’ll get it to you as soon as we have it.  Yes, Ronda.

Question:  Yesterday, Andrew Wheatley made a report in the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  He said that the money for humanitarian purposes, very little of it has been received.  But there was all this money pledged at the Paris Conference, and he pointed out that maybe the question was raised, is the money from the humanitarian being sent instead to the Paris impetus, and therefore the humanitarian will be short funded.  Do you know, is the Secretary-General or is there anybody looking into that and trying to make sure that all this money supposedly for the Paris efforts and yet the humanitarian is really underfunded?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know if you heard Philippo Grandi also mentioning today the needs for humanitarian purposes for the Palestinian refugees.  But in terms of funding, without specifically going into what you referred to, often there’s follow up that needs to go into pledges being made.  Pledges are one thing, but then the actual money coming in is something different.  You’d have to follow up with OCHA to see what the current situation is on that. 

Question:  I know I asked before, but specifically on the UNMIT mandate and the plans to hand over from the UN police to the East Timor police, I know the final decision will be made by the Security Council, but the recommendations would come from the Secretariat.  I wonder whether there are any plans to change the recommendations for the handover or for the mandate.

Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that for today.  Okay? 

Alright, on this note, have a good weekend.  Hopefully, you’ll have a good three-day weekend.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.