Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

6 January 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

6 January 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon again.  I said good morning earlier.

** Gaza

The Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., right now, where he and his wife, Ban Soon-taek, are having lunch with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.  Speaking to reporters yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said that, in his meeting with President Bush, he would stress the importance of bringing the violent situation in Gaza to an immediate halt, with durable and permanent systems which can be respected fully by all the parties concerned.  He said they would also discuss how to bring humanitarian assistance to the civilian population who are suffering from the current situation.

The Secretary-General was speaking after he met with a delegation of Arab foreign ministers and other senior officials here at Headquarters, saying afterward that they had a very good exchange of views on the security situation in Gaza and southern Israel.  He said that the meeting provided an excellent and appropriate opportunity to discuss how to bring the violence to an immediate end and restore peace and stability in the region.  The Secretary-General added that the participants at the meeting agreed to discuss a credible mechanism to ensure the protection of the Palestinian people, as well as humanitarian assistance.  He believed that there had been a convergence of opinions on the major elements, which can be the basis of the discussion at the Security Council.  We have a transcript of this press encounter yesterday afternoon upstairs.


Most of you heard earlier the remarks made and the information given by John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  He was speaking to you from Gaza by video-link.  For those of you who were not there, I would say that he said that the school in Jabaliya camp was being used as a shelter when three artillery shells landed there.  The latest casualty figures, he said, were for some 30 deaths, as well as 55 injured.

In addition, Ging said, there was an earlier missile strike on a school in Gaza City, where three men were killed.  Also, this morning, in Bureij camp, a house was targeted near a United Nations health centre, and 10 people in the health centre were injured in collateral damage.  Ging said that the United Nations has provided GPS coordinates to Israel about all United Nations locations, including schools, and has updated them recently.  He added that militants have not violated the sanctity of United Nations facilities and that it would be unacceptable for them to do so.

Meanwhile, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Monday called for strict adherence to humanitarian principles in the continuing conflict in Gaza, including respect for the universal rights of those fleeing war to seek safety in other States.

**Security Council

The Security Council will hold a formal meeting on the Middle East at 5 this afternoon.  The Secretary-General will speak about the latest developments in Gaza and southern Israel at that meeting, which is to be chaired by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.  Earlier, the Security Council, in closed consultations, agreed on its programme of work for this month, and on the chairmanship of its bureaux for 2009.  It also agreed that Burkina Faso and Mexico will represent the Security Council on the Peacebuilding Commission in 2009.

** Somalia

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) has condemned today’s killing of a WFP staff member in southern Somalia.  Josette Sheeran urged all parties to the worsening conflict there to protect humanitarian workers.  According to WFP, three masked gunmen shot and killed 44-year-old Somali national Ibrahim Hussein Duale.  He was monitoring school feeding at a village in the Gedo region at the time.  Witnesses say the gunmen approached Duale while he was seated, ordered him to stand up and then shot him.

Duale is the third staff member killed in Somalia since last August.  He leaves behind a wife and five children.  WFP currently feeds more than 1.5 million people in Somalia.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

A team from the United Nations refugee agency, along with other UN colleagues, carried out a mission over the weekend to two towns in Orientale Province, which have seen bloody attacks in recent weeks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  More than 70 people were killed in the town of Faradje when it was attacked nearly two weeks ago.  An estimated 37,000 people were displaced; most of them are still hiding in the bush.  According to local sources, LRA kidnapped 225 people, including 160 children.  I guess you were asking about that recently.  In addition, more than 80 women were raped.

The town of Nagero was attacked this past Saturday.  At least eight people were killed and another 3,500 displaced.  The mission said the town had been pillaged and destroyed by fire.  More than 800 houses, 3 schools, Government buildings and medical facilities were all burned to the ground.  In addition, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says it has received sketchy reports of another attack yesterday on the village of Napopo, in which up to eight people were killed and houses set ablaze.  An unknown number of people were reportedly kidnapped in that attack.  There is more information in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.

**Internally Displaced Persons

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has a new report on internally displaced persons in Central and East Africa.  As of last month, there were more than 9 million IDPs [internally displaced persons] in that region.  Nearly three quarters of them were in the greater Horn of Africa, reflecting the combined internal displacement from crises in the Sudan and Somalia.  The displacements are triggered mainly by intra-State conflicts and natural disasters or, in many cases, both, the report says.  Scarcity of resources, limited access to land, and inconclusive peace and reconciliation processes create multiple challenges.  Humanitarian response is often hampered by a lack of access caused by ongoing conflict or high insecurity, including the targeting of humanitarian workers.  The report is available on OCHA’s website, so you can access it yourselves.

** Indonesia Earthquake

In Indonesia, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF and the International Labour Organization yesterday conducted a joint rapid assessment of areas in West Papua Province, hard-hit by a series of earthquakes on 4 January.  The United Nations agencies also reviewed what assistance could be provided to local authorities in the affected areas, if required.  An estimated 14,000 people who fled their damaged homes or left their houses fearing more earthquakes or aftershocks have sought accommodation in displaced people’s shelters.

**Guests at Noon Briefing Tomorrow

And finally, our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Robert Serry, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief on the situation in Gaza.

That’s all I have for you today.  Enrique is with me.  If you have any questions for the presidency of the General Assembly, of course, he would be quite willing to answer them. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is any statement or press encounter planned after the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Bush?

Spokesperson:  No, there are no press encounters.  It is a private meeting.  It is going to be a lunch.  The Secretary-General said what he was going -– one of the issues that he was going to raise.  I will try to get a readout for you, but the Secretary-General’s schedule is quite tight.  He is meeting, as you know, President [Mahmoud] Abbas and then, afterwards, he is going to go to the Security Council.  So I don’t think there will be any time for any press…

Question:  Maybe in Washington?

Spokesperson:  No, no.  There will be none, no.  From either side.

Question:  You said -- and thanks for this update on LRA, these attacks -- there is two things.  One, there is a report of a letter from LRA to Joachim Chissano, the UN Mediator, asking him to convene an urgent meeting.  Is that … is the UN prepared to confirm that he got that letter, and what’s the…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll find out for you whether the letter was received, but, as you know, every time there was a possibility of signing an agreement, the LRA side did not show up to sign that agreement.  So I don’t know what the letter is about, but I will let you know when we receive it.

Question:  And also, has MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] been able to send -– I understand that they are obviously tied up in the Kivus, but have they been able to send any additional forces or anything to try to protect civilians or track down these LRA groups as they go towards the Central African Republic?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can try -– I will confirm, I will see with them, and you can yourself call DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and find out whether there have been any movement of troops to protect that area.  But you know we don’t have already enough on the ground to protect the civilian population in those different areas.

Question:  Is it known whether any of the 3,000 that were authorized –- have any new personnel arrived in MONUC since the passage of the Security Council resolution authorizing additional forces?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information yet, but we can get it also for you.

[The Spokesperson later informed the reporter that, from the 2007 Secretary-General’s Report on the activities of the Ethics Office (see official document A/62/285, paragraphs 54 and 55), there were 52 protection against retaliation cases considered.  From the 2008 Secretary-General’s Report on the activities of the Office (see official document A/63/301, paragraphs 48 -5), there were 45 cases considered.  Further details can be found in those reports.]

Question:  Sorry if I missed that, but, if you offered a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Bush, if any special message was conveyed by the Secretary-General regarding the speed of the resolution that is going on and that so many countries are not satisfied with… regarding the Middle East.

Spokesperson:  Okay, I will say what I said earlier:  it is a private meeting.  As you know, it is a farewell lunch between Mr. and Mrs. Ban on one side and President Bush and Mrs. Bush on the other side.  As he said yesterday, he said he was going to raise the issue of Gaza.  I don’t have any readout yet.  As you know, it has not taken place yet.  So as soon as I get a readout –- if I get one -– I will, of course, share it with you.  But I do not expect anything extensive since it is a private affair.  The Secretary-General, yesterday, when he was coming out of the meeting with the Arab Group, did say what he was planning to raise.

Question:  There have been some reports that General [Laurent] Nkunda has been overthrown by his own men.  Can the United Nations confirm this?  And also, when was the last time that the United Nations spoke with him?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are unable to confirm or deny the press reports that we have received -– that you have –- on General Nkunda.  The CNDP has informed MONUC that the same CNDP delegation that participated in the talks late last year will be travelling to Nairobi, Kenya, to participate in the resumed talks with UN Special Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo.  It’s vital, and I think it’s vital to say that all parties remain committed to these talks as we continue efforts to seek a peaceful settlement.  So we will be focusing on that.  In terms of the actual press report, we don’t have any confirmation. 

Question:  When that communication about the same delegation –- when was that received?

Spokesperson:  Earlier this morning.

Question:  And if you don’t mind, there is one thing that came over the, I guess, at the time when it was all Gaza briefings:  there was this article in the Wall Street Journal about retaliation.  It focused on the Ethics Office here.  It said the UN Ethics Office, in a 12-month period, got 45 complaints; 18 warranted preliminary review.  Seems like the UN gave that information to the Wall Street Journal -– how many of those 18 have resulted in any protection for whistle-blowers?  What has been the outcome of those inquiries?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll get that information from the Ethics Office for you.  We’ll forward that concern.

[The reporter was later informed that operations against LRA elements are being led by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Southern Sudan.  While MONUC troops have not been involved in the planning or implementation of these operations, they are providing some logistical assistance to FARDC troops in support of efforts to protect the civilian population.  While there have been some pledges to MONUC for extra resources, overall troop contributing countries have not been forthcoming.  We continue to appeal to troop contributing countries to step forward with firm commitments for the additional authorized troops that are urgently needed on the ground.  In the meantime, MONUC forces continue to make every effort possible with the resources and manpower available.]

Question:  Sorry to ask this, but it has been about two weeks.  Has there been any information about Mr. Fowler and his disappearance in Niger?  Has there been any communication to the UN or any… nothing at all?  Just silence?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything yet.

Question:  Was the Secretary-General and President Bush’s meeting organized or planned in advance, or was it last-minute?

Spokesperson:  Yes, the meeting was planned way in advance.

Question:  And also, how does the Secretary-General see the solution to the Palestinian issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, yesterday, you should have been there when you had a possibility to ask him the question.  I have been talking about this for days now, since I have been back.  Yesterday, you had a stakeout, the Secretary-General was there and answered the questions that were asked of him on the Palestinian issue.  So there is nothing more I can add.

Question:  But there is a deadlock, nobody can find an avenue to a solution.  The Security Council is not agreeing on a resolution, and we are not sure if the General Assembly will convene or not.  What is the Secretary-General doing specifically?

Spokesperson:  I will suggest that you go to our previous briefings, and you will have a series of phone calls that the Secretary-General has been making.  He has been on the phone practically every day, for seven or eight phone calls a day, on the issue of Gaza.  So I think what he has been doing is obvious.  As you know, the foreign ministers of a number of Arab States are here, they met with the Secretary-General yesterday, the Secretary-General is going to go to the Security Council meeting this afternoon.  So what more can I say?  He is very concerned, he has condemned, he has appealed, he has done a number of things, which you can find in all his statements, and they are available upstairs.  You can have all that.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Question:  On this current issue of Gaza, what is the status?  How is the President… the President is still following with the full…, is he concerned, what is he doing regarding the Security Council since he was there?  And what’s the status of any kind of preparation for the possible alternative resolution, if the Security Council fails to go forward with it?

Spokesperson:  Well, the President of the General Assembly is following very closely the deliberations of the Security Council and all the international efforts to bring peace to the region.  And he has been discussing with several ambassadors, as I mentioned yesterday, during these days and also this morning, what are different options available inside the Organization to try to get a solution of the crisis that we are all witnessing.

And as I said yesterday, the bottom line here from the President’s point of view is that the Security Council should be dealing with this issue to reach peace -– what it was designed for –- but not to block peace.  And it is not very encouraging what we have seen in the last 11 days, since all this crisis has started.  And the President of the General Assembly is very frustrated, he is very concerned, and he is not the only one.  Several Member States are coming to see him and trying to see what are the different options that are at hand to discuss it.  A decision -– let me add this –- a decision has not been taken yet because usually we all expect the Security Council finally to take a strong resolution to see whether it can help to bring peace in Gaza.

Question:  What countries are talking?

Spokesperson:  He has been talking to several countries from Latin America, Europe… You probably are aware that yesterday the Non-Aligned Movement issued a very strong press release calling for the Security Council to fulfil its mandate and try to get an agreement among the current members and to deal with the situation.  As I said, it is not very encouraging that after 11 days the bombs are still falling over the civilian population in Gaza.  Today we have these terrible reports of schools being bombed, and we have not been able, at the Security Council, still to make a statement asking for a ceasefire.  And, as I said -- and I underline it again -- the President of the General Assembly is very frustrated, very worried, and he is sharing this opinion with many other Member States, who are seeing what are the other options that can be taken quickly.

Question:  Did he, and how often does he, talk with the Secretary-General regarding that issue?  And did he have any formal talks with Presidents of any country?  Presidents or high officials?

Spokesperson:  The political [inaudible] the situation in the Middle East is rather complex and there are many diplomatic efforts going on, and the President of the General Assembly is not going to interfere in that.  We have the Quartet, we have the Secretary-General himself, we have President [Nicolas] Sarkozy now there, and so he is not talking directly to the leaders involved -– he is talking to the Member States here.  And also, as you can imagine, he has a very fluid relation and communication with the Secretary-General, and they have been discussing this issue, both of them, quite often.  And they just had another meeting yesterday, and they discussed it again.

Question:  What did they discuss at that meeting?

Spokesperson:  The situation…

Question:  Is the Secretary-General supporting the President of the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, they are both trying to make their utmost effort to get peace in the region.  Both, in their different capacities, are doing what their respective mandate is.  The Secretary-General is doing what his mandate is, and -- I don’t need to repeat his views here -- and the President of the General Assembly also, in his capacity as the President of the General Assembly, is respecting the work -- what is going on -- in the Security Council right now, but, as with many other Member States, believes that it is very disappointing what is coming out.

Question:  There is a report that Malaysia has contacted the President of the General Assembly, asking him to hold a United Nations special assembly.  What communication has he received from Malaysia?

Spokesperson:  Malaysia is one of the Member States who has expressed very openly the need for this issue to be addressed, if there is no agreement in the Security Council, in the General Assembly.  And they have been talking directly with the President of the General Assembly about the Gaza crisis.

Question:  But is this in the form of a letter or by the Permanent Representative meeting with the President?

Spokesperson:  The Permanent Representative met with him yesterday.

Question:  Like, letters –- I know you put on your website the letters that he writes.  Are letters that you receive -– are you going to make them available?

Spokesperson:  There are many letters coming, as you can imagine, to the President of the General Assembly on this particular issue -– one from Palestine, some from many others.  But I don’t recall now whether he got a letter or… but as I said, I can confirm that the Permanent Representative of Malaysia met with the President of the General Assembly yesterday to discuss precisely the situation in Gaza and what are the options that the Member States have.  Again, the President of the General Assembly, as I said, is very worried, but it is Member States who must decide what is the action and what is the best instance to discuss this issue.  And the President of the General Assembly, as I already mentioned yesterday, is open, has made himself available to the Member States to see what they believe is the best option to try to deal with this crisis right now.

Question:  Is Richard Falk coming to New York?

Spokesperson:  You are particularly interested in Mr. Falk.  Any particular reason?  No, I am joking, I am joking.  The President of the General Assembly -- and Richard Falk is one of the advisers of the President on this particular issue -- he was travelling when all this crisis started, and he has been talking with him on the phone and by e-mail.  And he is going to be coming in the coming days.  I think it is either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.  But they are in close contact, and he has been asking and seeking his advice on this particular issue.

Question:  This Commission on Financial Reform that you mentioned yesterday, is there any readout, even after it is after only one or two days?  And also, what’s the goal –- are they going to come out with a report?  I don’t exactly understand what that Commission is doing.

Spokesperson:  The Commission is going to meet for two days.  Yesterday was the first day, today is the second day.  They will finish their preliminary work today.  Today it is basically the first meeting, so they have –- I mean, these two days are the first meetings where the whole Commission has been working together.  They are now trying to decide on the calendar, on the methodology and how they are going to be working together.  In the work plan that we have for this particular issue, the Commission of Experts is supposed, unless they change their plans, to meet three times before the Summit.  This is the first time, there might be a second time, probably around February or early March, maybe in Geneva -– it has not been decided yet.  They will have a third meeting and the idea is to produce a document that they will be presenting to Member States as the base for discussion for the Summit that will be taking place here in New York to discuss the financial architecture.  And that Summit has no date yet, but it will take place, most likely at the beginning of June, early June.

There are some documents available, by the way, on the President of the General Assembly web page, if you are interested:  the whole list of people who are participating, etc.  We might issue a note later today on the outcome of the meeting.  I didn’t raise the issue today because I thought you were all very much focused on Gaza.

No more questions?  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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