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

20 January 2009

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

20 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 briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Spokesperson’s briefing was preceded by the update on the humanitarian situation in Gaza by John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) via video link from Gaza, and John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General visited Gaza this morning to demonstrate his solidarity with the population of Gaza, and to assure them of the United Nations and the international community’s full support.

He visited the UN Relief and Works Agency compound that was bombed last week, and he said: “I am just appalled,” adding, “It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations.”  He reiterated that he has asked for a full investigation and to make those responsible accountable.

He added that he will dispatch a humanitarian needs assessment team on Thursday, led by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.  Mr. Holmes should be here shortly to talk to you about that assessment needs team.  The Secretary-General asserted: “I will do all I can, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, to help in this time of need.”

The Secretary-General met earlier today with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  During the meeting the Secretary-General once again expressed his relief that Israel had declared a unilateral ceasefire.  He stressed the importance of the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and of putting a framework in place to ensure a durable and sustainable end to the violence.

The Secretary-General informed Prime Minister Olmert that the United Nations would continue to play a pivotal role in providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, as well as in long-term recovery and reconstruction.

In addition to visiting Gaza, the Secretary-General will also visit the town of Sderot in southern Israel.

The Secretary-General firmly believes that a true end to violence, and true security for both Israelis and Palestinians, will only come through a just and comprehensive settlement to the long-festering Arab-Israeli conflict, including the creation of the State of Palestine, living side by side with the State of Israel in peace and security, consistent with relevant Security Council resolutions.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on the Great Lakes Region, Olusegun Obasanjo, met today in Kinshasa with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The President briefed the Special Envoy on the ongoing joint DRC-Rwanda operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group.  These operations are expected to continue for some weeks.  The political dialogue for lasting peace in the eastern DRC continues with the facilitation and mediation of Special Envoy Obasanjo and former President Benjamin Mkapa.

Still on the DR Congo, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that civilians displaced by repeated raids by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are in dire need of food, shelter, medicines, clothes and other aid items.  Reaching them, however, poses immense logistical challenges because of a general lack of roads or the poor conditions of the few roads available.

The Lord’s Resistance Army has renewed its assault on Congolese civilians in recent days in the Haut Uele region.  UNHCR estimates that LRA raids have displaced some 135,000 people, with more than 560 killed in the past four months.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has urged the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia to press ahead towards the full realization of the Djibouti Agreement.

Ould-Abdallah notes that the parties’ joint High-Level Committee is meeting today in Djibouti to discuss expanding the Parliament and forming a unity Government.  Members of the international community are also present at the talks.  “This is a key moment for Somalia and it is extremely important to get it right, after almost two decades of violence,” he said.

** Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, available as a document today is a report by the Peacebuilding Commission’s mission, which travelled to the Central African Republic two months ago.

The mission, led by Ambassador Jan Grauls of Belgium, stressed the crucial importance of an inclusive political dialogue to ensure that all groups, including the opposition, civil society and rebel groups, have ownership of that dialogue.  A date for that dialogue had been set shortly after the Peacebuilding Commission mission visited the country.

** Thailand

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today asked the Government of Thailand for access to two groups of Rohingya boat people who -- sources tell the Agency -- are being held in custody in the southern part of the country.

UNHCR wants to meet with all 126 of them to see if any require international protection.  This comes after the Refugee Agency expressed strong concern to the Thai Government over allegations that large groups of Rohingya were intercepted in Thai waters, towed out to sea and left to die.

The Rohingya are stateless Muslims from northern Rakhine state in Myanmar.  For several years now, many of them have been desperate enough to risk their lives in small boats sailing from Bangladesh or Myanmar.

UNHCR hopes to discuss with the Thai Government ways to defuse the current crisis in line with international humanitarian standards, and how countries in the region can address the root causes that impel them to put their lives at risk on such perilous journeys.

** Durban Review Conference

On the Anti-Racism Review Conference, also known as the Durban Review Conference, members of a working group established to negotiate and finalize a draft outcome document began formal negotiations on Monday, yesterday.  The Review Conference itself will take place in Geneva from 20–24 April.

To better keep you in the loop, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has launched a new website with information on the Review Conference and its preparatory process.  You can visit it at www.un.org/durbanreview2009.

The Office is also creating a list of journalists who would like to get regular updates on this topic.  If you’re interested in being on that list, please see the Office’s latest media advisory, which we have upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, there will be a world premiere of a documentary called Planet UN.  This documentary, which is produced and directed by French filmmaker Romuald Sciora, highlights the challenges faced by the UN in the twenty-first century.

The Deputy Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Kiyotaka Akasaka and the Permanent Representatives of France and Switzerland will deliver opening remarks at the premiere.

Prior to the premiere, at 1 p.m. tomorrow, Mr. Akasaka, Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships, and Mr. Sciora will be here, in this room, to talk about the documentary.  We have more information on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference

As you’ll recall, we told you that the Secretary-General was scheduled to brief you at 11 a.m., tomorrow, on his trip to the Middle East.  As his return is now delayed, we will let you know as soon as we can confirm when he can brief you upon his return.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesperson:  I know that I said we would have a noon briefing at 11.  What we will do is put the additional information on our website, because I know that everyone is looking at the other event that you were mentioning […] do you have something?

Question:  Yes, I just have one question.  I was wondering, there are some reports that about 2,000 troops from Rwanda have gone to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Can you confirm this?

Spokesperson:  Yes, indeed.  From what I understand it was a bilateral agreement between the two Governments.

Question:  What role is the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) playing…?

Spokesperson:  MONUC has no role in it.

Spokesperson:  No role?

Spokesperson:  No role whatsoever.

Question:  Will there be a transcript of the press conference or whatever the Secretary-General had in Gaza and a summary of his activities while there?

Spokesperson:  Yes, definitely.  We will have that.  At the beginning, I just gave a summary of his trip.

Question:  Two related items, there’s a report that, in Turkmenistan, the Government has fired a number of ministers and done what’s called… similar to the previous ruler there.  And there’s also a report that the Secretary-General has written the President of Turkmenistan saying that he’s going to visit in 2009.  Can you confirm that letter -- that he is going to visit in 2009?  Does either he or the head of the regional centre that they set up in Ashgabat have any comment on what’s called “the purge” by the Government there?

Spokesperson:  As for comments, no, we don’t have any comment.  In terms of the letter itself, I’ll check for you whether the letter was sent by the Secretary-General.

Thank you so much.

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