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

5 February 2009

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

5 February 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.

Good afternoon, all.

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Madagascar.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Madagascar

The Secretary-General remains concerned about the tense political situation in Madagascar.  At the invitation of the Government of Madagascar, he is dispatching Haile Menkerios, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, to assess the situation in the country and explore what the United Nations could do to help avert further violence and contribute towards peace and stability in Madagascar.  Mr. Menkerios will visit Madagascar from 7 to 10 February and will hold meetings with Government officials and others concerned.

**Gaza/Guest at Noon

On Gaza, the World Food Programme (WFP) is working to distribute more than 40,000 ready-to-eat meals, which will help feed sick and injured patients in hospitals across the Strip.  Those meal packages contain items such as canned meat, chicken curry, cheese and biscuits.  They are being handed out in addition to WFP’s normal distributions to 365,000 Gazans affected by conflict and food shortages.  Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that it desperately needs materials to make the plastic bags it uses for food distributions, as well as paper for schoolbooks.

You’ll hear more about that from our guest today, John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, who is joining us from Gaza via video-link in a few minutes.

**Secretary-General in India

The Secretary-General is in India, the last stop of his two-week travels through Europe, Africa and Asia.  Earlier today, he accepted the Sustainable Development Leadership Award in New Delhi and, upon receiving the Award, he stressed that combating climate change will need all our leadership, all our commitment, all our ingenuity.  By facing up to this crisis, he said, we have been given an exciting opportunity to make progress on a wide range of sustainable development issues.  It is an opportunity we must seize.

He added that, earlier in the day, he had heard some positive messages from CEOs of Indian industry about how they plan to respond to climate change issues.  He emphasized that green growth is the abiding trend of the times.  We have that speech upstairs.

The Secretary-General also met today with his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, who briefed on the outcome of his recent visit to Myanmar from 31 January to 3 February.  The Secretary-General took note that his Special Adviser was able to continue his consultations with both the Government of Myanmar, including Prime Minister Thein Sein, and key members of the opposition, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as other relevant interlocutors.  The Secretary-General looks forward to building on this visit with a view to further promoting national dialogue and reconciliation through his good offices.  The Secretary-General calls on the Government and opposition to resume substantive dialogue without preconditions and without further delay.

The Secretary-General met in the afternoon with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, with whom he discussed the regional situation following the Mumbai attacks, the Secretary-General’s efforts to foster regional cooperation and India’s important role in dealing with climate change.  He also discussed the regional security situation following the Mumbai attacks with Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.  They also talked about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka and progress in Nepal.

And the Secretary-General met later in the day with Sonia Gandhi, leader of the United Progressive Alliance, and discussed development and climate change issues with her.  The Secretary-General is expected back in New York tomorrow.

** Pakistan

The Secretary-General, in a letter sent earlier this week to the President of the Security Council, announced his intention to establish a three-member Commission of Inquiry to determine the facts and the circumstances of the 2007 assassination of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto.  In his letter, the Secretary-General presented the draft terms of reference for the Commission, in which it would have a mandate of no more than six months, and would not have the duty of carrying out a criminal investigation.  That duty, he writes, would remain with the Pakistani authorities.

He adds that the Commission would be composed of a panel of three eminent personalities having the appropriate experience and a reputation for probity and impartiality.  The Council President, in a reply, said the Council takes note of the Secretary-General’s intentions, with appreciation.  Both letters are on the racks.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work this morning by hearing a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Sudan, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, on the latest report on the Sudan, which we flagged to you yesterday.  We have copies of his briefing in my office.  Mr. Qazi stressed that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement remains fundamental to peace in the Sudan.  “ Sudan’s parties and leaders, and indeed, the international community,” he said, “will be judged by the people of Sudan on whether or not they deliver peace to them.”  The Council members then held consultations on the Sudan.

I’ll stop for a second, just to say greetings to John.  Happy to have you back.

** Darfur

The joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, completed a two-day visit to Chad, where he met with the leader of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Khalil Ibrahim.  The consultations are part of UNAMID’s efforts to establish good working relations with all parties involved in the Darfur conflict and recent developments in Muhajeriya.  Khalik Ibrahim informed the Special Representative that JEM had decided to pull out of Muhajeriya after the UNAMID peacekeepers’ decision to remain in the area and following appeals by the Secretary-General to ensure that the local population be kept out of imminent danger.

UNAMID today confirmed the withdrawal.  We are expecting a press release from UNAMID shortly.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is travelling to Kinshasa, where he will arrive tomorrow.  He will conduct a four-day visit there focusing on maintaining attention on urgent humanitarian issues.  These include the need for concrete steps to end the violence in eastern Congo.  He will also advocate for an end to violence against civilians, including sexual violence against women.

Holmes is expected to travel widely across the vast country, meeting with national and local authorities, as well as with internally displaced people, their host families, and others working to address the humanitarian crises. 

The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) yesterday separated 28 children from the armed groups with which they were associated.  Surrendering the children in their ranks, a process facilitated by the Mission, is among the requirements for these groups to be integrated into the national army.  The Mission notes that 16 of the 28 children were associated with the CNDP rebel group.  Others were in the ranks of various ethnic Mayi Mayi and PARECO groups.  Yesterday’s action brings to more than 220 the number of children separated from armed groups by the Mission in the past week alone.

The children are now in the custody of UNICEF, whose teams will prepare them to reintegrate into civilian life.  The Mission thanked the Congolese authorities for working towards a full integration of the army.  It also renewed its appeal to all parties to continue to support this initiative, prevent children from being sent to the front and to help separate them from armed groups.

** Cyprus

The Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, met yesterday under United Nations auspices in Nicosia.  Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, noted that the leaders had continued their discussions on the property issue.  Following what Zerihoun called a “good round of substantive discussion”, the leaders agreed to continue their talks next week, on the afternoon of 12 February.  The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, will arrive on the island that morning, so he will attend that meeting.  We have more on that upstairs in my Office.

** Abkhazia , Georgia

Available today is a report by the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.  Referring to the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia, he says that the overall security situation in its area of responsibility since its mandate was extended on 9 October 2008 has remained tense.  He notes that the Mission has continued its work on both sides of the ceasefire line without major impediments, but the context in which the Mission operates has changed fundamentally.  For example, the status of the Moscow Agreement, which provided the basis for its mandate and the ceasefire regime, is, at best, no longer clear, and the Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping force, on which the Mission had to rely for its own security, is no longer in place.  In that regard, the Secretary-General says the Mission’s position has become precarious and could rapidly become unsustainable.  The Secretary-General also notes that the Geneva discussions on security and stability, co-chaired by the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations, have yet to deliver tangible results.  In that context, he calls upon the parties to redouble their efforts towards an agreement on security, as well as issues related to refugees and internally displaced persons.

The Secretary-General concludes that, because of the precarious security situation and in order to contribute to the well-being of local populations, the Security Council should endorse the continued presence of a United Nations mission, retaining the current configuration and deployment.  That was on the report on Abkhazia, Georgia.

** Thailand

United Nations refugee agency Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie spent yesterday visiting a refugee camp in northern Thailand.  The camp, 3 kilometres from the Myanmar border, is home to more than 18,000 mainly Karenni refugees.  After listening to the stories, Ms. Jolie called on the Thai Government to grant greater freedom of movement to Myanmar refugees in northern Thailand.  Jolie’s visit comes as attention has been focused on the large numbers of Rohingya migrants fleeing Myanmar in rickety boats.  UNHCR recently gained access to 78 Rohingya boat people in detention in southern Thailand.  There is more information upstairs.


And finally, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has called for measures to preserve the wreck of the British warship HMS Victory.  The ship sank in the English Channel in 1744 and was recently found by a commercial deep-sea exploration company.  UNESCO stressed the need to protect this historic find, in light of its Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which entered into force last month.

The Royal Navy ship is believed to contain a large amount of gold.  It sank during a storm, killing approximately 1,000 men aboard.

This is all I have for you today.  I will answer briefly your questions, so we can go as quickly as possible to John, who is on the other side of the line.

**Questions and Answers

Question:   You indicated at the outset that the Assistant Secretary-General would travel to Madagascar to talk to the officials there and others.  Is this undertaken within the context of preventive diplomacy?  And also, will he meet with the Mayor of the capital?  As you know, the Mayor has been dismissed by the Government –- would he meet with him?

Spokesperson:     Yes, we are fully aware of the situation.  I don’t know yet at this point who Mr. Menkerios is going to meet.  There is no doubt that this is no longer preventive diplomacy -– it is diplomacy, period.  In the sense that the events have already occurred, and he is going there to see what can be done.

Question:   Michèle, welcome back.  Did you enjoy your visit?  Did you go to Pakistan?

Spokesperson:     No, I did not.  I came back before that.

Question:   And I wonder if I can find out from you -– the Secretary-General yesterday announced in Pakistan the formation of a commission, but he didn’t announce the names.  It is being said that one name that is being suggested is one of an American diplomat, Peter Galbraith.  Is that a fact that he is being considered, or not?

Spokesperson:     I cannot confirm.  We will not be announcing the actual composition until we have all members of the Commission agreed upon.

Question:   How many will it be?

Spokesperson:     As far as I know, three.  All three are not known yet.

Question:   In regards to the Commission, why now?  How long has… has this been in process for a while now, I mean…

Spokesperson:     Are you talking about the Commission on Bhutto?

Question:   Yes.  The assassination was in December 2007 –- what is the impetus for the Secretary-General to seek a commission now?

Spokesperson:     Well, as you know, it is not now.  For the last few months, there have been discussions.  There was a request made during the General Assembly by the President of Pakistan.  That request was actually made before that –- it was a formal request made during the General Assembly.  There have been discussions for quite a few months now between the Secretary-General -- his office, of course -- and members of the Pakistani Government.  So this has been going on for quite a while.  They were discussing, of course, what shape that request could take –- I mean, would it be an investigation, what type of commission it would be.  And we have that information right now in the two letters, the one that was sent to the Security Council and the Security Council answer, and they are both on the racks.

Question:   There are increasing reports of North Korea preparing to test a long-range missile, and South Korea has said that would violate, you know, United Nations resolutions.  Is this something that the UN Secretariat is monitoring or concerned about, or has any statement on?

Spokesperson:     We have no statement on that, and we are monitoring the situation.

Question:   There is also… Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Pakistan says that they have written to the Secretary-General, some sort of an appeal to not be put on a sanctions list.  Has that letter been received by the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:     Not that I know of, but, of course, we can find out a little later today.  If it is received at a later date, I will let you know.

Question:   Okay, and this is sort of a weird question, but this report that you said on Abkhazia, Georgia.  The Council now no longer uses these words.  In the programme of work this month it is just called a meeting on resolution 1839.  They have totally dropped this.  Is there something to this?  Is the Secretariat going to continue… is this a conscious decision to continue to call it Abkhazia, Georgia, or was it printed before the Security Council renamed the Mission?

Spokesperson:     No, it was the name that was given before, at the time when the mandate was given.  So, unless it is changed by the Security Council, it is the way it is going to be called.

Question:   Is the Secretary-General announcing the names of the Commission when he comes back from his trip to South Asia?

Spokesperson:     We hope so.

Question:   At that point, it will be final?

Spokesperson:     Sure, I hope so.

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