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

11 February 2009

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

11 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.

**Press Conferences Today

Immediately after my briefing I will be moderating a press conference with Sylvie Lucas, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and Permanent Representative of Luxembourg, and Nikhil Seth, Director of the ECOSOC Support and Coordination Office of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  They are coming to brief you on the work of ECOSOC in 2009.

Following that briefing, at 1:30 p.m., UNICEF will hold a joint press conference with “V-Day”, to launch the “Turning Pain to Power” tour of five cities.  This tour is in support of UNICEF and V-Day’s campaign to expose the impact of rape on Congolese women.  Speakers will be Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director; Eve Ensler, playwright and founder of V-Day; and Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director and founder of Panzi General Referral Hospital and winner of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2008.

** Afghanistan

We expect a statement a little later today -- in a few minutes, in fact -- on Afghanistan.  But in the meantime, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that this morning’s terrorist attacks in Kabul targeted people and institutions committed to building a better future for the country.

Eide said that the civil servants that were killed and wounded were serving the people of Afghanistan, while other civilians have also lost their lives.  He said his thoughts are with their families.

** Iraq

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the targeting of pilgrims during the journey from Baghdad to Karbala.

He described the bombings as “clearly designed to provoke sectarian tensions, even though the people of Iraq had clearly indicated through their votes on 31 January that they wish to put that sad phase of Iraqi history well behind them”.  He called on all Iraqis not to rise to the provocations of extremists.  We have his full statement upstairs.

** Darfur

The escalation in the level of violence in Darfur signals an investment in conflict rather than a serious commitment to peaceful negotiations.  That is what the Secretary-General says in his latest report to the Security Council on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

He deplores the violence and its consequences for the civilian population, and he reiterates his condemnation of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement’s (JEM) attack on Muhajiriya and the Government of the Sudan’s use of aerial bombing.

Regarding UNAMID deployment, he notes that the provision of necessary outstanding equipment, in particular military helicopter assets, remains critical to increasing the mobility and operational impact of the Mission.  The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal to Member States who are in a position to provide these mission-critical capabilities to do so without further delay.

He also calls on Member States with influence over the parties to engage actively in support of the AU-UN Joint Chief Mediator’s efforts to work with the parties towards a negotiated political solution.

The Joint Mediator, Djibril Yipènè Bassolé, yesterday welcomed the Sudanese Government and JEM to Qatar for preliminary talks being held under his auspices.  This is the first time the two parties have met since the Abuja talks in 2007.  It is a preliminary step towards a cessation of hostilities and establishing the framework for a future peace agreement.

The UNAMID Mission, meanwhile, reports carjackings this week involving vehicles belonging to UNAMID as well as to the International Organization for Migration.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The search continues for some 150 Rwandan ethnic Hutu fighters and their dependents who have gone missing from a disarmament site in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The UN Mission (MONUC) says that one of its disarmament teams remains in the region to encourage the former fighters and their dependents to join the repatriation drive.  Despite this incident, the Mission says that close to 800 former Rwandan fighters and dependents have now left North Kivu for Rwanda.

Meanwhile, in the South Kivu Province, some 330 Rwandan refugees, including 63 former fighters, were sent back home on Monday.  Another 55 former fighters, including 12 from the ranks of the FDLR [Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda], made the trip yesterday.  This brings to more than 500 the total of former Rwandan Hutu fighters and dependents who have been sent back home since the start of this month.  The Mission also says that an additional group of 98 children have been extracted from the ranks of various eastern Congolese armed groups.  That’s more than 350 children who have been turned in by armed groups to the UN Mission in the past two weeks alone.

** Chad-Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), together with UN agencies, facilitated a second humanitarian mission to the Chadian village of Daha, on Chad’s border with the Central African Republic.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 100 people continue to arrive in Chad from the Central African Republic on a daily basis, with many more expected to arrive in Daha in the near future.  UNHCR is currently working to verify the presence of up to 7,000 refugees in the area.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid were escorted by a UN-trained Chadian police force charged with protecting refugees, internally displaced persons and humanitarians.  A helicopter from the UN Mission was also able to ferry some 300 kilograms of medicine to the area.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations yesterday afternoon, in which members discussed a draft resolution concerning the extension of the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).  The Mission’s current mandate expires on 15 February.

**Horn of Africa

A two-day high-level meeting on the Horn of Africa crisis wrapped up today in Nairobi.  According to the latest UN estimates, nearly 20 million people in the region continue to need emergency assistance.  Parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti are the hardest hit.

Despite near normal rainfall between October and December, the food situation in these areas is not expected to improve soon.  The reasons for that include high and volatile food prices, conflict and insecurity, and market disruptions.  An estimated nearly $2 billion is required to meet the affected population’s needs -- mainly food -- for 2009.  There is more information on that upstairs.

** Greece -The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, is meeting with both parties this afternoon, here in New York.

Athens will be represented by Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis and Skopje will be represented by Ambassador Zoran Jolevski.  The purpose of today’s meeting is to continue discussions on the “name issue”.  We will get a readout of the meeting after it happens for you.

**United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

UNICEF today opened a three-day conference on using cell phone and online technologies to address poverty and disease in the poorest areas of the world.

In her opening remarks, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman challenged those gathered to find creative new solutions to age-old problems.  She cited as an example a health-monitoring initiative in Malawi, led by UNICEF and Columbia University, which allows rural health workers to use mobile phone technology to relay data on children’s health and nutrition and receive instant, expert advice on essential health interventions.  There is more information upstairs.

**Statement on Afghanistan

Finally, the statement I announced earlier has arrived.  It’s a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the attacks on Government buildings in Kabul.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s acts of terrorism against Government buildings in Kabul, which took the lives of at least 20 people and injured many more.  The Secretary-General is appalled by these coordinated attacks, targeting the people and institutions that are committed to building a better future for Afghanistan.

This horrendous crime was committed against innocent civilians with total disrespect for human life and dignity.  The United Nations stands shoulder to shoulder with the Afghan people and Government in condemning today's attacks.

The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the families of those killed and his wishes for a full recovery to those who have been wounded.

**Climate Change

The 2014 Sochi Olympics, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and three Norwegian sport events have joined in the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) initiative to combat climate change.  Among their green efforts, these organizers will invest in conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

UNEP’s Climate Neutral Network (CN Net) was launched a year ago and has close to 100 participants worldwide, including several countries, cities, major international companies, UN agencies and leading NGOs.  And, of course, we have more on that for you upstairs.

**Senior Managers’ Compact

Tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General will sign his senior managers’ compacts for 2009.  The Secretary-General views these annual performance compacts as an important tool of accountability and transparency.

Tomorrow’s signing will take place at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 8.  The press is invited.  Senior managers at Headquarters will attend the ceremony in person, while those away from Headquarters will participate through videoconference.

**UNODC -- Mira Sorvino

Tomorrow, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will be appointing Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino as a Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking.  The ceremony will take place in the Trusteeship Council Chamber between 3 and 5 in the afternoon.

Ms. Sorvino’s induction will be held during a high-level panel discussion on human trafficking and the launch of UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

In connection with that launch, my guest tomorrow will be Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC’s Executive Director.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, here in Room 226, Richard Barrett, Coordinator of the Al-Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team, will brief on the work of the Security Council’s 1267 Committee (Al-Qaida/Taliban Sanctions Committee) and the Monitoring Team, including listing and de-listing practices.

Some of you had asked for that briefing, so it’s going to be tomorrow at 11 a.m.

And that’s all I have for you.  I’ll take your questions briefly so we can have the president of ECOSOC come to the podium.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two questions.  Has the Secretary-General finalized the list for replacing Mr. Kemal Derviş [Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme]?  Does he have a shortlist?

Spokesperson:  It’s still being examined.  Right now we don’t have a short list.

Question:  Another question I wanted to ask you, about Afghanistan and Pakistan.  President [Asif Ali] Zardari yesterday or the day before was in the tribal areas and speaking there.  He told the tribal leaders that he would ask the United Nations to investigate these drone attacks inside Pakistan and would ask the United Nations to prevail upon the United States to stop these drone attacks.  Has such a request been received by the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, no, not a direct request.  No, we have not received such a request.  And on your first question on UNDP, we already explained to you how the process is going so you already have that information.  Okay?  Very good.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Michèle.  Yesterday in his press conference, the Secretary-General said that he was considering dispatching some humanitarian assessment team to Sri Lanka “whenever I think it’s appropriate”.  I just wanted to ask you whether, in fact, the UN has access to what’s called the Vanni region.  What… The highest level… I was told that Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, was denied access to the area a couple of times.  Does the UN… When he says he would dispatch them, does the fact that having been barred from the area play some role in not dispatching him?  Or does he feel that the UN has access to that area?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the situation has been evolving every day.  And, of course, where Ms. [Catherine] Bragg [Assistant Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs] would go with the delegation is going to be determined as they get inside there.  But the delegation is going and is set to go.  And in terms of whether they can enter the Vanni area, we don’t know at this point whether they will be able to.  But every effort will be made to go wherever we have the highest civilian casualties.

Question:  Right, okay.  Ms. Bragg is going?

Spokesperson:  Yes, she is.

Question:  To Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe?

Spokesperson:  Oh, I see.

Question:  Yes, I was asking about his comment yesterday about Sri Lanka, where he sent, I guess (inaudible).  And he’s thinking of sending this humanitarian team.

Spokesperson:  That is not set yet.  No, that is not set yet.  I’m sorry.  Catherine Bragg, you’re right, is for Zimbabwe.

Question:  Sure.  But I guess, is there some way to find out whether the UN --- I mean I actually want to ask like whether there’s any, relatively, what’s the highest level of UN official that’s actually visited the Vanni area of Sri Lanka in the last year?

Spokesperson:  From what I gather, these have been mostly operational people working on the ground.

Question:  But he does, does he feel… I guess what I’m saying, some wonder whether…

Spokesperson:  He feels that it is needed.

Question:  It’s needed, but would the Government, in fact, let it in?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet, at this point, how it’s going to work out.  You know it’s a little too early to say.

Question:  And also, just a request for the Secretary’s comment.  It’s now been reported that the Spanish General who left MONUC right before this attack by then General Nkunda’s forces, Díaz, right?  Díaz de Villegas.  His report to DPKO has become public through El Pais newspaper.  And it’s pretty damning and it says he says that he found that MONUC had limited operational capacity and was limited, essentially, to only protecting itself in most of the country, including where the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] is.  Can you confirm that that is, in fact, his report?  And does the UN -- let’s put it this way, forget whether it’s his document or not.  What is the UN’s response to a senior Spanish General saying that its peacekeeping force in the Congo can only protect itself, if that?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Spanish General resigned about two weeks after he had been appointed, so at this point, your only answer can come from MONUC -- from DPKO itself.  Please address your question to DPKO.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the swearing-in of a power-sharing Government in Zimbabwe?

Spokesperson:  No, as you know, he has dispatched his representative, Haile Menkerios, to go there for the signing.  And really that’s all I can say at this point.

Okay? Thank you so much.  Now I invite my guests to come up.

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