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

2 March 2009

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

2 March 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon Today

Since our guest today, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, is already with us, I think I will start by reading a statement I just got from Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Secretary-General is.  The statement is on Guinea-Bissau.  And after I read that, I will turn the floor over to Mr. Le Roy and he will do his briefing and afterwards I will continue with the rest of the Spokesperson’s briefing.

**Statement on Guinea-Bissau

So the statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Guinea-Bissau:

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened and dismayed by the assassinations of President João Bernardo Vieira and the Chief of General Staff, General Batista Tagme Na Waie.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns these violent acts, which have occurred soon after successful legislative elections which paved the way for enhanced United Nations support to the country’s peacebuilding efforts.  The Secretary-General calls urgently for calm and restraint, and urges the national authorities of Guinea-Bissau to fully investigate these assassinations and bring to justice those responsible for them.

The Secretary-General sends his condolences to the families of the late President and the Chief of General Staff, as well as to the people of Guinea-Bissau.  He calls on the national authorities of Guinea-Bissau to maintain constitutional order and respect for the rule of law at this critical moment.  He remains in close contact with his Representative for Guinea Bissau, Joseph Mutaboba, who along with others in the international community is working to promote peace, political stability and development in the country.

So that’s what I have for you and I will now turn the floor over to Mr. Le Roy, who will give his briefing first and then I will continue with the rest of mine.

[Deputy Spokesperson continues with her segment of the briefing after Mr. Le Roy’s briefing]

** Darfur

Just to continue where I left off.  This is to follow on Mr. Le Roy’s comments on Darfur, just to bring you up to date.

The African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, today travelled to Nyala, South Darfur, and to El Geneina, West Darfur, to meet with local authorities in an effort to engage the Government at the national and local levels on issues relating to security in Darfur.

During his visits, he met the Deputy Governor of South Darfur, as well as the Deputy Governor in West Darfur, to discuss the security situation in the respective areas and ways of addressing these issues.

He expressed appreciation for the good relationship between [the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID)] and the State.

Meanwhile, UNAMID today reports that the remainder of the Egyptian infantry battalion, consisting of 93 peacekeepers, started arriving in El Fasher, North Darfur, today.

The second batch, also consisting of 93 peacekeepers, is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, bringing the battalion’s total number to 850.

And in response to what Edie was asking earlier that would bring -- the arrival of the 186 Egyptian peacekeepers will bring -- the Egyptian contribution to the Mission to 1,588 and the UNAMID military strength to almost 13,000, at 12,937.

Also, UNAMID today did report that they received information that armed militiamen opened fire in a market in El Fasher, North Darfur.  The cause of the shooting is still unknown, and UNAMID security is investigating that incident.

**Secretary-General Travels -- Egypt

Turning to the Secretary-General, who I mentioned earlier is currently in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where, today, he addressed the international conference in support of the Palestinian economy for the reconstruction of Gaza.

In his speech, the Secretary-General told the assembled world leaders that, when it comes to rebuilding Gaza, the foundation must be a durable ceasefire.  And that, in turn, requires us to face a number of political realities and to deal with them squarely.

Regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Secretary-General called the situation at the border crossings “intolerable”.  But while stressing that our first and indispensable goal must be to open the crossings, he also emphasized that it is essential to ensure that illegal weapons do not enter Gaza.  He also underlined the need for Palestinian reconciliation.

In concluding, the Secretary-General said that the aftermath of the recent fighting in Gaza presents the international community with an opportunity to change the status quo in the region.  “This is our moment,” he said.  We have his full statement upstairs.

And he has held a number of bilateral meetings there today, including with the US Secretary of State.  They discussed the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, Haiti, climate change and food security, among other subjects.

The Secretary-General also held bilaterals with Quartet Representative Tony Blair, the Egyptian President, the Lebanese Prime Minister, the Palestinian Prime Minister, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, the French Foreign Minister, the Italian Foreign Minister Franco, and the European Union’s Javier Solana.

And the topics of his discussions with these leaders ranged from the situation in the Middle East, including Gaza and Lebanon, to the Darfur peace process, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, climate change and food security.  An informal meeting of the Middle East Quartet was also held today in Sharm el-Sheikh.

**Secretary-General Travels -- Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General had travelled, as Mr. Le Roy also mentioned to you, to the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and later to Rwanda.

At a meeting on Saturday with President Joseph Kabila in Kisangani, the Secretary-General noted that an opportunity has emerged in the wake of the recent Democratic Republic of the Congo-Rwanda joint military operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).  This opportunity could improve UN humanitarian access to those in need.

Later that day, the Secretary-General visited a clinic in Goma for victims of sexual crimes, telling reporters afterward: “I am so sad and I am angry,” he said, “Sexual violence is prevalent throughout the DRC and must stop.”

In that press encounter, the Secretary-General said that he welcomed the rapprochement between President Kabila and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.  He said he asked President Kabila to continue to solidify this rapprochement.

The Secretary-General also travelled to Kigali, where he met with President Paul Kagame and again welcomed the rapprochement and he asked that the joint military operation in the eastern Congo does not worsen an already difficult humanitarian situation and impede aid workers’ access to people in need of assistance.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Major General Elhadji Mouhamedou Kandji of Senegal as Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).

Major General Kandji will be the first Force Commander of the Mission following the transfer of authority from the European Union Force in Chad and the Central African Republic on 15 March 2009.  And there is more information on him upstairs.

**Security Council

And here at Headquarters, with the start of a new month, Libya has replaced Japan in the rotating presidency of the Security Council.

The Council expects to meet tomorrow to discuss its programme of work for the month.  Afterwards, at 12:30, the Chargé d’affaires for Libya’s UN Mission, Ibrahim Dabbashi, will brief you in this room about the Council’s work over the coming month.  That’s 12:30 p.m. tomorrow.

** Lebanon

In a statement issued from Goma yesterday, the Secretary-General, as you know, announced the start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, a little more than four years after the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in a terrorist attack in central Beirut.

The commencement of the Tribunal’s work marks a decisive milestone in the tireless efforts by all Lebanese and the international community to uncover the truth, bring those responsible for this assassination and related crimes to justice and end impunity.  We have that statement upstairs.

And UN Legal Counsel Patricia O’Brien, who participated in the ceremony to mark the start of the Tribunal, will brief you here tomorrow at 11 a.m. on the Tribunal.

**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

And also yesterday, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) transferred command of its Maritime Task Force to Belgium, at the end of the scheduled one-year term of the European Maritime Force at the helm of the Task Force.  The Maritime Task Force has since 2006 been assisting the Lebanese navy in securing the country’s 200 kilometres of coastline, in order to help in preventing the unauthorized entry of arms or related material by sea into Lebanon.  And there is a press release on that upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva, the tenth regular session of the Human Rights Council started there today.  Addressing the body, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was fully aware that the legacy of the 2001 Durban Conference has been tainted by the anti-Semitic behaviour of some non-governmental organizations and that had been at the sidelines of that gathering.  And now, she noted, the upcoming Durban Review Conference has been the target of a disparaging media and lobbying campaign on the part of those who fear a repetition of that behaviour.  “This is unwarranted,” she says.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the document that emerged from the Conference in 2001, transcended divisive and intolerant approaches, she said.  And it offers the most comprehensive framework and platform to combat intolerance and racism everywhere.

Pillay added that a persuasive outcome of the Review Conference and beyond hinges upon the genuine commitment of all States to seek consensus.  Narrow, parochial interests and reflexive partisanship must be cast aside in the interest of a greater common good, she says.

Failure to do so may reverberate negatively on the full spectrum of human rights work and mechanisms for years to come.  She stressed that we need to prevent the acrimony of the past from encumbering the fight against intolerance, which is of urgent concern and in the best interest of everyone.  And we have her full statement upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Statement on Bangladesh

And just for those who may have missed it, we did have a statement late Friday on Bangladesh, in which the Secretary-General said he was distressed at the death toll in the violent two-day mutiny by members of the Bangladesh Rifles border guards.  He condemns such brutal acts of violence and extended his deepest sympathy to the victims, to their families and to the people and Government of Bangladesh.  The Secretary-General calls for calm and the resolution of this situation without further violence.


Just a couple more things, today the fifty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women opened this morning, in Conference Room 2.  Forty ministers are registered to participate and around 2,000 NGOs are expected to attend the two-week meeting.  This session will focus on the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.  It will also take up gender perspectives on the financial crisis as an emerging issue.

In her opening statement, Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro noted that most domestic and care work is done by women and girls.  We must provide adequate resources to empower women and girls who are dedicating their time to looking after people living with HIV, she said.

The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, added that equal sharing of responsibilities is absolutely critical for achieving gender equality and empowering women.  Both their statements are available upstairs.

**Statement on Landmines Treaty

We also had a statement marking a decade since the milestone Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction entered into force.  The Secretary-General, in a statement, urged all States that have not yet done so to accede to the Mine-Ban Convention as soon as possible.

While commending the dedicated efforts of States Parties to the Mine-Ban Convention and mine action practitioners to achieve the goal of a world free of anti-personnel landmines, the Secretary-General urged them to stand by their commitments.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

And finally, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, today spoke to the Agency’s Board of Governors and discussed its recent work in Iran and Syria.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

*Food and Agriculture Organization

As well, there is a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization on the fishing industry and national fisheries authorities and how they must do more to prepare for the impact of climate change.

**International Telecommunication Union

And there is another press release from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) about a new index which compares 154 countries on their use of information and communications technology from 2002 to 2007.

And that’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, would you have anything more on those talks between the [US-led UN Command] and North Korean officials?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I do not.  We obviously are monitoring closely what goes on on the Korean peninsula, and as I mentioned, the Korean peninsula did come up today between the Secretary-General and the Secretary of State of the United States.  I could ask for a further readout if you like.

Question:  Just a follow-up to that.  There was a story last week saying that there had been a plan to send Lynn Pascoe and a team of others from the UN in early March to North Korea, but then North Korea cancelled that.  Is that true or not true?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I had some guidance on that for you.  The United Nations has been working with the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to revive the dialogue channel between the DPRK, which was suspended four years ago following Mr. Maurice Strong’s resignation.

The dialogue is proceeding smoothly through the Department of Political Affairs.  No particular programme for a visit to the DPRK has been set at this point and the consultation is ongoing.  That’s what I have for you.

Question:  Two things, one is in Sri Lanka there is this report of the Government giving the UN system 300 acres for a camp for people leaving the conflict zone.  As Mr. Holmes had said on Friday, there is some dispute about whether the army will be near these camps, whether people will be able to leave the camps.  Are these camps going to be entirely… are the rules going to be set by the UN who people are treated there?  Or is the UN administering the camp for the Government? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to follow up with Mr. Holmes if you already asked him the question.

Question:  On Friday he said this was somehow implied and there is a story today saying that in fact 300 acres had been…

Deputy Spokesperson:  So, we’ll follow up with Mr. Holmes.

Question:  And then also, on Friday when I asked you this thing about the UN Office in Nairobi and you’d said well the (inaudible) is what it is.  Supposedly Achim Steiner has sent out an e-mail today saying he’s been designated by Ban Ki-moon as the new head of the UN Office in Nairobi…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am waiting for something on that, but I have nothing right now.

Question:  I saw the e-mail to the staff and there is also a   letter that they tried to deliver to Ban Ki-moon…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I don’t have anything official to relay to you right now.  So as soon as I get something I’ll let you know, okay?  Yes?

Question:  There is a news report citing the report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services that a ton (?) of art work has gone missing at United Nations Headquarters.  Can you confirm the information and by any chance do you have a list of the art work that has gone missing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are looking into the accuracy of the… I believe you’re talking about the press report today in the Financial Times.  We are looking into the accuracy of that report, which I believe mentions an audit report that was given to the Department of Management.  So I am not going to have anything further to say until we get back to you on that.

However, the Department did want me to explain to you a little context on how the art is registered, that the UN Secretariat does have a gift registry of the art that has been donated to the Organization by Member States.  At any given time, the Organization also displays art that has been donated by Member States to individuals within the United Nations and art that has been loaned by private collectors or museums to the UN or to individuals within the UN, just to give you an idea of how this works.  But as I said, I can’t comment directly on this story until I get further information from the Department.

So with that, have a good day and see you tomorrow. 

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