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

31 March 2009

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

31 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General on Afghanistan

The Secretary-General today addressed the International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague, urging Governments to support efforts to foster peace and development in that country, adding, “We cannot afford to fail in this endeavour.  Failure would be a betrayal of the Afghan people.”

In his remarks to the gathering, he said, “This is a critical year for Afghanistan.  We have said this before.  But this year is different.”  He noted that there is real potential to make concrete progress in important areas, from fighting illicit opium production to increasing productivity in traditional agricultural commodities, from combating organized criminal groups to advancing regional economic cooperation.

He urged international support for efforts to ensure that the August elections are fair, credible and transparent, warning that, too often, flawed elections have led to greater instability.  This cannot be allowed to happen in Afghanistan.

He added that we must avoid an attitude that focuses mainly on setbacks of the past, and learn to recognize the positive signs of progress. A deployment of additional international troops, with the primary goal of improving security for the Afghan people, will help to secure the electoral environment, the Secretary-General said.

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, also spoke at the Conference, saying that Afghanistan has seen progress in building the Army, reforming the agricultural sector and lowering poppy production.  This is not the time to hesitate, he said, but to stand firm in our commitments.

Eide added that international coordination must be improved and that the United Nations is prepared to expand its own presence around the country.  Both statements are available upstairs.

**Secretary-General in The Hague

While in The Hague, the Secretary-General met today with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  They discussed the forthcoming elections; democracy; the mandate of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide; and the role of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

He also held bilateral meetings with Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon; Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht; Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith; Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei; and the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.  All those meetings included discussions of how the international community can support Afghanistan, notably during the upcoming elections.

** Darfur

On Darfur, Representatives from the Government of Sudan, the African Union (AU) and the United Nations today held the fifth meeting of the Tripartite Committee on the AU-UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur, UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur).

The meeting focused on issues relating to UNAMID deployment that require further attention and follow-up, and ways of facilitating the work of UNAMID in Darfur.

The participants noted that the deployment of UNAMID military forces, including troops, officers and military observers, has reached 67 per cent as of the end of March.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, UN Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Susana Malcorra said the steady increase in deployment over the past year was an indication of the success of the regular Tripartite Committee meetings.

The participants agreed the next Tripartite Committee meeting will be in Darfur in early June.

A press release with more details and the signed outcome document are available upstairs.

UNAMID also reports three incidents of carjackings involving its vehicles over the past 48 hours.

**Security Council

Today is the last day of the Libyan Presidency of the Security Council.  Mexico will assume the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of April.

This Thursday, 2 April, Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, the Council President for next month, intends to brief you on the Council’s programme of work following Council consultations on that subject.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the World Health Organization (WHO) have expressed serious concerns about the halting of medical patient referrals out of the Gaza Strip.

On 22 March, the Hamas de facto authorities in the Gaza Strip took control of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health Referral Abroad Department.  This is the main office which assesses and processes referral applications by Gaza patients for specialized hospital treatment outside Gaza.  The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health in Ramallah will not approve or fund applications as a result, and Israel and Egypt will not allow them to exit Gaza unless they have been approved by the Palestinian Authority.  All Gaza patient referrals have been halted due to this action, affecting many patients with serious and complicated conditions.

Both WHO and the Humanitarian Coordinator’s Office have intervened in Gaza to seek the urgent reversal of the 22 March decision, but have not received a positive response.  Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, called for a rapid solution to be found among the parties concerned to enable referrals to resume and patients’ rights to be protected.  He also asked for Hamas to reverse its decision so that a way forward can be found.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) yesterday welcomed the surrender this past weekend of a senior leader of the Rwandan rebel group FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) and three other senior officers.  They were accompanied by 15 FDLR fighters who also volunteered to join a UN-run disarmament and repatriation programme, along with their dependents.  This brings to 640 the number of FDLR fighters that have joined the repatriation drive since January.

** Central African Republic

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says a resumption of armed hostilities between Government and rebel forces is dampening hopes for an end to a decade-old humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic.  The fighting has displaced some 24,000 people since January, including some 9,200 new refugees in neighbouring Chad.  This cuts short a recent wave of refugee returns begun in the wake of a national reconciliation effort which led to an all-party dialogue in December.  A total of 300,000 Central African nationals are now living as refugees across the region.

Meanwhile, only 22 per cent of a required $116 million in an OCHA-led appeal has been pledged or disbursed.

** Libya

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it is shocked at reports that some 300 African migrants trying to reach Europe have gone missing off the coast of Libya.  Two dozen of them have been pulled alive from the waters by Libyan coast guards.  Rescue efforts continue, but it is feared that a large number among the migrants may not have survived the capsizing of the vessels.  They include a considerable number of women and children, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and regional officials.

**John Solecki

Fears are mounting over the health of UNHCR official John Solecki, who has been held in captivity for nearly two months.

The UN Office in Islamabad issued a press statement today voicing its deep concern over a lack of direct information on John Solecki’s condition and saying he could be seriously ill.

We hold the group holding John entirely responsible for his well-being, stresses the United Nations, asking for Solecki’s immediate release into the care of the United Nations.

We have the full press release upstairs.

** Pakistan

I was asked yesterday about the Secretary-General’s response to an attack on a police academy near the Pakistani city of Lahore earlier that day.

I can tell you that the Secretary-General was distressed by the attack on the police academy and the resulting loss of life and injuries.  He extends his sympathies to the families of those killed and to the injured.  He hopes the authorities will carry out an investigation and establish responsibility for the attack.

** Cambodia Tribunal

In Cambodia, the substantive hearing in the first trial case of a suspect accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes during the rule of the Khmer Rouge began yesterday.

According to a charge sheet released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), Kaing Guek Eav, known as “Duchy”, has been charged with such crimes as torture and premeditated murder for the atrocities allegedly committed under his rule at the Tool Slang prison.

Under the Court’s rules, even a guilty plea by Duchy will not prevent the holding of a full trial.

** Cambodia

I was asked yesterday about allegations of corruption in the Cambodian courts.  The United Nations takes the allegations of corruption within the national administration of the Extraordinary Chambers, known as the ECCC, very seriously.  The Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Peter Tacos-Jensen, has met [with] Sock An, the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, twice on this issue.  He will do so again in the week beginning 6 April.  Good progress has been made to date, which resulted in joint statements with Sock An, dated 10 December 2008 and 23 February 2009.

The United Nations goal remains the establishment of a credible anti-corruption mechanism to which all ECCC staff members feel able to make any complaints about corruption.  We are confident of making progress to that end in the week beginning 6 April.

**Global Fund

On the Global Fund, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS is calling for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to be fully funded ‑‑ echoing the Secretary-General’s own message.

As donors and partners are meeting for the Mid-Term Review of the Second Voluntary Replenishment Process, in Caceres, Spain, the Secretary-General urged them, in a video message, to replenish the Global Fund with the additional $4 billion it needs to continue to meet its goals up to 2010.

He said that spending on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria was a “smart investment” and a “true recovery package” – noting, for example, that tuberculosis costs the world’s poorest communities $16 billion a year but that containing it would just cost $4.2 billion a year.

UNAIDS adds that this full funding is imperative to countries achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

**Law and Order

And on a lighter note, for the Law and Order fans, the Law & Order:  Special Victims Unit episode filmed at the UN is slated to air at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tonight on NBC.  This is not publicity for NBC, and I will not reveal the plot, of course, but I can only say that the episode recorded on 7 March is about children in armed conflicts and refugees in Africa.  It touches on issues that are of concern to the United Nations.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

At 1:30 p.m. tomorrow in this room, Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, joins other speakers to brief on the impact of population growth on least developed countries’ efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  That’s at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.

And that’s really all I have for you right now.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks.  I’m just double-checking what else we’ve got coming up this week.  Do we have Alan Doss tomorrow as well?

Spokesperson:  We should be having Alan Doss.  I am trying to find out whether he’s going to be at 11:30 a.m. or as a guest to my noon briefing.  So we’ll get that information for you this afternoon.

Question:  And John Ging on Friday?

Spokesperson:  John Ging, we’re hoping.  We don’t have confirmation yet.

Question:  Do you know what time it would be if we got it?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have that, really.  I have been going back and forth on this.

[The Spokesperson later said that John Ging would be the guest at the noon briefing on Friday.]

Question:  I have one last question as well.  At the Arab summit in Doha, a resolution was adopted by League members relating to the occupation of three Persian islands by Iran, a territorial claim they belong to the UAE [ United Arab Emirates].  The resolution refers to the Secretary-General’s position on the islands saying that the Secretary-General believes the case should be referred to the ICJ [International Court of Justice].  Can you confirm that is the position of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I will check that up for you.

Question:  I just want to find out now that United States policy on Afghanistan is concerned.  Is the United Nations completely on board with the Obama Administration’s new plan for Afghanistan?

Spokesperson: I think we’re completely on board.  I think the Secretary-General has expressed his support for the plan.  He has added that he felt that and he has said it, consult the text of the speech that he gave, and you have the exact reference.

Question:  Earlier, in giving a speech in Moscow about two or three days ago, the Secretary-General noted that anti-narcotic efforts in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan helped joint efforts to conduct an anti-narcotic campaign.  So does that mean that Iran can eventually become a partner in Afghanistan [inaudible] region of Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  Well, definitely I think Iran seems to be on board.  Definitely they’re participating in the meeting in The Hague.  So I assume that it’s a positive sign, because I think regional efforts on that, whether it be on the crime, organized crime issue or issues of peace and stability in Afghanistan, of course, Iranians are concerned.

Question:  Was UNRWA in any way involved in the funding of that orchestra that went to Israel from Jenin refugee camp; and was it also involved in any way in cancelling the funding for that orchestra?

Spokesperson:  I can check on that for you.  I don’t have the information.

[The Spokesperson later said that UNRWA was not involved in funding the orchestra.]

Question:  The President of Sri Lanka has been quoted as saying, “We will not cave in to pressures from any international quarter and we will not stop until the war is completely over.”  In light of the Secretary-General’s twice call for a cessation of hostilities, what’s his response to the rejection of that call?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think it’s a rejection of the call.  I think the Secretary-General, it’s the person who made that call is responsible for that call.  We cannot ask the Secretary-General to respond to that.  What you want to know is his reaction?

Question:  I mean the Secretary-General has, I think publicly, said there should be a cessation of hostilities.  This is the President of Sri Lanka on the Sri Lankan Government website saying in his own words, “We will not cave in to pressures from any international quarter and we will not stop until the war is completely over.”  So that’s why I am calling it a rejection.  I am saying there was a call for a cessation of hostilities; he’s saying, “We won’t stop.”  So I’m asking, what is Ban Ki-moon now saying?

Spokesperson:  Really, our point here has been, essentially in the fighting, is getting some safety for the people who are, as you know, stuck in the area, particularly in the northern area.  And we have had some response on that and I think we’ve had some information, according to which they have actually moved out, soldiers have moved out of the camps and we’re trying to get more about what has happened.  We’re aware about those media reports quoting him about the withdrawal of troops.  We’re trying to obtain confirmation about this development but, at this point, what I can say is that we felt we have been getting a little bit ahead in terms of the protection of the civilian population even though I cannot react on that specific comment by quoting the minister.

Question:  I have two questions.  One is, I wondered if you ever gave the readout of what the Secretary-General spoke about with regard to Gaza while he was in Moscow.  You had mentioned that, or it was mentioned that, he had some discussions about Gaza while he was there.  And I wondered if there’s some readouts?

Spokesperson:  What we usually give you in terms of readouts are the topics they discussed.  We do not, in our readouts, give you what the positions of both sides were.  I can confirm that Gaza was discussed.  But that’s all I can say at this point.

Question:  And I had a second question, and that is, with regard to asking Hamas to reverse its decision, I wondered if there’s a change in asking that the borders be opened?

Spokesperson:  Oh no, that hasn’t changed.  Right now we have a specific problem, which is the problem of evacuation of people who need urgent medical care and specialized care.  So, this is one issue.  We have not stopped saying the same thing over and over again, that the crossings should be opened ‑‑ not only for humanitarian assistance, but should be opened for reconstruction needs.  That means that all the material that we need right now, that Gaza needs for reconstruction, should be channelled, should be going through the crossings.  That has not changed.

Question:  Right.  But I wondered if, in looking at this situation, if there’s a reason that the UN is saying that it’s up to Hamas to change, rather than asking all the parties to somehow change, and to find a way to a solution.

Spokesperson:  I gave you the actual sequence of how it happened, and who the different parties involved are.  And what I can say at this point is that this is a specific issue that they are addressing.  But they are not stopping in addressing other issues.  These are continuing.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah yesterday?  Were there any details on that meeting?

Spokesperson:  I think we do have a readout.  I just have today’s readouts with me, but you can have yesterday’s readouts upstairs in my office.  We have it.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that there was no meeting between the Secretary-General and King Abdullah while they were both in Qatar.]

Question:  Do you have the nationalities of the 300 African migrants that you quoted?  Do you know the breakdown of the countries where they come from?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t.  We don’t have it.

Question:  And you can’t get it?

Spokesperson:  Usually, they do not reveal nationalities in cases like this.  But we can try.

Question:  You kept saying that you are gathering information on this Israeli attack in Sudan on this convoy, which was quoted, I think, last week.  Have you been able to find out actually what happened?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have really any information.  As I said, the Secretary-General has no comment on this.  We have no first-hand information, and we cannot confirm them or deny these reports.  So, really, whether we are getting more information or not, at this point, we will not have any comments.

Question:  There’s an article where Kemal Derviş is quoted, that he is ‑‑ at the G-20 ‑‑ he is serving as a Special Adviser to Ban Ki-moon, at Ban Ki-moon’s request.  Are you aware of that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I am.

Question:  Are there any other Special Advisers that he’s…?

Spokesperson:  No.  He’s definitely going to be the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General at the G-20.

Question:  So he’s the one?  Okay.  There are reports of these Nepalese foreign police units that were sent to Darfur, have been there for five months, and none of their equipment has yet been delivered to them.  There are some complaints, and a UN investigation in Nepal, about why it hasn’t reached Darfur, why the country hasn’t been paid.  And someone said that the armoured personnel carriers they sent are, in fact, second-hand, which is why they have not been transferred nor has the country been paid.  Are you aware of that, and what’s…

Spokesperson:  I think you should address your question to the Spokesperson of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Question:  DPKO or Department of Field Support?

Spokesperson:  DPKO would be the one.

Question:  Okay.  There’s an investigation in Nepal.  That’s why I’m wondering whether there’s some knowledge…

Spokesperson:  You know, it’s a DPKO issue.

Question:  And I guess this is a Law and Order question, believe it or not.  I had heard that there are some negotiations on whether Ms. [Radhika] Coomaraswamy [Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict] would run a quote at the end of the show.  I’ve heard either some stance of the UN on children and armed conflict.  Do you know how that was resolved?  Will we see that quote this evening?

Spokesperson:  Well, may I suggest that you watch it tonight, and you ask me tomorrow?

Thank you all so very much.

* *** *

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