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

14 May 2009

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

14 May 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.

**Press Conferences Today

The guest at the noon briefing today is Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who provided an update on the climate change negotiations.

**Secretary-General Statement -- Myanmar

I will begin with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar.

The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the news that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved to the Insein Prison to face criminal charges.  The Secretary-General believes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is an essential partner for dialogue in Myanmar’s national reconciliation and calls on the Government not to take any further action that could undermine this important process.  As he has said repeatedly, the Secretary-General believes strongly that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all those who have a contribution to make to the future of their country must be free to be able to do so to ensure that the political process is credible.

That statement is available for you upstairs.

**Security Council

Turning to Sri Lanka, the Security Council, as you know, discussed Sri Lanka, under other matters, in consultations yesterday.  The Council President, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, told reporters in the afternoon that Council members expressed grave concern over the worsening crisis in north-east Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days.

Council members strongly condemned the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for its continued use of civilians as human shields.  They demanded that it lay down its arms and allow the tens of thousands of civilians in the conflict zone to leave.  They also expressed deep concern at the reports of the continued use of heavy calibre weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians and expected the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitment in this regard.

The members of the Security Council reiterated their support for the personal involvement of the Secretary-General.  They also urged the Government of Sri Lanka to extend full cooperation to the United Nations in order to resolve the humanitarian crisis.

In that regard, I’d like to mention that the Secretary-General spoke by telephone yesterday with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka.  He reiterated his concerns about the protection of civilians there.

And as you will recall, the Secretary-General urged the Government of Sri Lanka to explore all possible options to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed and to make public the terms under which that can be achieved without further loss of civilian life.  In that statement we issued earlier this week, the Secretary-General urged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to give sober and positive consideration of those terms.

The Secretary-General is sending his Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, to Sri Lanka to underscore his message and help to resolve the humanitarian situation there.

** Sri Lanka

Meanwhile, heavy fighting in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka is continuing, with heavy casualties, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The last food shipment to the conflict zone was 8 May, and civilians trapped in the area are in desperate need of food and supplies.

Earlier today, two ships of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) carrying over 500 tons of mixed food commodities were unable to discharge cargo in the conflict zone, due to continuous heavy fighting.

Yesterday, an ICRC flagged ship carrying 25 tons of food also turned back due to fighting in the conflict zone.  Both food and water are desperately needed.

More than 198,089 persons have now crossed to the Government controlled areas from the conflict zone. Of those, nearly 196,000 people are accommodated in temporary, overcrowded camps.

There is an urgent need to decongest some transit sites.  In some cases, five or six families are living inside one tent.

The Government has now decided to immediately begin the decongestion process.  From here on, only two families will be accommodated in each tent.

Aid agencies, including UNHCR (Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), have constructed 8,000 shelters and erected more than 9,000 tents to accommodate the new arrivals in the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee.  They are also carrying out regular distribution of non-food items and protection monitoring those sites.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is in Pakistan, where he will visit UNHCR’s area of operations through Sunday and examine how the Agency is dealing with the recent displacements.  He visited camps for internally displaced persons in Swabi and Mardan today and will go on to visit Peshawar this weekend.

The UN Refugee Agency says that the number of people who have fled the fighting in north-west Pakistan this month and been registered or recorded by authorities topped 670,000 on Wednesday, up from just over half a million the day before.

The majority of those registered by Pakistani authorities with the assistance of UNHCR are staying in the homes of friends and relatives or camping out in the open; a fraction of the total -– just under 80,000 -– are now living in camps.

The continuing exodus brings the total number of people displaced in Pakistan since August 2008 to more than 1.2 million.

UNHCR believes the total number of people who have fled the fighting in recent weeks could be much higher, since many of those fleeing the fighting between Government forces and militants have not yet registered with authorities.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mission there, MONUC, has condemned a recent deadly rebel attack on civilians and Congolese soldiers in the north-eastern Walikale region.  The Mission says the attack occurred less than a week ago.  It says it has also launched an investigation into it.  The incident claimed at least 35 lives, according to local villagers.  Some 15,000 residents of the region also fled their homes in its wake.  

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC, has said that such attacks stress the need to beef up the Congolese army so that it can adequately protect civilian populations.

**Security Council Mission

And the Security Council is sending a mission to Africa, which is leaving this afternoon and will visit four countries over the next week.

The Council mission intends to travel to Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia.  The Ambassadors of France, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States will lead or co-lead the different segments of the trip.

The mission’s composition and its terms of reference are included in a letter from the President of the Security Council that is out as a document on the racks today.

**Chad/Central African Republic

The Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT) has welcomed into its ranks 131 new peacekeepers from Ghana.  The new arrivals join 71 other troops from Ghana.  The mission plans to deploy them in the eastern Farchana region of Chad.  And you can read more about that upstairs.


This year, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is marking its sixtieth anniversary.  According to UNRWA, 2009 is a time for sober reflection, but also an opportunity to showcase UNRWA's six decades of work alongside millions of Palestine refugees.

Activities are planned across the world in locations including New York, Vienna, Brussels, and Beirut.  The events will be launched in Ramallah tomorrow by Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd.  Sixty blue balloons, each carrying the wishes of Palestine refugee children, will be released.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI visited an UNRWA camp near Bethlehem yesterday.  He announced a pledge 50,000, which will allow for the building of three new classrooms at a boys’ school.

The Pope stressed that a commitment to education is an expression of "hope in the future".  And Karen AbuZayd said she hoped the Pope’s message “will resonate with those entrusted with the privilege of political authority and encourage them to work together to achieve a just and lasting peace”.  There is more on this upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, talks between the Cyprus leaders continued today in Nicosia under UN auspices.

Speaking after the leaders’ meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, told the press that the leaders had held a one hour tête-à-tête.  During that time, their representatives continued their discussions on economic matters. 

The leaders will meet again on Thursday, 21 May.  At that time, they will review the progress made by their representatives on the economic discussions.  The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, will be present for that meeting.  And there is more on this upstairs as well.

** Iraq

And there is a press release from the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), saying that last week they organized a four-day visit to Northern Ireland for a range of officials from Kirkuk.  While recognizing that every disputed situation in the world has its own unique circumstances, it was felt that the successful experience of conflict resolution that has taken place in Northern Ireland over the past 12 years contains some useful lessons for resolving the issue of Kirkuk.

The mission says that a consistent message given to the Kirkuk delegation by the leaders of both Northern Irish communities was the essential importance of accepting that maximalist goals which take no account of the concerns and historical narrative of the other side can never be achieved.  The result of such an approach is likely to be endless bloodshed.  We have more details in a press release from the mission, as I mentioned.


And on the influenza A (H1N1) virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that, as of today, 33 countries have officially reported nearly 6,500 cases of infection.

But despite the fact that the numbers have increased, WHO is cautioning people not to “over-worry”.

The agency acknowledges that the situation is serious and requires close monitoring.  But it also notes that most cases at this time continue to be mild, and that the vast majority of cases have been reported in just two countries:  the United States and Mexico.

WHO adds that, if it sees changes in severity, it will let world know.  We have more information on this upstairs.


And this morning, the Secretary-General appealed to an audience of film-makers and story-tellers to help translate the Millennium Development Goals in human terms, and bring into focus the lives of real women and men, their struggles and their triumphs.  The Secretary-General was the guest speaker at a two-day event launched this morning by the Department of Public Information and the Independent Filmmaker Project at the Directors’ Guild of America Theater in Manhattan.

The objective is simple, the Secretary-General said, to harness the creative talents of the international film-making community to the United Nations bandwagon.  Together, he said, we want to help the world see and believe in a better future.

This year, the film forum, entitled “Envision:  Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries”, is paying special attention to women and will feature documentaries focusing on microcredit, violence against women, child abuse, peace and reconciliation and women in traditional societies.

It is part of the United Nations outreach to the creative community to bring critical global issues to a larger audience.

**Food Security -- Africa

And the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) is shedding light on how the surge in hunger may be avoided through new smart technology, and it warns that the situation is urgent.  It says that delivering food security to an additional 1 billion people in Africa will become more challenging over the next four decades unless we introduce more intelligent management of natural resources and emerging opportunities.

And there is a report that was launched today at the seventeenth session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

**Climate Change

And just to flag to you -- a couple things happening later today: this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the launch of the report of the Commission on Climate Change and Development.  The document looks at the links between development and climate change and highlights the importance of adaptation.

The Secretary-General is expected to underline the need to support such adaptation measures in favour of the world’s poor.  He will say that adaptation is a key element in the negotiations for a new climate deal in Copenhagen in December.  The Secretary-General will also stress the importance of leadership and commitment at the highest level to resolve key issues before that date.

The launch of the report will take place at 1:15 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.  We have advance copies of his remarks upstairs.  And you just heard from Yvo de Boer on the subject as well.

**Secretary-General -- Model UN

And then tonight, the Secretary-General will speak at a Model UN event, here at Headquarters.

In his remarks to this UNA-USA sponsored conference, he is expected to stress the importance of the younger generation spending time and energy learning about the United Nations and training to be leaders on the international scene.  He will also encourage the students, during this conference, to look, not only at how issues affect each country, but also at how they interact with each other –- in order to come up with solutions that have the potential to put the world on course towards lasting peace and prosperity.

**Secretary-General Appointment

One last announcement is an appointment.  The Secretary-General has appointed Franz Baumann of the Federal Republic of Germany as Assistant Secretary-General, Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM).  Mr. Baumann will replace Mr. Yohannes Mengesha.

The Secretary-General is grateful for the valuable services rendered by Mr. Mengesha, both to the Department and to the United Nations in general.

Mr. Baumann is currently serving as Deputy Director-General of the UN Office in Vienna and Acting Deputy Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.  He also has the additional responsibility of heading the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.  He joined the Secretariat in New York in 1985 and has held a number of progressively responsible management posts since then.  And we have more information in a bio upstairs.

**Press Conferences Today

And press conferences; there are two more today scheduled:  At 1.15 p.m., here, Ambassador John McNee of Canada will brief, in his capacity as the President of the Economic and Social Council’s Ad-Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, on the Group’s recent visit to that country. 

And at 4 p.m., we will have senior advisors to the President of the General Assembly, who will brief again on the upcoming UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development.  That’s at 4 p.m.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, no sooner than the Security Council released this press statement on Sri Lanka, the Government of Sri Lanka essentially said that they’re not succumbing to international pressure; they’re not stopping the offensive.  Did the Secretary-General address that with Sri Lankan authorities that essentially, that the calls have been rejected?  And does the Secretary-General want an unconditional ceasefire, because that language is not approved by the Security Council statement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if you heard the statement I read at the beginning of the briefing.  The Secretary-General did speak with the President of Sri Lanka yesterday and again flagged the elements of his statement that we issued earlier this week.  And he is dispatching his Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, who is leaving this evening to the country to follow up on his message and to resolve the humanitarian situation there.

Question:  But he, himself has not... has he requested to go himself and deal with the situation?  Because the situation seems to be spiralling day by day, and we’ve had the French Foreign Minister essentially saying that “what are we going to do when basically everybody is dead at the end of the day?  You know, what do we do then?  Who do we save then?”  So is the Secretary-General, is he pushing for an unconditional ceasefire from the Sri Lankan Government to completely and totally stop and allow the humanitarian corridor to open?  Has he requested that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has repeatedly called on both parties, on all parties to the conflict to stop...and he has flagged the importance of the protection of civilian life to halt you know, further bloodshed there.  And I think the fact that he repeatedly has spoken to the President, he has reminded the world that the world is watching events in Sri Lanka, and will not accept further violations of international law.  And the very fact that he’s sending his Chef de Cabinet again to underscore his message I think speaks loudly on what the Secretary-General in his personal capacity is trying to do to bring an end to the situation on the ground.

Question:  A follow-up on the Chef de Cabinet.  There has been substantial criticism, not just that because Mr. Nambiar comes from India, but because his brother, an Indian General [Satish] Nambiar recently wrote an op-ed praising the offensive of the Sri Lankan Army in the north and General [Sarath] Fonseca who’s led it.  Is the Secretariat aware of this criticism and how does it address it?  Also, that Mr. Nambiar went before he got a commitment to visit an open conflict zone and it never took place.  What’s the, I guess, the response and why isn’t Ban Ki-moon himself going if he’s invited and the French and others have said he should go ASAP?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, as you know the Secretary-General’s position on going to Sri Lanka has been reiterated from this podium many times this week.  And the fact that Mr. Nambiar happens to be of a nationality does not in any way get in the way of his work as a UN official.  As you know, everybody from the UN does come from one country or another; but once they sign on to work at the UN they go as UN officials.

Question:  Isn’t there generally a sort of an unwritten rule of not, for example, I mean, when Mr. Gambari was going to do Nigeria, are you unaware that they see that... within diplomats in the UN often say that a person from a country too close to a conflict is not the right person to be sent.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Nambiar is not from Sri Lanka.  Any other questions?

Question:  Can you just reiterate for us what the Secretary-General’s position is on going to Sri Lanka for those of us that were not aware of that today with the press statement having been released last night?

Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has said that he... I mean, first of all, the Secretary-General is seriously considering it.  And as of now, I cannot tell you anything further than that.

Question:  But Marie, just to follow up, can you characterize this invitation from the Sri Lankan President to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon?  Many critics characterize that as a taunt to the Secretary-General to, you know, come to the region, and why has there been no harsh condemnation of such an action by the Sri Lankan Government?  I mean, the LTTE is condemned by the Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; classified as a terrorist organization by many.  Yet, when the Sri Lankan Government does such provocative things as this taunt to the Secretary-General, invitation if you will, to come to the area, why is that not addressed in the same manner as the LTTE?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is seriously concerned about the well-being of the people on the ground, and he is seriously considering such an invitation if it’s going to save lives on the ground.  I think the next press conference has already arrived.  So... Yes.

Question:  [Inaudible]... I wanted to ask, in the Fifth, in the Budget Committee today, Inga-Britt Ahlenius of OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) read out a report about the Lockheed Martin or PANE contract for Darfur.  She was harshly critical of it.  She said that $4.3 million was for construction services where no construction took place, and she specifically criticized the Secretariat’s response to her audit and said that it was published without it being checked with her.  So I wanted to know, I am sure the Secretariat is aware of this OIOS... Is this money going to be recouped?  Can we get a press conference by Ahlenius and an explanation by the Secretariat of why they’re rejecting her findings?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We can ask her to try and come and speak to you, but, as you know, you have to take that request directly.

Question:  Is the money going to be recouped?  She said that she found $4.3 million paid by the UN for services never rendered.

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the first I have heard of this.  So I don’t have anything beyond what you’ve heard about the... OIOS report.

Question:  Maybe Angela Kane as the head of the Department of Management will be the one to respond to this.

Deputy Spokesperson:  She will be coming; there is a date already set, as will Michael Adlerstein.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesperson:  All right, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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