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

23 November 2009

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

23 November 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, spoke prior to the briefing by Ms. Okabe to introduce her successor, Martin Nesirky of the United Kingdom as the Spokesperson-designate for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon all.

I’m not here to brief you today.  Marie will do so in a few minutes.  I’m here to introduce my successor, Martin Nesirky, our Spokesperson-designate.

Martin comes to us from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where he is still the spokesperson.  That’s why he cannot answer your questions today.  He’s simply here to say a few words.  He’s still the spokesperson for the Organization before he joins us on the 7th of this coming month; 7th of December.

He will join you for an informal get-together from 4.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. at the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) Club tomorrow, and I am relaying an invitation from Giampaolo Pioli. 

Martin has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, in media relations and international affairs.  He served for more than two decades as an international correspondent and editor for Reuters.  He was Reuters’ Bureau Chief in Moscow, with responsibility for coverage of the Commonwealth of Independent States.  He was also posted in Berlin, The Hague and Seoul.  I’ll just give the floor to Martin for a few minutes before Marie comes to brief you.

Spokesperson-designate:  Thanks very much, Michèle.  And I’ll keep it really, really brief because it says on my badge here “ Temporary Pass: Spokesman-designate”.  So I am still designated, but not yet in place.  But I do have another job at the moment; Spokesperson for the OSCE.

A couple of things I just wanted to mention.  First of all, I’m really looking forward to working with all of you; getting to know you.  This is a huge challenge, of course, and I’m very keen to try to get to know you so I can help you the best that I can.  That’s the first thing. 

The second thing is that, needless to say, I do read what’s being written.  And I think there are a couple of things I’d like to make absolutely clear and very straight at the beginning.  My language skills: I speak German, I speak Russian, I speak English after a fashion, I speak a little bit of Korean and an even smaller amount of French.  I realize that it’s very, very important to be able to speak French. I’m going to be doing as the Secretary-General has done, which is to take extra French classes to improve on that.  And that’s really all I wanted to say on that matter.

The other is that I really believe that coming from outside the UN has advantages and disadvantages.  You will have to bear with me as I get to know the system that you, many of you, know far better than I probably will ever do.  But I am very keen to work with you so that you can help me to help you to have the stories that you need to write.  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay, so you’ll get a chance to meet Martin tomorrow afternoon -- 4.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. at the UNCA Club.  Thank you all.  Marie, your turn.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Good afternoon.

First, I’d like to welcome the eight Palestinian journalists who are here joining us today.  They are part of the Department of Public Information annual training programme for journalists, and represent various media organizations such as Al Jazeera and Al Hurra.  So, welcome to the United Nations.

**Press Conferences Today

And as we’ve mentioned to you earlier, our guest at the noon briefing today will be John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UNs Emergency Relief Coordinator.  He will be here at 12:30 p.m. to brief on his recent visit to Sri Lanka.

And at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference on the need for a new climate deal that will tackle energy poverty.  Speakers will include experts from the Pan American Health Organization, the International Energy Agency and the UN Development Programme.

**Statement on Sri Lanka

Just on Sri Lanka, to recap, we did have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and in it, the Secretary-General welcomed the decision by the Government of Sri Lanka to grant increased freedom of movement to internally displaced persons (IDPs) still residing in camps in northern Sri Lanka.  The Secretary-General also welcomed the release of over half of the internally displaced persons from the camps, and encourages the Government to continue to prioritize the return of these IDPs.  These are steps which the United Nations has long been pressing for in its intensive engagement with the authorities in Sri Lanka, including during the Secretary-General’s own visit in May. The Secretary-General, in that statement, urged the Government of Sri Lanka to continue to work with the UN and other humanitarian partners to improve the quality of the return process, including through consultation with the IDPs themselves, and to ensure the best possible assistance and services to returnees.

And as I mentioned, you will have John Holmes here to elaborate on all of this just in a few minutes.

**Statement on Alec Collett

I do have a new statement attributable to the Spokesperson today, and this is on Alec Collett.

The Secretary-General has been informed that the remains of Alec Collett, a staff member of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) who disappeared in Lebanon in 1985, have been found in eastern Lebanon.

The Secretary-General appreciates the role played by the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom and in Lebanon to resolve this matter after so many years.  He is grateful for the work done by the Department of Safety and Security in helping to determine what happened to Mr. Collett.  Although he is saddened by Alec Collett’s death, he hopes that the actions taken to find his remains can provide a measure of comfort to his loved ones.

The Secretary-General expresses his sincere sympathies to Alec Collett’s family and would like to restate the commitment of the United Nations to assist them in the days ahead.

And you have copies of that statement upstairs.

** West Bank

And on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today issued an update on movement and access issues in the West Bank.

According to that report, over the past six months, the Israeli authorities have taken measures that have increased the freedom of movement of Palestinians between most Palestinian urban centres in the West Bank.

But during the same period, there has been no significant improvement when it comes to access to land and use of space by Palestinians.  For example, one particular area, which comprises 60 per cent of the West Bank, has remained, to a large extent, off-limits for Palestinian use and development.  And there is a full report upstairs on this.

**Security Council

And here in UN Headquarters, the Security Council is holding a meeting this morning on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Among the speakers today was Valentin Inzko, the High Representative and European Union Special Representative there.

** Darfur Report

Out on the racks is the Secretary-General’s latest report on the African Union–United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and it has been released today.

The report, which covers the period between July and October this year, details progress on the implementation of UNAMID’s mandate as well as efforts on the political process and progress on the security and humanitarian situation.

In the report, the Secretary-General notes that though UNAMID continues to focus on its critical tasks of civilian protection and facilitation of humanitarian delivery, the mission’s work has been hampered by a number of serious challenges.  These include increased threats to international staff in Darfur, ongoing military activities between Chad and Sudan and within Darfur, and the absence of a comprehensive negotiated settlement to the Darfur crisis.

UNAMID personnel continue to be the target of criminal activity and banditry, including harassment and violent attacks, according to the report.  One extremely alarming development is the kidnapping of international staff serving in Darfur, including two UNAMID staff members who were kidnapped on 29 August and are still being held by their captors.

The report further notes that the political process for Darfur has reached a critical juncture.  The Secretary-General urges all parties to the Darfur conflict to use the current opportunity offered by the Doha Talks to re-engage with the peace process in good faith, so that a sustainable peace could be achieved for all Darfurians.

And in anticipation of questions whenever we have this report, according to the report, the continued lack of key military enablers and force multipliers, including two medium transport units, a level to hospital and aerial reconnaissance units and 18 medium utility helicopters, continues to be a source of serious concern for the mission.

** Darfur -- Demobilization

And also on the mission, UNAMID reports that more than 150 ex-combatants have taken part in the first of a three-day demobilization and reintegration programme sponsored by the Government of Sudan and supported by UNAMID.

The programme involves briefings on reintegration, verification of administrative documents, medical and disability screening, fingerprinting, and the issuance of identification cards.  Participants are given a cash payment of 400 Sudanese pounds ($150), and after two months they will be issued food vouchers and other basic amenities.

In all, more than 400 ex-combatants from North Darfur are expected to be demobilized in El Fasher alone.  Two additional demobilization and reintegration events are scheduled for West and South Darfur shortly.

** Sudan -- Coomaraswamy Visit

And finally, another item on Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, has expressed concern about the presence of children amongst Sudan’s non-State armed groups and the association of some children within the Sudan Armed Forces.

Ms. Coomaraswamy was speaking at the end of nine-day trip to Sudan, where she welcomed the signing of an action plan by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to end the use of children as soldiers in Juba; and that was signed on 20 November 2009.  And Coomaraswamy also commends the Government of National Unity for the progress made in the last two years to strengthen the protection of children.

She also welcomed the fact that silence around sexual violence has been broken and can be spoken about more openly.  Coomaraswamy is scheduled to be the guest at the noon briefing on Wednesday -- that’s the day after tomorrow.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks to Envoys

The Secretary-General spoke by teleconference with his Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys, who are meeting in a seminar in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland.

He told the gathered officials that he is keenly aware of the need to constantly examine and update the UNs peacemaking architecture, mechanisms, technologies and toolkit.  That effort, he added, must encompass the full range of what we do, including conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.

The Secretary-General stressed that he is committed to filling vacancies, speeding up the appointment process and ensuring that there are no leadership vacuums.  And he remains determined to pursue investigations into sexual abuse and other infractions with all due haste, given the cloud these can cast over a mission.

We have his full remarks upstairs.

And this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the presentation of the recommendations of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa, chaired by Danish Prime Minister.  He will say that the report’s recommendations are far-reaching and could help to lift millions of people out of poverty.

** Yemen

And on Yemen, as of 14 November, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its implementing partners in Yemen had distributed more than 2,000 metric tons of food to more than 100,000 people.  The November food distribution cycle will be completed in all districts prior to the Eid holidays.  And you can read more about this upstairs.

**UNDP -- Seoul Policy Centre

And there is also a development from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) that you can pick up upstairs.  UNDP chief Helen Clark and the Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade [Yu Myung-hwan], in Seoul today, signed two landmark agreements, which underpin a new relationship between UNDP and the Republic of Korea.  The first agreement would establish in Seoul a policy centre on global development partnerships, the second would establish a Millennium Development Goal Trust Fund between the South Korean Government and UNDP.  And also during the visit, the first of a three-leg Northeast Asia trip, Clark met with President Lee [Myung-bak] and various top Government officials.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

And from UNESCO, we have a press release saying that the number of researchers in developing countries is rising.  And their number jumped by 56 per cent in developing countries between 2002 and 2007.  And UNESCO says that these results indicate that many countries are recognizing the importance of innovation and economic growth.

**Anne Bayefsky

And I just got an update to what we had mentioned to you when we were asked about updates regarding the pass card belonging to Anne Bayefsky.  We have just been informed by the Department of Safety and Security that there has been an amicable agreement, in which Ms. Bayefsky would admit to have breached some security rules and would have her pass cards returned to her.

So, that’s what I have for you.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And just on press conferences, as I mentioned, we have John Holmes coming here in about five minutes.

And tomorrow, the Secretary-General himself will be here.  He will launch his “Network of Men Leaders” in support of his “UNiTE to end violence against women” campaign in his effort to engage men and boys in achieving an end to violence against women and girls.  The launch will take place at 10 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.

Then, after the launch, at 10:40 a.m., the Secretary-General will be in this room to talk to you about the network.  Joining him in the press conference will be [Knut Storberget], the Minister of Justice and Police of Norway; a member of the network; a UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador [HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol of Thailand], and Ghida Anani from KAFA (which means “enough” in Arabic) Violence & Exploitation.

Again, so 10:40 a.m. the Secretary-General will be here on this important issue to end violence against women.

And that’s what I have for you.  I’ll take a few questions.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have two questions, one about Ghajar.  I heard that there is some progress regarding some Israeli concessions regarding the withdrawal from Ghajar.  Can you update us on that, please?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We do not have any official notification from the Israeli Government on the matter, although we have seen media reports in this regard today.

This is a longstanding matter, and our position is very clear that Israel is obliged to withdraw from northern Ghajar and the adjacent area north of the Blue Line, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is in contact with the Israelis and hopes for a speedy solution on the basis of UNIFIL’s proposal that was submitted to the parties in order to facilitate the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrawal from the area.

The United Nations attaches special importance to this issue.  An understanding on the proposal would facilitate implementation of resolution 1701 and would greatly contribute to confidence-building in this matter.  That’s what I have for you.

Question:  Okay, another thing on northern Yemen.  I understand that the Saudis are launching or waging a full-scale attack on northern Yemen.  Is there any coordination with regard to human rights and with regard to access to refugees in the area?  Is the United Nations involved in any way?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As we have mentioned to you, and today we had an update from our humanitarian partners, the UN is -- especially the UN refugee agency -- has been in the lead in delivering humanitarian assistance to the people on the ground and they have been pressing hard for access to those people.  The Secretary-General, as you know, we had a statement from him last week and I don’t have anything further today.

Question:  [inaudible] there is a major attack on the area.  I mean, how…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  But certainly the sentiments from the statement hold.  Obviously, he is monitoring this issue very closely.  But I will refer you to that statement again and our partners on the ground, as I mentioned to you, are doing what they can to bring assistance…

Question:  Is there any response from the Saudis regarding that?  I mean, are they showing any cooperation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You have to ask the Saudis for their response.  Yes.

Question:  I have a follow-up on the Ghajar issue.  There were reports also that UNIFIL is patrolling the northern part of the Ghajar.  Is it true or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on any UNIFIL patrols.  But if the Office has any they can bring it down and we’ll update you on that.  Edie.

Question:  Marie, on Alec Collett, you said that there was an investigation to try to determine the cause of his death.  Was there any determination?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further than what we have today on that.  As you know, the only background I have further on that is the background surrounding the circumstances of when he was abducted 24 years ago.  So nothing further on that.  Masood.

Question:  Marie, about this reported prisoner exchange between Israel and the Hamas, do you have anything on that, on the reported prisoner exchange?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  I am aware of the press reports to which you refer, but no, I don’t have anything on that today.  The main news out of the Middle East, as you know is this Alec Collett development.

Question:  [inaudible] that they’re exchanging one Israeli soldier apparently, but I don’t know how many.  Do you have no contact with either Hamas or the Israeli Government about this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further than the press reports that you’ve read on this issue today.  Yes.

Question:  is there any update on the Pakistani IDPs since last that we spoke?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t, but you do have the authority on the humanitarian situation about to talk to you.  Yes.

Question:  In Honduras, President Zelaya made an appeal to the international community to reject the election next Sunday.  Is there any comment from the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any development on Honduras today to report to you.  I’ll look into it for you, though.  Matthew.

Question:  There has been a call in the Nigerian parliament for the UN to take action about incidents that happened in Nigeria in the Bakassi peninsula and to somehow enforce this Greentree Agreement.  Is the UN aware of this, and who is working on it and what’s being done?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Bakassi issue is something that the United Nations has been working very closely on.  I have not seen any new developments on this issue.  But I am sure that the Department of Political affairs will update me if there is anything further to report on that.

Question:  The Malaysian Prime Minister dined with Ban Ki-moon on Sunday, so it’s reported.  Do you have a readout from that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is that, on his way to the Commonwealth meeting …I think that’s why he was in New York.  But yes, there was a meeting on his way down there.

Question:  What did they discuss?  On the Malaysian side they’ve characterized it and said that they discussed Sri Lanka, among other issues. is there…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you mentioned, if it was a meal, I’m not sure that we’ll have a readout.  But I can inquire for you.

Question:  And also, there is this report, Uzbekistan has closed its border with Kazakhstan. Is that something [inaudible] with that UN Centre for Regional Peace in Central Asia?  Is anyone monitoring that, and what’s the reason for the closure?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, we’ll have to ask the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) for you on that.  Alright, with that, we’ll have John Holmes, who is here to talk to you about his recent visit to Sri Lanka.  So I’ll invite him up here.

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