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

1 April 2011

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

1 April 2011
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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

First off, it’s a bit of a sombre day.  We’ve had some attacks and killings of UN personnel in several different duty stations around the world.  So I wanted to start briefly with a brief moment of silence.

Thanks very much.


Regarding that, I can confirm that the operations centre of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Mazar-i-Sharif has been attacked today following a demonstration.  I can also confirm that some United Nations personnel have died, but we are working to ascertain all the facts and take care of all our staff.  I don’t have any solid numbers to give you right now.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Staffan de Mistura, is on his way to Mazar-i-Sharif now to deal with the situation personally on the ground.

**Côte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire, the UN mission, UNOCI, is developing several contingency plans and focusing efforts on protecting civilians and maintaining public order.

Yesterday, the mission’s headquarters came under heavy gunfire from Laurent Gbagbo’s Special Forces.  UNOCI patrols also came under fire at the Abidjan airport and near the premises of the Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI).

Again, the Secretary-General has urged all sides to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from exacting revenge and place the interests of the whole nation above all else.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has received unconfirmed but worrying reports that the pro-President [Alassane] Ouattara group, the Forces Républicaines, has been committing human rights violations during their advance towards Abidjan, especially in the Guiglo and Daloa areas in western Côte d’Ivoire.  The Human Rights Office also says that pro-Gbagbo forces have continued to commit violations on a daily basis.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, the violence is pushing more people into Ghana — where there are now more than 5,000 Ivorian refugees.  UNHCR also says that the number of Ivorians in Liberia continues to rise sharply — some 123,000 refugees are now registered there.

And the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, is in Liberia today, at the start of a two-day visit.  Security permitting, she will also travel to Côte d’Ivoire on 3 April.

**Secretary-General in Kenya

The Secretary-General is currently holding a press conference in Nairobi to discuss recent developments, including those in Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan and Libya.  He has been briefed on the attack on the UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, which he said was a cowardly attack that cannot be justified under any circumstances.  We expect to have a transcript of that press conference for you later today.

The Secretary-General has been also attending the Chief Executives Board meeting in Nairobi today.  As you know, the Board, which meets twice a year, brings together the heads of the specialized agencies, funds and programmes in the UN system.

Before the meeting began, the Secretary-General formally swore in Sahle-Work Zewde as the first dedicated Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi.  The Secretary-General said that Ms. Zewde, an Ethiopian with wide diplomatic and UN experience, notably in Africa, was a natural choice for the position.  He added that the UN Office at Nairobi is the only one of the four UN global headquarters that is located in a developing country.


On Libya, the Secretary-General’s diplomatic efforts to seek a solution to the crisis continue.  His Special Envoy, Mr. Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, has just concluded two days of talks in Libya, meeting with the opposition in Benghazi today after talks with authorities in Tripoli on Thursday.

While in Benghazi, the Special Envoy met with members of the Transitional National Council, including its leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.  In Tripoli, he met with Libyan Government officials, including Mr. Baghdadi al-Mahmudi, the Prime Minister.  Mr. al-Khatib reiterated the calls of the international community for the full implementation of Security Council resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011).  He expects to brief the Security Council on his travels early next week.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Libya to date.  Some 83,000 third-country nationals have been repatriated, but more than 12,000 people remain at border transit points and are in need of evacuation.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered food to six different locations in eastern Libya.  It is also providing logistics and telecommunications support to humanitarian workers in Libya and neighbouring countries.  So far, WFP — in cooperation with the Libyan Red Crescent — has reached more than 7,000 uprooted people displaced from Ajdabiya, and 20,000 others in the area will begin receiving food assistance in the coming days.  The Programme is working with the Red Crescent to provide food to 85,000 of the most vulnerable people in Benghazi and surrounding areas over the next two weeks.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, wrapped up a two-day mission to Egypt yesterday, during which he evaluated the UN refugee agency’s humanitarian response to the displacement crisis triggered by violence in Libya.  The agency warns that thousands of people could be trapped in areas rocked by clashes.  It hopes that it will be able to gain full access to people in eastern Libya in the coming days.

**Security Council

Colombia has replaced China as the Security Council President for the month of April.  Ambassador Néstor Osorio of Colombia, the new Council President, will brief you on the Council’s programme of work for this month next Monday, 4 April, at 12:30 p.m. in this room.


Last, Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, said that the planned high-level consultative meeting for that country will take place in Nairobi on 12 and 13 April.  He called on all Somali authorities to participate.  He said that the main objective of the meeting is to reinvigorate dialogue among Somali authorities to establish a common vision for moving forward.  And we have more details in a press release.

**The Week Ahead

We also have available in the Spokesperson’s Office a copy of “The Week Ahead”.  And with that, questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  According to some sources, two UN personnel in Mazar-i-Sharif have been beheaded.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, don’t have any confirmed figures.  We have received worrying indications, including some of those that you have mentioned.  Like I said, Mr. de Mistura is on his way to Mazar-i-Sharif to get first-hand confirmation of what has been happening.  But I don’t have any solid numbers for you, and I cannot give that confirmation at this point in time.  If we have any further details later in the day, we will certainly provide it to all of you.  Yes?

Question:  So, you can’t even confirm whether it is seven or eight, I mean besides the beheadings?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  From all accounts it is a fairly substantial number of people who have been killed.  But I will refrain from giving you the numbers just right now or the nationalities until we have further details.  Because of the nature of the attack, our ability to get first-hand information from our people on the ground was limited and so we are trying to get that.

Question:  Okay, so can you also tell me what happened to the press conference by Father [Miguel] d’Escoto which was scheduled for this morning at 10 a.m., but it didn’t happen?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, the Nicaraguan Mission informed me that it would have to be postponed until a later date.  So, we’ll work with them and whenever they have decided on another date we will hold it at that time.

Question:  Basically he is not coming here, is what you are saying?  Or you don’t know?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  You need to check with the Nicaraguan Mission.  But we’re in touch with them, and whenever there is a convenient date for them, we will schedule it for that.

Question:  A follow-up on that?  I wanted to just take… because yesterday, you’d said in asking why the Thursday press conference had been cancelled that you couldn’t speak for the Secretariat.  I didn’t absolutely understand that, because I thought that’s what this briefing is about.  But can you now say why that got cancelled?  Various people have said that the US complained to the Secretariat and that it was the Secretariat that cancelled the press conference on Thursday.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, like I said, I believe, at the time, we were informed that the room, that this room would not be usable in the morning hours.  So, we actually had to reschedule several of the morning press conferences.  It’s not just that one.  There were three press conferences that we rescheduled…

Question:  So, it was just a coincidence that they scheduled maintenance on the room?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  And so, we’d actually told them that they could reschedule it to that afternoon.  But since then, I have just been working with them to try and get a good time for when they can do it.

Question:  Father d’Escoto Brockman has been quoted as saying that he believes that Ban Ki-moon has violated the UN Charter in a variety of ways.  And I wonder, have you seen that interview and what’s your response to it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen that interview, so I wouldn’t have any response to that direct comment.  The Secretary-General, as you know, is one of the officials responsible for the upholding of the UN Charter and he takes it very seriously.

Question:  Is a former President of the General Assembly allowed to come into the UN building to have press conferences if he chooses, or what’s… what courtesy is accorded to a former President of the General Assembly?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I believe he was trying to speak in a different capacity, rather than in a General Assembly capacity.  But yes, of course he is welcome to speak here, and we’re trying to set that up.  Whenever is a convenient time for the Nicaraguan Mission, they will let us know.

Question:  And just one last question on this.  I heard yesterday that one of the conditions of the courtesy passes accorded to Mr. [Mohammed] Shalgham and [Ibrahim] Dabbashi is that they not speak to the press.  I don’t know, is… can you confirm what the… what the specifics of the Office of Protocol arrangement with both of them were?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  They have courtesy passes that give them fairly extensive ability to move throughout the building.

Question:  Can you give a disclosure of what the conditions of those passes are?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe we disclose conditions on passes, in the first place.  Yes?

Question:  Going back to Mazar-i-Sharif, how did the protesters reach the UN compound?  Was there any specific protection for this UN compound, as far as you know?  And do you have any details on how the protesters could actually kill these UN personnel?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The UN compound does receive protection.  Among the protection, it has a contingent of guards from the Gurkhas.  I believe that some of the guards themselves were among the casualties, but we are trying to confirm those.

Question:  The protesters were able to reach within the compound, or did it happen outside the compound?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Some of those details are things that we would have to get when we can get more first-hand information on the ground.  Like I said, we had a fairly substantial number of casualties — both deaths and injuries — so our ability to get that information right now is constrained.  Yes?

Question:  There is a report on the wire that the UN mission is going to facilitate Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo’s exit if he wishes.  Has there been any communications about Gbagbo going to leave where he is right now in Ivory Coast?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm anything about any exit of Laurent Gbagbo.  As you know, we have been in touch through the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire, both with people from Alassane Ouattara’s side and from people on Laurent Gbagbo’s side.  So we are in contact with them and we’re trying to do as much as we can to make sure that the situation is resolved peacefully.  As you know, the Secretary-General has made clear that he believes that there should be a transfer of power.  He said that again in the statement that we issued yesterday, and that is what we are trying to see happen in as orderly and as peaceful a manner as is possible right now.  Yes?  Yes, please, Ozlem?

Question:  Farhan, is the Secretary-General going to speak to the leaders in Cyprus to let them know that there is not going to be a meeting in April?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe the Secretary-General did have phone calls recently with the Cypriot leaders.  I don’t have a readout for you on that.  But if we have something on that later on, we will share it.  Yes?

[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later said that no phone calls have taken place in the past few days.]

Question:  Farhan, there has been some reports regarding bloggers in the Gulf area; hundreds of them have been arrested.  Do you have any information about that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have specific information, but what I can tell you is, of course, the Secretary-General has repeatedly spoken up about the need throughout the region for freedom of expression and for freedom of assembly to be upheld.  And that of course includes the freedom of expression for bloggers.

Question:  Do you have your people there on the ground?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Are they not following such things?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we’ve been getting regular updates from our various offices on the ground, yes.  And we have seen certain things that have caused concern.  And when we do, we have, as you know, been coming out with different statements.  I don’t have any specific reaction today for you.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, I just wanted to find out, number one, about this report that there are seven foreigners killed.  Were they United Nations personnel or the UN personnel killed or they were Afghans?  Do you have that determination as yet?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, because of the sketchiness of the information, I don’t want to give you any numbers that would prove to be false a few hours from now.  So I am not going to give you any numbers.  I do believe that there were casualties, both involving the staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and of the people who were guarding the staff.  But I do not have any reliable numbers or information to share with you on that just yet.  So I wouldn’t give any of those numbers now.  Yes?

[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later added that the United Nations had confirmed the deaths of three international UN personnel and four UN-contracted security personnel.]

Question:  Just one… I guess as part of this without getting… there were… after that attack that took place on the guest house in Kabul, is… were all the UN facilities in Afghanistan… was there security plans under MOSS [Minimum Operating Safety Standards] and otherwise reviewed and did this facility have cement blocks and barricades?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t give you the precise details of what the security arrangement were, but yes, we did have security arrangements in place in all of the compounds, including this one.  And we did have heightened preparations among guards.  Like I said, among the casualties, we believe some of them were guards who were trying to protect the other staff.  Yes?

Question:  On Côte d'Ivoire, do you have any details on the violence against civilians from the Ouattara forces?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We have some details; some of the information we have, we’re still trying to confirm with human rights experts on the ground.  Others, we have made our concerns about the situation in Guiglo and Daloa well known in terms of what we believe to be attacks from the forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara.  For further information, I would refer you to the briefing that was given earlier today by our colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.  Rupert Colville spoke extensively about this.

Question:  Are you in touch with Alassane Ouattara or his administration regarding that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, we have been and we have been telling all concerned about the need to avoid reprisal attacks.  And in that regard, you will have seen the statement that we put out yesterday from the Secretary-General, which makes very clear his views on this.  Yes?

Question:  About Côte d'Ivoire, one… first is that, I mean, when you say that UN staff killed in various locations, does this include this Swedish UN worker in Côte d'Ivoire?  Can you confirm that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I can confirm that Zahra Abidi died yesterday after being hit by a stray bullet.  She was a Swedish citizen and a civilian staff working at the Joint Operation Centre in Côte d'Ivoire.

Question:  Do you know any more about how that took place?  Was it… sometimes described as a stray bullet, is that your understanding?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I said it was a stray bullet just now.

Correspondent:  Okay, I’m sorry…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Just seconds ago.

Question:  I want to ask about the airport.  It was said… it’s been reported that the UN yesterday took over the Abidjan airport, and it was generally described as the military there switched sides from Gbagbo to Ouattara and called the UN in.  Then this guy, Abou Mousa, was the second one yesterday in front of ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions], said it was actually Gbagbo that ceded control of the airport to the UN.  And now it’s been… apparently it’s been given to Force Licorne, can… what was the sequence of events, and what’s… who invited the UN into the airport and did the UN then hand it over to Force Licorne, as reported?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The person who was the commander, the commanding officer, at the airport and the people under his command did turn it over peacefully to UNOCI.  So it’s been in charge of that since then.

Question:  This is about Georgia.  There was a press conference here at 11, where the Foreign Minister of Georgia said that this funding of Mr. [Antti] Turunen, the Secretary-General’s envoy to the Geneva process, it may end on 30 April; it was extended by a month.  I’d asked about it on the 4th and supposedly he was going to hear more.  What is the current status of the Secretariat’s funding of the Geneva process?  The Georgia Foreign Minister said that it is all being blocked by Russia and may end.  Is that your understanding?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now, our understanding is that Mr. Turunen has the ability to go about his duties.  If that changes, we’ll certainly let you know, at that point.

Question:  He said specifically, sitting right where you are, that, 30 April, there is no more money.  So, I am wondering, what plans does the UN have to continue that diplomatic work after the 30th?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, today is the 1st of April.  If we need to make any preparations, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Question:  On this violation of the Arab and Palestinian rights by Israelis after the Knesset passed that law last week, did you have a reaction?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General actually spoke by telephone today with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu of Israel.  I believe we will be able to put out a readout of that call fairly soon, and once we do that, we will share that with you.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good weekend.

* *** *

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