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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 14 February 2011

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

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

Good afternoon everybody.

** Lebanon

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.

As Lebanon marks the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attack that took the lives of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others, the Secretary-General stands with the people of Lebanon in commemorating the life and achievements of Mr. Hariri and renews his condolences to the families of the victims of this crime.

The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to the efforts of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to uncover the truth so as to bring those responsible to justice and send a message that impunity will not be tolerated.

The Secretary-General also calls for the full implementation of all Security Council resolutions pertaining to Lebanon.

**Security Council

As you know, the Security Council is holding consultations on Cambodia-Thailand this morning. The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, is expected at the Security Council stakeout when consultations are over.

And the Foreign Ministers of Cambodia and Thailand will also both speak at the stakeout after the meeting. The Thai Foreign Minister will also hold a press conference in this auditorium at 3 p.m. today.

**Secretary-General in Ecuador

The Secretary-General is in Quito, in Ecuador, where he is meeting right now with President Rafael Correa. The two of them intend to talk to the press after their meeting. The Secretary-General will tell the President that he has come to show support for Ecuador when it is still recovering from last September’s events. And he will express his trust that with dialogue, Ecuador will continue to strengthen its institutions, advance development and forge solidarity. This evening, he will travel to Peru, where he will meet with President Alan Garcia tomorrow.

**Children and Armed Conflict

The Secretary-General’s latest reports on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan and Chad are out as documents. On Afghanistan, he says that children have been used by anti-Government groups for suicide bombing or for planting explosives. Children are also being recruited by the Afghan national security forces, despite the official Government policy.

On Chad, the Secretary-General says that the improved security situation in the country’s east has had a positive impact on the protection of children, with a large number of children having been returned or released from armed groups. However, he writes, children continued to be targets of sexual and gender-based violence.

**Press Conferences

I understand Mr. Pascoe is about to speak at the stakeout following the meeting, as I mentioned, on Thailand and Cambodia.

At 1:15 p.m. today, there will be a press conference; this is experts from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Research Institute for Social Development. They will be speaking about social protection and its importance in poverty eradication.

And tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., there will be a press conference with Joaquin Antuña, President of the non-governmental organization Peace and Cooperation, who will present the 2011 School Award “Peace and Reconciliation”.

And then at 11:15 a.m., Joel Simon, who is the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Riz Khan of Al Jazeera, will give a press conference to launch the annual CPJ publication, Attacks on the Press. And both of those press conferences will take place here in this Auditorium.

So, questions please? Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Martin. Since the events in Tunisia, some 5,000 Tunisians have left the country by ship and landed in the Italian island of Lampedusa, creating a crisis there. Italy is very concerned about this and has asked the European Union to help it cope with the problem. What is the UN doing in terms of preventive measures to head off any humanitarian crisis in the area?

Spokesperson: Well, I understand that our colleagues at the UN who work for the UNHCR, the refugee agency, are closely following events and in touch with the authorities to see what assistance they can provide. I know that they are actively involved in that right now, and should we have more details — and I would anticipate more details — then I’d be very happy to share them with you. Yes, Masood?

Question: Yes, there is a report, I mean, emanating from Pakistan and over here, that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the one who was convicted in a United States court about a year ago, that she is… that the United Nations has obtained certain evidence about involvement of certain agencies in her arrest and incarceration which refutes the evidence presented in the court. Is that true that the UN has a report which says Aafia Siddiqui [inaudible], and that that report has been made available to certain groups in Pakistan?

Spokesperson: I have to check on that, I am not aware of that. Let me check. Okay, thank you. Yes, Anne?

[The Spokesperson later noted that this was a reference to a report by a non-governmental organization and not by the United Nations.]

Question: Yes. Will there be any stakeouts or press briefings tomorrow by the Lithuanian Foreign Minister as [inaudible] Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the community of [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: Let me find out. It may be that that’s the case. Typically, a visiting Chairperson in office would speak to the press. But let me find out.

Question: I guess I want to follow up on… the Palestinians have called for, I mean, the Palestinian President dissolved his Cabinet and called for elections in… ahead of September. Have they called upon the United Nations to help them in facilitating the election at all? Does the United Nations know anything about it?

Spokesperson: Well, that’s something that has happened relatively recently, I mean this latest development. I am not aware yet of any request for assistance, but, as you know, typically, when a request is made, the UN would look at it very closely to see how it could help. And the United Nations has a long track record in providing technical assistance for elections in different parts of the world. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, Martin. I wanted to ask you about this, the flying by UNMIS of Ahmed Haroun, who is indicted by the ICC. And earlier response from your office had said that…

Spokesperson: Matthew, why don’t you read out what your blog said today?

Correspondent: Yeah, Okay.

Spokesperson: Why don’t you read out…?

Question: No, what I would like to know, I’d like to know what your response is.

Spokesperson: Why don’t you read out what the top of your blog said today? Do you want to read out the top, what your blog actually says?

Correspondent: I’d like… okay, fine, I mean… I guess that… I was trying to ask you a question. I thought that was the purpose of these briefings.

Spokesperson: No, I mean, just ask the question, but…

Question: Yeah, my question is, how is it consistent with the response that I got that said that there were these pre-existing seats and were done at no additional cost to the Mission with Mr. [Haile] Menkerios’ statement that there was a special helicopter used because there are no regular flights to Abyei. How are the two consistent? And what was the cost to Abyei? And…

Spokesperson: Well, I think there is a very clear answer to this. And that is that, at the request of the Government and when space is available, UNMIS provides seats on its flights to Government officials on official business related to the peace process, and without any financial implications to the Government and at no additional operational costs to the Mission. This means that, as part of the Mission's mandate, the cost of transporting Government officials, whether it is on a regular or a special flight, is already allocated in the Mission's budget and so there is no question of it incurring any additional operational costs.

And in this case — and as mentioned indeed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Menkerios — a regular flight was not available and therefore UNMIS transported Governor Haroun as part of its mandate to provide good offices to the parties, under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in their efforts to resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations.

And as I think you will recall, at the time there were clashes in Abyei going on at the time, and those clashes threatened to escalate. And it was Governor Haroun who was instrumental in bringing the Misseriya leaders to that meeting in Abyei, and this helped to prevent further clashes.

Question: But you understand why the answer that said on a space-available basis and at no additional operational cost to the Mission created the impression that this was a pre-existing flight, as from, for example, Kinshasa to Goma, on which he put somebody on an existing flight? I mean, that’s why I have been asking who else was on the flight and how much did the flight cost. It seems a fair question when transporting an indicted ICC indicted of war crimes.

Spokesperson: I think, as we’ve said very clearly, no additional operational costs are involved. Within the budget there are costs that cover transport, and there is no additional cost involved in the flight that was provided.

Question: The idea of like a special UN flight to fly Mr. Haroun to Abyei being at no additional costs to the Mission. I just, I guess I wanted…

Spokesperson: Because there are blocks of time available for flights, and that is already budgeted into the Mission’s budget, and indeed that is a standard procedure in any mission which has an aircraft.

Question: Would the UN fly Omer al-Bashir to Darfur? I mean, I guess I just want to know where it stops. I guess I just want to reiterate my question, despite the simplest way to do it, how much the flight actually cost - because there is, I am sure, a cost to it – and who else was on the flight? I mean, it seemed like a pretty fair… because there is controversy around this flight and I just find that the answer that was given, at least I know, maybe I am… maybe I am a bad reader, but it’s… when it says when seats are available and at no additional cost it implies that the flight was a pre-existing flight on which, at no cost to the Mission, they put Mr. Haroun on the flight. But it’s not the case.

Spokesperson: Well, it is as I said to you, when space is available and at the request of the Government, the Mission provides seats on its flights. And it doesn’t, there are no financial implications for the Government, and no additional operational costs to the mission.

Correspondent: [inaudible] when you said like when seats are available, usually this implies…

Spokesperson: Let’s move on, we’re moving round in circles, Matthew. Let’s move on to the next question. I am sure you have another question.

Question: I do, actually. One is that in Haiti…

Spokesperson: And I see other people have questions too. Rather than it being a dialogue.

Question: In Haiti…

Spokesperson: Let’s have other people ask questions.

Question: In Haiti…

Spokesperson: I’ll come back to you, I’ll come back to you, okay? Yes?

Question: Martin, the Secretary-General declared during the events in Tunisia that the UN stood ready to give assistance to the Tunisian people. Since then, has the provisional Government of the country asked for any particular type of assistance?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, a human rights mission was sent quite quickly, and that formed part of an early assistance to the country to help them in the process of investigating what had happened, and also to enable dialogue and reconciliation to start. I know that my colleagues from different parts of the UN system have been in touch with the Tunisian authorities on their request, and I am sure that those details will be coming together before long. It is obviously something that the UN has a role to play in, if it is asked to do so, and it has a track record of helping in different ways in different countries if asked to do so. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, I want to know, in Haiti, there is this report over the weekend about this large camp called the Canaan camp, which it said people had set up and with the expect… you know, thinking rightly or wrongly that services would be provided, and quotes Nigel Fisher as saying the Government has blocked the UN from providing services. And I guess I just wanted to know, what is being done to ensure that these people receive at least some basic services, given MINUSTAH being there, and what is the relationship between the Government and the UN in terms of providing services to these people?

Spokesperson: Well, we saw your e-mailed question and when we have an answer we will give it to you, Matthew.

Question: [inaudible], the question, that I guess was from last week about the report about the OIOS audit of the Umoja programme. Is there a response yet? And I also had asked a couple of additional questions about…

Spokesperson: Likewise, Matthew, seen your e-mail, and when we have a response we will give it to you.

Question: Also the Congo, there is this report, I wanted to know whether MONUSCO has been aware of it and has somehow publicized this of the, not the LRA, but the ADF-NALU, this Ugandan group, local leaders have said that they killed 12 people in eastern Congo and that there are signs of torture. Is that something that MONUSCO is acting on?

Spokesperson: Well, we are aware of an incident that took place, well it is on the night of 11 February. And this is in Faradje in northern DRC. And what I can tell you is that the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, in collaboration with the Congolese army and the local administration, has met with the residents of that location, Faradje. And they have been examining the situation and they will recommend measures to enhance the security in the area. I can tell you that the Mission’s and the Congolese army’s deployments in Faradje were already reinforced on Saturday with troops being airlifted to there from Dungu, which is about 100 kilometres away. That’s what I can tell you on that. Okay, yes, Masood?

Question: On this, I just want to ask a question about this Gaza… the situation in Gaza and the crossings and so forth. Since Mubarak’s Government has been ousted, I am asking, as it was also monitoring the so-called, I mean, tunnels and so forth into Gaza, has that situation eased out or has become more… or Israel is not probably patrolling more than… because Egypt is now busy doing else, other things?

Spokesperson: I’d need to check with my colleagues from UNRWA, who obviously are on the ground in Gaza. What I would say is that, as the Secretary-General mentioned to the Israeli Defence Minister, when they met last week, more needs too be done to ease the suffering of the people of Gaza, and one important part of that is to allow, through the crossing points, unhindered movement of people and goods in both directions. That’s vital for the people of Gaza so that they can rebuild and so that they can really allow their untapped potential to really be… to come to the fore and for them to be able to rebuild their economy.

Question: Martin, did he receive any positive assurances or, I mean, assurances of any action? I mean, [inaudible].

Spokesperson: Well, as I mentioned last week, the Secretary-General expressed his satisfaction that Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy, and the Israeli authorities have put together a number of elements in a package that would allow more work to be done in Gaza on a number of different projects and indeed it wasn’t simply Gaza, but the West Bank, as well. But obviously having a package in place is one thing. It is actually implementing it and seeing the results that really counts. And so we will be watching that very carefully and clearly encouraging the Israeli authorities to follow through on that. And certainly that is a really important aspect if we are to see the plight of the people in Gaza eased. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Thank you, Martin. On Western Sahara, during one of the informal discussions in Manhasset, Long Island, Morocco has asked Ambassador [Christopher] Ross, the Personal Envoy to the Sahara conflict, to involve the observers, namely Algeria and Mauritania, as full partners, rather than as observers into the discussions. Does he intend to do that next round of discussions?

Spokesperson: I’d have to check with Mr. Ross on that. As you know, the approach that has been taken is a step-by-step approach. And a key element of that is building confidence, and you will have seen that some very practical measures have been taken with the aim of helping the people on the ground, and through that to help to build confidence in the political process as well. But let me check with Mr. Ross on that, yes.

Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon. Thank you.

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