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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 10 May 2011

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

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

Good afternoon, everyone.

** Myanmar

I have the following a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar:

The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Myanmar, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday in Myanmar for a three-day visit at the invitation of the Government. The Special Adviser will hold meetings in Naypyitaw and Yangon with the newly installed Government of Myanmar, political parties, civil society organizations and other key interlocutors, in the implementation of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate.

**Secretary-General in Geneva

The Secretary-General arrived in Geneva from Istanbul this morning to attend the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

He told the meeting that, as we have learned repeatedly, no country or city, rich or poor, is immune from disaster. But, alongside the dangers from disaster itself, there is the dangerous myth that acts of nature are just that — unavoidable and inevitable.

The Secretary-General said that, by our actions, we can either compound disasters or diminish them. The difference lies in preparedness, he said, adding that it is crucial to accelerate our efforts, to broaden the coalition for action and to better connect risk reduction and sustainable development. The Secretary-General returns to New York tomorrow afternoon.

**Security Council

Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, spoke at today’s Security Council meeting on the protection of civilians, saying that she is concerned at the violence levelled against civilians in Bahrain, Yemen and, more recently, Syria, and at the loss of life and other human rights violations. In Syria, she said, reports of the deployment of tanks and shelling of residential areas are alarming.

She expressed particular concern at the deterioration of the situations in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire into armed conflict. Ms. Amos noted that in Libya, civilians continue to be killed and injured by fighting between Government and opposition forces, especially in Misrata and the western Nafusa Mountains. In Côte d’Ivoire, she added, direct attacks against civilians, indiscriminate shelling, sexual violence, attacks against humanitarian workers and peacekeepers, have all been reported and must be investigated without delay.

In a message delivered to today’s Security Council meeting, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that President Alassane Ouattara’s Government must urgently adopt measures to restore the rule of law throughout Côte d’Ivoire and investigate recent violations.

And Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy briefed Council members on protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations, including in Southern Sudan.


Speaking of Southern Sudan, this afternoon, four Zambian soldiers from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) were shot at and wounded while on patrol near Goli, near Abyei, in Southern Sudan. The four had to be evacuated for immediate medical treatment. The identity of their attackers has not been determined, so far. There will be an emergency Joint Military Committee meeting tomorrow to deal with this matter. The UN Mission in Sudan strongly condemns the attack.

** Darfur

The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has confirmed the arrest on 6 May of one of its staff members. The colleague, a female national staff member, was detained by Sudanese security agents at her home inside the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons, in North Darfur. The Mission is in contact with the authorities to determine the reasons for her arrest and detention.

Meanwhile, some 500 community leaders from around West Darfur today met in Zalingei to discuss peace and reconciliation. The meeting, the first of its kind in West Darfur, brought together civil society, women's groups and local government officials, according to the mission.

** Libya

A boat carrying some 600 people fleeing Libya sank shortly after departing Tripoli last week, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports. The full death toll is unknown, and most of those on board are believed to have been from sub-Saharan Africa.

Until now, Europe has received less than 2 per cent of those escaping Libya. But this past weekend, there was an increase in arrivals across the Mediterranean. Five boats, carrying nearly 2,400 people, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. All of the boats needed rescuing by the Italian coast guard and maritime police.

The number of people who have reached Italy and Malta from Libya has reached nearly 12,400, and as many as 800 people are unaccounted for. UNHCR repeats its call to European States to urgently put into place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue at sea on the Mediterranean.

Yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos told the Security Council that 746,000 people have fled Libya, while some 5,000 people remain stranded at border points in Egypt, Tunisia and Niger.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

For press conferences tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., following the noon briefing, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict will brief the media on the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which will be released tomorrow.

And at 2:30 p.m., there will be press conference organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the Convention on Biological Diversity. That’s in this room.

Yes, please, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Farhan. The European Parliament has asked the European Council to put on the UN agenda the idea of parliamentary assembly. And this is, they say, in order to increase democratic principles, better participation of citizens, to increase accountability and transparency. What does the Secretary-General think of that idea?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, this is something that is to be considered by the Member States themselves. As you know, just a few days ago, the Member States moved ahead with the resolution concerning greater participation by the European Union. And it’s for them to determine details of how that will proceed. Yes, Masood?

Question: On this issue of Israel stopping the payment of selection of taxes, which the Secretary-General did talk about with the Israeli Prime Minister the other day, but the Israelis have not done anything. They have went ahead and stopped payment completely, and of course the European Union and France are helping, but how long will the situation continue? I mean, the taxes have been collected on behalf of the Palestinians.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, we are aware of that. As you know, the Secretary-General over the weekend did bring up this matter with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and he did encourage the payment of these taxes and will continue to follow the matter. But the Secretary-General has already made clear his views on this. Yes?

Question: Sure, on Sudan, I had wanted to ask you two things. One is in… there is this report of dozens of people killed in Warap and Unity State and… by rebel former members of the South Sudan Government. And I just wonder what UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] is… if they have… if they can confirm that the figure of 81 killed in two recent clashes, whether they can confirm that and what they are doing. And also what, with your report on Abyei, there is obviously a Security Council trip that’s proposing to go to Abyei. Is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], has it given its final recommendation that the Council should in fact go to Abyei later this month? And has that been given? There seems to be some dispute between the President of the Council and what Sudan is saying.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Security Council continues to be in touch with the relevant UN missions about its forthcoming trip. For the arrangements on that trip, I would advise that you stay in touch with my colleague Yves Sorokobi, who will be travelling with the Security Council and will have the latest information as it develops. Regarding Unity State, I do not have a confirmation for you, but will check with UNMIS whether there is anything further to say about that. Yes?

Question: Thank you. Is there any new development regarding the efforts aimed at restarting the Middle East peace process?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You’ve seen what the Secretary-General has had to say about that and he’s repeatedly talked about the need to break the impasse in the Middle East peace process. For the latest in terms of what he said on that, I’d also refer you back to the readout of his phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Yes?

Question: I want to ask about, I guess about Myanmar and also about Mr. Nambiar. This trip of… that he is engaging on, is he going to… a question has arisen whether he is going to meet with, you know, representatives of the ethnic minorities, Karen, Shan, other groups that last time he was there, he was asked to meet with. And also if he is already enroute, and the Secretary-General is not here and the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General] is not here, who is sort of… I mean I have asked this before, but it seemed like, who is in charge of the UN right now? It arose yesterday at some event in the GA [General Assembly] lobby, Mr. [Oscar] Fernandez-Taranco spoke. Who is the highest official, who is in charge of the UN Headquarters at this time with the DSG, SG and Chief of Staff all gone?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It depends on whether you’re talking about Executive Office affairs or the United Nations system in New York. Right now, the senior official at the United Nations in New York would be the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

Question: Okay. And the Executive Office of the Secretary-General?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It has its own procedures for approval. That’s largely a bureaucratic matter. It’s not necessarily that much of a concern for you, but there are senior officials who are entrusted with being Officer-in-Charge while Mr. Nambiar is away. But in all honesty, a lot of these officials are also, of course, reachable by e-mail. So, we’ve been in contact, for example, with the Secretary-General’s delegation or with Mr. Nambiar even over the course of today.

Question: And so, is Mr. Nambiar going to be meeting with representatives of ethnic minorities while he is there?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have a schedule for all of his meetings. As I mentioned, it will be with a variety of stakeholders. I do know that he does look forward to meeting again with Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the National League for Democracy. And as the trip proceeds, we will try to get some more details about other meetings as they are scheduled. Yes?

Question: On this exchange of prisoners between Israelis and the Palestinians, do you know of any progress on that, because there is a report today by Amnesty International that one of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem who has been picked up by Israel is incarcerated without charges being filed against him, and any amount of pleas have not worked to get him released.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything new to tell you about this. Obviously we’ve pressed at various levels over the years for the release of Palestinian prisoners, as well as Gilad Shalit, and we’ll continue to call for their prompt release. Yes?

Question: Yes, on Western Sahara, there was supposed to be an informal discussion held this month under the chairmanship of Ambassador [Christopher] Ross. We are now in the 10th of the month. Are they going to announce any time soon the dates and the venue for this meeting?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have a formal announcement on the dates and the venue just yet. At this stage, looking at a time that will work for all of the various parties involved in this process, we are looking at a time somewhere in early June. But once we have dates and a venue, we will announce it. Yes?

Question: On Uganda and also Syria. In Uganda, there have been protests and there are now reports of nine unarmed protestors shot and killed by the police there. And I just wonder, does the UN, I know that they have a country presence there, has the UN had anything to say about the [Yoweri] Museveni Government’s actions with regard to these protestors?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has been following up on the issue of Uganda. In fact, just within the last couple of weeks, she made her concerns known in a fairly lengthy statement about the various human rights problems that her team has seen with regards to Uganda.

Question: But on these most recent shootings, is that something…? I mean, does the Secretariat given its presence in the country…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, like I said, Ms. Pillay has been following the human rights situation. She will continue to monitor and issue statements as she sees necessary.

Question: Can I ask, I just want to ask you, I’ve seen some announcement by UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] that it is somehow, can’t communicate with its staff in Deraa, that it may be suspending some of its programmes in Syria. Is that all of its programmes? What communications does it have? And is there any update on what was said yesterday by Valerie Amos that in fact OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitatian Affairs] will be able to go to Deraa later this week? Is that sort of confirmed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It is not confirmed. We may have something more from Ms. Amos to say as the situation proceeds. And if that’s the case, we’ll share that with all of you, if she has any further statement on that. UNRWA has put out its own statement about its situation in Deraa and I’d just refer you over to their website, which has that statement.

Question: And are they a source of information for the Secretariat on events in Syria? Is UNRWA able, what some people wondered is, is the UN able in any way to get information from within Syria of how the protests are proceeding?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’re trying to get information from a variety of sources. I wouldn’t particularly disclose any precise source. And as I mentioned, UNRWA has pointed out on its own website its problem that it has had with regard to Deraa; they have a statement on that.

And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.

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