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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 25 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon everybody, and welcome to the briefing.


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

The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the violent clashes in the centre of Sana’a between the security forces of the Government and armed tribesmen that have left many people dead and wounded. He is concerned that this confrontation might further destabilize the situation and calls for an immediate end to the fighting.

The Secretary-General strongly urges all sides to continue efforts aimed at finding a peaceful resolution of Yemen’s political crisis.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General arrived in Addis Ababa earlier today, where he is attending an Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union on the State of Peace and Security in Africa. He’s expected to deliver remarks around now, and we’ll make those remarks available as soon as possible.

While in the Ethiopian capital, the Secretary-General has met with the Vice-President of South Africa, the President of Equatorial Guinea, the President of Senegal and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

Yesterday evening, he spoke with the Libyan Prime Minister by telephone, and he reiterated the urgent need for a real ceasefire and serious negotiations on a transition to a government that fully meets the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have the readout of that telephone call in my office.

This morning, the Secretary-General visited a health post in Bahir Dar, in Amhara State, in the north of Ethiopia, where he met with health workers who are providing essential services to communities previously living without ready access to such care. Through this, the Secretary-General said, needless deaths could be avoided and the lives of many women and children could be saved by training health workers and midwives. He also visited a larger health centre, a few kilometres away, which supports the health post by providing it with supplies and on-the-job training. He spoke with doctors and nurses about their work, as well as with some patients.


I have an update on Abyei. The situation in and around the Abyei area remains tense. Yesterday, the crew of four UNMIS helicopters lifting off in quick succession witnessed shots fired from positions believed to be close to the Mission’s premises in Abyei. The helicopters were not carrying passengers and the helicopters were not hit. They landed safely at WAU airfield, which is in Western Bar El Ghazal state.

Initial patrols around the area of conflict suggest that looting and pillaging have left the town badly damaged and empty. No civilian casualties have been observed. Sporadic gunfire persists in the area. More patrols in the immediate area of conflict were scheduled for today.

The UN Mission in Sudan is in the process of deploying an additional company to the area to be completed today. And another company of four armoured personnel carriers was redeployed today to the town of Agok, south of Abyei, where most civilians affected by the conflict fled to. The Mission has temporarily relocated some of its civilian staff based in Abyei pending a return to normal security conditions.


I was asked yesterday about journalists in Bahrain. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) advises that Naziha Saeed, a journalist who works for Radio Monte-Carlo and France24, was summoned and questioned for nearly 12 hours on 22 May. And UNESCO says that Ms. Saeed has now left the country.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

A couple of press conferences: Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m., there will be a presentation of the 2011 Global Peace Index. This press conference is sponsored by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

And then at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference that is on the tenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

That’s it. Questions, please? Masood, and then Mr. Abbadi. Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you. On the situation in Libya, where the Secretary-General had a conversation with the Prime Minister of Libya, I mean, the attacks, I mean, by the coalition forces are also killing lots of civilians. Now, where is the line being drawn over here? The civilians are being killed from both sides, and basically the resolution was in favour of protecting the population. So, where does it go? The Secretary-General, has he questioned the, now the coalition forces bombing…?

Spokesperson: Well, I mean, that’s precisely why there is an urgent need for a ceasefire. That’s precisely why that’s important. And obviously, the Prime Minister, in speaking to the Secretary-General, expressed his concerns about the coalition’s bombing campaign and the Secretary-General, as I say, reiterated the need for a ceasefire and for serious negotiations. As you know, the Secretary-General is, right now, possibly as we speak, addressing the African Union assembly on this topic, amongst others. And so, it may well be that there is some additional wording that would address the question that you have made a little bit later.

Question: Martin…

Spokesperson: Yes?

Question: …in this, is the Secretary-General asking for a ceasefire on both sides, or is he only asking the Qadhafi forces to cease fire?

Spokesperson: Well, by definition, a ceasefire means both sides, I think, Iftikhar. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question: Thank you, Martin. This morning, Amnesty International is criticizing the UN for not providing sufficient protection for the civilians in Côte d'Ivoire and in particular in the region of Duékoué. What’s the UN response?

Spokesperson: Three points, Mr. Abbadi. We’ve obviously seen the Amnesty International report, which provides a detailed account of human rights violations allegedly committed by various forces in Côte d'Ivoire. And as you mention, the report also makes some comments with regard to the UN peacekeeping operation. Specifically on the incidents in Duékoué, the fighting there occurred at the time when the UNOCI (United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire) contingent, the peacekeeping contingent itself, was under siege and attack. But despite those constraints and the fact that the peacekeepers were in the middle of a rotation, the contingent did its utmost to effectively protect displaced persons gathered in Duékoué.

The third point is that an inter-departmental assessment mission, which recently visited Côte d'Ivoire, went to Duékoué where the Catholic mission, which hosts the bulk of the displaced persons and the IDPs (internally displaced persons) themselves, praised the peacekeepers for the actions they took to save the lives of more than 25,000 people who had taken refuge at the Catholic mission. And also more than 1,000 who were being sheltered at a Protestant mission and more than 6,000 people who were rescued by the contingent, meaning the peacekeeping contingent, after those people had fled into the bush and forest and other remote locations.

One additional factor here is that the mission itself has documented numerous human rights violations. And that documentation is being pulled together in a report, and that report is expected to be published quite soon. And as I think you also know, there is an International Commission of Inquiry that was established by the Human Rights Commission — Council, I beg your pardon — and that has been looking into the circumstances and the facts surrounding a number of allegations relating to the violence that occurred after the presidential election. And that Commission of Inquiry is scheduled to present its report to the Human Rights Council at its next regular session, which is in June — next month. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure. Sudan question and a Sri Lanka question. But, thanks for your update on Abyei. I wanted to know, I know that the Secretary-General’s report on the future of UNMIS (United Nations Mission in the Sudan) was, came out yesterday and proposes 7,000 troops in the south to provide protection. I just wonder, is that going to be updated in light of the events, I, presumably that have happened since this recommendation was made? And also, you didn’t mention it, but I wanted to know whether the UN is, you know, embracing this satellite imagery from the Satellite Sentinel project which seems to be showing Misseriya tribesmen heading south and… I mean, is that something… is this deployment meant to counter that? Is the idea that these Misseriya are actually going to head into South Sudan itself or simply populate and try to change the demographics of Abyei?

Spokesperson: Well, we’re obviously aware of the satellite imagery reports that are out there, and I know that my colleagues in the Mission are looking into that. The deployment of additional peacekeepers to the area is to ensure that there is a clear presence to protect civilians. That’s the key role there of the peacekeepers. It is a presence which is being reinforced, as I have mentioned, and has been reinforced in the last couple of days. With regard to the shape of any potential future mission, clearly that is for the Security Council to determine. And obviously, in the course of those discussions, new factors, including the most recent violence, could be taken into account. But that will be for the Council to determine. Obviously, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is there with the expertise to help provide that kind of input if requested.

Question: And I want to ask, there are a couple of Darfur questions that have come up. One is there are reports, this… of a UNAMID patrol running over and killing a child in Wadi Salih, and that Radio Dabanga reports that the Mission paid some 250,000 pounds, Sudanese pounds, as sort of either blood money or to get its vehicles freed. And I just wondered, is that true and is that UNAMID policy? Can you confirm the death of the child and did they pay [inaudible] money?

Spokesperson: I’ll have to ask, I’ll have to ask.

Question: And the other one is, there seems to be an acknowledgement, but I wanted to ask you here, that UNAMID flew a political detainee for, I guess on behalf of the Government of Khartoum, they flew this guy, Hassab Allah Al-Ajab, who is part of the Popular Congress Party of Hassan Al-Turabi, that they flew him in a UNAMID helicopter. And I just wonder, what precautions are in place that UN resources are not used to carry, you know, to transport for detention the political enemies of [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: Well, I do have something for you on that one. An investigation was carried out by UNAMID into this after a complaint was lodged with the Mission by the community policing centre. And this investigation showed that the alleged detainee was presented to UNAMID personnel as someone from the Government of Sudan travelling with other colleagues on official business. He was not restrained, and he showed no signs that he was travelling under duress, or against his wishes. He also didn’t inform any UNAMID personnel during the boarding process or indeed during the flight, that he was a member of an opposition political party who was being transported against his wishes. The outcome of this investigation has been communicated, both verbally and in writing, to the leadership of the community policing centre following their complaint. And obviously, UNAMID will continue to exercise proper due diligence in processing its flights in Darfur. You said you had a couple of questions on Sri Lanka, but let me see if there are other questions and I’ll come back to you. Okay? Anne, and then Nizar.

Question: On 23 May, the Special Envoy to Lebanon, Michael C. Williams, and the head of the delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst, they issued a joint statement calling of the immediate and urgent release of the seven innocent Estonian tourists who were kidnapped in Lebanon about two months ago. Do you expect the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to issue a statement on this issue, considering that members of the international community, particularly the Estonian Government, European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Arab countries in the region are very concerned about resolving this issue?

Spokesperson: Well, the statement that you just referred to is extremely clear, made by Mr. Williams, who, as you know, is appointed by the Secretary-General, and I think it is clear that the Secretary-General would support that joint statement in calling for the release of the seven Estonian tourists, cyclists, as quickly as possible. There is no reason at all for them to have been held in the first place, and they certainly need to be released as quickly as possible. Yes, Nizar?

Question: After the rejectionist speech made by Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu yesterday in the [United States] Congress, how does the Secretary-General see the peace process, I mean, refusing to… the return of the refugees, refusing return to the 1967 war, war borders, rejection of division of Jerusalem and other, and the settlements issue?

Spokesperson: Well, Nizar, the Quartet made a statement, and the Secretary-General made a statement with regard to the speech made by Mr. [Barack] Obama. And the contents of both of those statements are still valid and carry the same strength today as they did when they were first made.

Question: I mean, in the light of yesterday’s speeches, I mean which were really…

Spokesperson: I am not sure you were listening to what I said. Those statements carry the same weight today that they did when they were first made. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, yeah, on Sri Lanka and then, sort of management. But it’s pretty… I am not sure what you will say to this, but the Sri Lankan Government has on its website made much… reported on the signing of a memorandum of understand… uh, uh, a standby arrangement, memorandum of understanding between Sri Lanka and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] signed, I guess this week, because it was on their website yesterday, saying that the Permanent Representative, Palitha Kohona, but also that the Ambassador, Major General Shavendra Silva, were present and signed this agreement with DPKO. Since the battalion that was commanded by Shavendra Silva is in the report to the Secretary-General in reporting on what they seem to believe should be investigated as possible crimes of war, what is DPKO… was there any, is there any concern of signing peacekeeping agreements with an individual who is in this UN panel of experts’ report and is named as a possible criminal of war?

Spokesperson: First of all, this is a routine agreement, which the United Nations has already signed with 89 other Member States. And in this agreement, it identifies the kind of equipment and the type of personnel which the Government of Sri Lanka, in this case, would provide for peacekeeping operations in future. And this kind of agreement is meant to speed up the provision of resources to the UN when that is necessary. And just to address the broader question that I think you are raising, the primary responsibility of ensuring that nationals meet the

highest standard of integrity required for service with the United Nations clearly lies with Member States. And we insist with Member States that they should contribute personnel that have not committed human rights violations. And we do, as I am sure you know, carry out individual screening for uniformed personnel deployed as senior military or police personnel staff officers or experts on mission.

Question: Does he do some… I mean do they do similar screening, let’s say for military figures with whom they sign the agreements? I understand Mr. Silva is not being deployed, but is, until recently, a general of northern Sri Lanka.

Spokesperson: Let’s be clear, this is an agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka, not with an individual. It is with the Government of Sri Lanka, it is an agreement that is routine and it is the same kind of agreement that is already been signed by 89 other Member States. Okay?

Question: May I ask this management, I just wanted…?

Spokesperson: Sure.

Question: I wanted to understand — and again, this, I may be wrong on this — I thought at an earlier stage of his Secretary-Generalship that Mr. Ban had said that his ideal, at least, was that people would serve no more than five years in one position, that there be rotation and mobility. So, some, I mean, I’ve been getting a lot of questions now about, as this first five years comes to a close, officials that have been in place for the full five years are, in the case of, I am thinking of Mr. [Robert] Orr, longer than five years, is there any… I mean, can you describe, is… in my… is that an accurate description of Ban Ki-moon’s policies and how are they going to be implemented for the people that have been, whether it’s Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, [Alain] Le Roy, [B. Lynn] Pascoe, a series of people are coming up on this five-year anniversary. Are they all going to be shifted around, or is that policy being waived?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the question of mobility is an important one. And it is one that was indeed put forward to the General Assembly. That mobility proposal is not yet in place. There is also the question of the need for there to be flexibility where it is required, and discretion where it is required. I think that it is obvious that mobility, as set out in this proposal, is something that is designed to ensure that people across the UN system can move at appropriate intervals. And I think that that’s where we are with that at the moment. And do you have any other questions? Otherwise, I wish you a… Yes, Nizar? And then this is the last one, okay?

Question: On the situation in Yemen, does the United Nations see that they should be more involved in that, now that things are evolving into a civil war?

Spokesperson: Well, maybe you didn’t hear the statement I read out just as you were coming into the briefing room, Nizar. I had read out a statement attributable to the Spokesperson — that’s me, I guess — for the Secretary-General on Yemen. And I am happy to let you see that afterwards. Alright? Okay, have a good afternoon. Thank you.

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