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14.05.2009 Press Release

UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION CENTRE

By UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION CENTRE
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PRESS RELEASE NO. 80 Thursday, May 14, 2009.

In the headlines:
• Fragile Somali peace process needs international support – UN officials

• Secretary-General calls for 'bold action' to end human trafficking

• UN chief presents funds from benefit football match for children in conflict

• Ban urges steps to revitalize agriculture, ensure food security for all

• UN urges end to inter-ethnic clashes in Southern Sudan

• Brazilian President awarded UN cultural agency's peace prize

• DR Congo: UN mission deplores attack on civilians in volatile east

• Influenza A(H1N1) cases now reported in 33 countries, says UN health agency

• Ban urges joint efforts to complete decolonization process

Fragile Somali peace process needs international support – UN officials

13 May - Top United Nations officials today urged the international community to continue to nurture the fragile peace process in Somalia and help the country consolidate its hard-won gains, in spite of recent threats to the new Government.

“We meet today at a critical moment for Somalia,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told a meeting of the Security Council. “One in which the response of the international community to an embattled Government's pleas for help could make the difference between consolidating hopeful steps toward peace and a descent once again into anarchy and hopelessness.”

Mr. Pascoe said the situation remains “quite fragile” following the attempted coup on 9 May by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Al Shabaab fighters, and noted that the latest surge in violence is clearly a response to the Government's strategy to reach out and build a critical mass in support of peace.

In a news release issued today, UN envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah described the attackers as extremists who know do not have the support of the Somali people, and accused them of bringing in foreign fighters who have no connections to the situation in Somalia.

Mr. Pascoe said that despite heavy fighting, recent months have witnessed newfound reasons for hope, and the Somali people have the best chance in two decades to end their suffering and move towards a better and more stable future.

“The Government's efforts at building a consensus for reconciliation are slowly gaining ground, despite the serious challenge by well-funded radicals,” he stated. “The international community must make a vital investment at this time to nurture the fragile peace process, help the Government establish its authority throughout the country and build its security and rule of law institutions.

“Now is not the time to analyze and discuss, but to provide concrete help while it can still make a difference,” said Mr. Pascoe.

In January, the Council signalled its intention to establish a UN force, when conditions permit, in the Horn of Africa country. It also requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish a trust fund to help support the existing African Union (AU) force, known as AMISOM, and to facilitate a logistical support package, training and equipment, in anticipation of its eventual absorption into a UN force.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy informed the Council about the three-phase approach Mr. Ban has outlined for UN engagement in Somalia, saying that the incremental approach is the right strategy for the country at the present time. It is important to emphasize, he added, that this is a flexible strategy and not one based on a rigid timetable.

He said important benchmarks for establishing a UN force include implementation of a credible ceasefire, consent to the deployment by all the major Somali actors on the ground, and adequate pledges of troops and required military capacities by Member States.

“It remains the assessment of the Secretary-General that deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation at this stage, in the absence of these conditions, would be a high-risk option, and that an ill-timed mission would fail.”

Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, told the Council that the gains achieved in building peace by the Somali leaders and the international community must not be lost.

The current situation on the ground evidences that the Somalia's nascent and yet fragile peace process must be protected. Among other things, she said, the disbursement of donor pledges must be expedited.

Secretary-General calls for 'bold action' to end human trafficking

13 May - If an unarmed nun can force rebel militia in Uganda to free over 100 abducted children, it must be within the capacity of United Nations Member States to take “bold and decisive action” against the global threat of human trafficking, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

Addressing the General Assembly's thematic debate on human trafficking, Mr. Ban spoke of Grace Akallo, a young high school student who dreamed of being the first person from her village to go to university until she was forcibly taken by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) along with 138 other girls.

Mr. Ban said that when Grace told her story to the Security Council last month, he listened with “the heaviest of hearts. 'My spirit died,' she said, recounting how she was forced to kill and was repeatedly raped.”

The girls were followed into the bush by the school's headmistress, Sister Rachele, who confronted the rebels, Mr. Ban continued.

Instead of leaving after the LRA threatened to kill her in front of the girls, she “faced them down, risking her own safety” and rescued more than 100 girls.

“If this seemingly powerless educator from Uganda could face down armed rebels, surely we in this room can stand up to this threat with bold and decisive action.”

Mr. Ban noted that trafficking in weapons, drugs and blood diamonds has long been on the UN agenda, but “now we must add people to that list.”

Trafficking is not restricted to Africa, “examples could be drawn from any of a number of countries from Asia, across the Americas, to Europe,” stressed Mr. Ban. “Millions are bought and sold like chattel, most of them women and children.”

Highlighting the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) has released nearly two dozen children from the integrated armed forces and more 1,300 children have been liberated since January, Mr. Ban said it was possible to stop human trafficking.

He underscored the need for collective action to criminalize human trafficking, prevent victimization by teaching people about their rights, reduce demand, end impunity and protect the victims.

“We will achieve nothing without uniting and speaking out. We will achieve nothing by offering fine rhetoric not matched by deeds. Moral outrage is all-too-easy. Real action takes real commitment.”

Speaking at a star-studded event at UN Headquarters last night to mark the naming of American artist Ross Bleckner as a UN Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking, Mr. Ban urged the Security Council to take action against perpetrators he has “named and shamed” for recruiting children to fight in conflicts and abducting girls as sex slaves.

UN chief presents funds from benefit football match for children in conflict

13 May - Weeks after the final whistle had blown on a United Nations fundraising football match, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today scored the winning goal by passing a cheque for $11,000 to children who have suffered the ravages of war in Sierra Leone.

Last month Ambassadors Heraldo Muñoz of Chile and Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein led out two teams of UN diplomats, who kitted up to raise money and awareness for an organization founded on the basis of Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that every child has the right to play.

Play31 provides children in countries torn apart by armed conflict with the basic necessity for play – a football – in the belief that the game has the unifying power to create peaceful societies.

The Secretary-General commended Jakob Lund, who founded Play31, at an event at UN Headquarters in New York where he handed over the funds raised, noting that there have been many examples where “soccer and sports in general have created a very important atmosphere [which is] politically conducive to reconciliation.”

He commented that it was appropriate that he played defense, and sometimes goalie, in the match since, as Secretary-General, one of his main jobs is “to defend defenceless people and speak for the voiceless people.”

Ban urges steps to revitalize agriculture, ensure food security for all

13 May - Warning that the global food crisis is far from over, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged Member States to agree on a set of decisions that will revitalize agriculture, support small farmers and promote food security for all.

“The food crisis is not yet behind us. Indeed, it may have widened its scope,” Mr. Ban told the opening of the high-level segment of the Commission on Sustainable Development in New York.

The two-week session of the Commission, which began last week, is expected to culminate in policy decisions in areas such as agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa.

Mr. Ban said that high food prices mean 100 million people in low-income countries are at risk of joining the ranks of the malnourished. As a result, the World Food Programme (WFP) will need to increase its budget from $500 million to $750 million to maintain its operations.

At the same time, he noted that there is broad-based international support for addressing this issue. In particular, he was pleased with the Commission's initiative to convene a ministerial roundtable on a sustainable green revolution for Africa.

“Investing in an African green revolution will serve not just food security but progress across all the Millennium Development Goals, including environmental sustainability,” he said, referring to the set of anti-poverty targets global leaders have pledged to try to achieve by 2015, known as the MDGs.

“To achieve a Green Revolution, African farmers, must have access to land and security of tenure. They also need access to markets, technology and improved infrastructure,” he stated, adding that this includes women farmers.

In the midst of a global recession, things can deteriorate “frighteningly fast,” the Secretary-General pointed out, saying “it is but a short step from hunger to starvation, from disease to death.”

The international community, he said, must offer short-term emergency measures to meet critical needs. But it must also make longer-term investments to promote food production and agricultural development, enhance food security and maintain and accelerate momentum towards the MDGs.

“The decisions taken here must help to revitalize agriculture and support the productivity and resilience of small farmers, in particular, to achieve food security for all,” Mr. Ban told delegates.

UN urges end to inter-ethnic clashes in Southern Sudan

13 May - The recent surge in deadly ethnic violence in Southern Sudan, killing at least 66 people, is cause for serious concern, a United Nations official in the region warned today, calling for an immediate and peaceful resolution to the clashes.

Clashes on 8 May between the rival Lou Nuer and Jikany ethnic groups in the village of Torkech reportedly wounded 57 people, the majority of them children with some in critical condition, and forced at least 1,550 from their homes.

“The UN is seriously concerned about the increasing violence in the area and the continuing loss of innocent lives of women, men and children,” stressed UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Southern Sudan Lise Grande.

Ms. Grande called on “community leaders, and all relevant authorities to intervene and resolve the conflict through peaceful means and reconciliation.”

The UN has sent an assessment mission to the area, and the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) is mobilizing food assistance to be distributed to the displaced people.

Security in Nasir town, where many of the displaced have taken up camp, is calm but there is fear of retaliatory attacks in the neighbouring Ulang County, part of which is composed of the same ethnic groups fighting in Torkech.

In a related development, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has dispatched some 120 civilian, military and police personnel to Jonglei State, where thousands are taking shelter after fleeing recent tribal confrontations.

The move is aimed at supporting the Government of Southern Sudan in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and in providing humanitarian assistance and protection to civilians in the state.

Last week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that up to 1,000 people have been killed and over 100,000 uprooted from their homes since January in seven states in Southern Sudan due to the activities of the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and inter-ethnic clashes.

UNMIS personnel will assist the local communities in restoring dialogue by supporting peace and reconciliation conferences between communities in the area to prevent a further deterioration in relations and address the root causes of the conflicts, as well as to ensure a quick delivery of humanitarian aid to the affected populations.

Military and police units from UNMIS will also provide technical and logistical assistance on security issues to the state government.

Brazilian President awarded UN cultural agency's peace prize

13 May - The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today awarded its annual peace prize to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil.

The jury said it had decided to give the 2008 Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize to the Brazilian leader for his actions in pursuit of peace, dialogue, democracy, social justice and equal rights, as well as for his valuable contribution to the eradication of poverty and the protection of minorities' rights.

UNESCO will present the award, created in 1989 and named for the first president of Côte d'Ivoire, at a ceremony in July.

The Prize honours people, organizations and institutions that have contributed significantly to the promotion, research, preservation or maintenance of peace.

Among the previous winners are Nelson Mandela and Frederik W. De Klerk; Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Pérès and Yasser Arafat; King Juan Carlos of Spain and former United States President Jimmy Carter; Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari.

DR Congo: UN mission deplores attack on civilians in volatile east

13 May - The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has strongly condemned a deadly attack against civilians and government troops, known as FARDC, which occurred in the eastern town of Busurungi over the weekend.

The mission, known as MONUC, said it sent a team to the scene as soon as it heard of the attack, which reportedly resulted in the death of dozens of civilians. An investigation is underway to identify those responsible for these atrocities, it said in a news release.

Several sources and witnesses on the ground are pointing the finger at the ethnic Hutu rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwandan (FDLR), stated MONUC.

The group has recently been carrying out retaliatory attacks against civilians after being targeted by a joint Congolese and Rwandan military offensive.

The mission said it will do its utmost to help the wounded and provide humanitarian assistance to affected people.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative in the DRC Alan Doss stressed that “the series of recent attacks in recent days against civilians in Mbinga, Butalongola, Bital and now Busurungi clearly demonstrate the need to strengthen the capacity of FARDC in order to ensure the protection of civilians.”

Influenza A(H1N1) cases now reported in 33 countries, says UN health agency

13 May - The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today that 33 countries have reported 5,728 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection as of today, with Cuba, Finland and Thailand the latest to join the list.

Mexico has reported 2,059 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 56 deaths, while the United States has reported 3,009 cases, including three deaths.

In addition, Cuba, Finland and Thailand have now been added to the list of countries that have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths.

Dr. Sylvie Briand of WHO's Global Influenza Programme told reporters in Geneva that several things about the virus are already known, including that the virus transmits easily and that most of the cases are mild and don't require treatment.

“However, we know also that there will be severe cases in people with underlying conditions, but also probably in young, healthy adults,” she added.

“What we are trying to do at the moment is gather as much information as possible on the virus and to provide this information to countries so that they can assess their level of vulnerability and then put in place interventions that are needed to fight this disease,” Dr. Briand stated.

Ban urges joint efforts to complete decolonization process

13 May - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the administering Powers, Non-Self-Governing Territories and the United Nations body tackling decolonization to continue working together to accelerate the process of eradicating colonialism.

In a message to the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization, which began yesterday in St. Kitts and Nevis, Mr. Ban said that progress in this area will require close cooperation between all three actors.

The three-day gathering is organized by the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, also known as the Special Committee of 24 on Decolonization.

Mr. Ban, in a message delivered by Michael M. Streitz of the Decolonization Unit in the UN Department of Political Affairs, noted that the right to self-determination must be taken into proper account in exploring how to accelerate the decolonization process for the remaining 16 Territories under the Committee's purview.

In addition to close cooperation between the Territories, the administering Powers and the Special Committee, he stressed the need to keep the interests of the peoples of the Territories at the heart of all efforts.

The Secretary-General said he was counting on the administering Powers in particular to discharge their obligations in a manner that promotes the well-being of the inhabitants of the territories within their responsibility.

The UN system, he added, will continue to offer assistance to the Non-Self-Governing Territories as appropriate, in areas such as economic and social development, environmental sustainability, healthcare and good governance.

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