Friday, 11 July 2008

UN to Continue Bangkok Briefings: Holmes

The Irrawaddy News

A top United Nations official said on Wednesday that the world body would continue to hold press briefings on the progress of relief efforts in cyclone-hit areas of Burma in Bangkok when needed, despite the preference of the Burmese military regime that they be held in Rangoon.

“Obviously, the government of Myanmar [Burma] would prefer that press briefings be given in Yangon [Rangoon] when they can be,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York. “But that does not stop us talking in Bangkok when we need to do that as well.”

Holmes was responding to a question about a news report in The Irrawaddy that the military junta had asked the UN not to hold its regular press briefings in Bangkok and instead address the media in Rangoon, where the junta can easily impose restrictions on the presence of independent media.

Holmes said the UN and his office in particular had been holding regular press briefings in Bangkok, at the UN headquarters in New York and in Rangoon. “So I think we try to distribute our favors evenly,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the spokesperson of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Michelle Montas, told reporters that she was not aware of any such request from the Burmese government.

“I will get in touch with Bangkok to find out, but as far as I know, the regular briefings were held on a daily basis at the height of the crisis, and when humanitarian workers started going into Myanmar, the intensity of briefings in Bangkok stopped. But they still have briefings in Bangkok,” she said.

Amanda Pitt, a spokesperson for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, rejected The Irrawaddy’s report that the UN had suspended press conferences in Bangkok as “erroneous and factually incorrect.”

In an email to The Irrawaddy, Pitt said that the no press briefings have been held in Bangkok since June 18 because “capacity for regular press outreach direct from Yangon had increased and media queries regarding the ongoing humanitarian operations could be better responded to by colleagues on the ground in Myanmar.”

The full text of Pitt’s comments can be seen in the Letters to the Editor section.

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