3 February 2012
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


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


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.


**South Sudan


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, is wrapping up her visit to South Sudan today.  Yesterday, she travelled to Jonglei State and meet with state officials in Bor, the state capital.  She discussed the measures needed to protect civilians and prevent future violence through sustained community reconciliation.


She also travelled to Walgak and Pibor, where aid agencies have identified almost 3,000 people in need of help.  She said: “The problems are enormous.  They can only be solved if we all work together.”  She said that continued insecurity, restrictions on movements and lack of operational partners continue to slow the humanitarian response.  And just to let you know that Ms. Amos will be my guest next week to brief you on this visit.


** Somalia


Ms. Amos has just issued a statement on Somalia.  She says that she welcomes the news that famine conditions are no longer present in Somalia, according to analysis released by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit and Famine Early Warning System.


But she says she is very concerned that the situation remains critical for at least 2.34 million people in Somalia.  In southern parts of the country, 1.7 million people need food, clean water, shelter and other assistance just to survive — mortality rates remain among the highest in the world.


While sustained humanitarian efforts and a good harvest have helped to mitigate the crisis, we must not forget that the progress made is fragile.  Without continued and generous support from the international community, these gains could be reversed.  And continued conflict and lack of access to people in need remain major operational challenges.  Ms. Amos says that we need to focus on building up people’s ability to cope better with future droughts and food crises.  And we have to keep our attention firmly focused on Somalia and ensure that we do not fail the most vulnerable.


And the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, said that hunger remains a threat in the Horn of Africa unless long-term measures are taken to restore food security.


And the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that improved farming prospects have prompted several thousand Somali refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya to return home temporarily.  The agency reports that some 7,000 refugees returned in January, mainly to the previously famine-affected regions.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is alarmed by recent reports that internally displaced people have been tortured and killed in the camps for the internally displaced in North Kivu province, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The agency says that, since the last quarter last year, armed groups have been intruding on the camps, violating their civilian character.  The refugee agency calls on all parties to respect the civilian character of these sites.  It is also appealing to the provincial authorities to increase security in and around the camps.


** Maldives


A mission from the Department of Political Affairs, headed by Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, will visit the Maldives beginning on 9 February.  Mr. Fernandez-Taranco will meet with Government officials, opposition leaders and representatives of civil society to discuss the current situation and identify opportunities to support the country’s process of democratic transition.


**Press conferences


At 12:30 today, the President of the Republic of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, will hold a press conference.  The topic is “Rethinking Climate Change: Towards an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice”.  Ambassador Stuart Beck of Palau will also participate.  And the press conference will be moderated by Kiyo Akasaka, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.


And then at 12 p.m. on Monday, at the North Lawn Building 2nd floor stakeout, Marty Natalegawa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, will meet with press on the handover ceremony for the deposit of Indonesia’s Instrument of Ratification to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.


And we have copies of the Week Ahead available, and that as you know lists all other press conferences and events that are scheduled for next week.


Questions, please?  Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just want to ask you, the US Secretary of Defense yesterday confirmed that Israel is getting ready to attack Iran any time soon.  Does the Secretary-General, in this event, does the Secretary-General intend to convene a meeting of Security Council under Article [inaudible], which is… which compels him and… if it becomes a threat to international peace and security?


Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is what the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, including quite recently, that it is incumbent on Iran to prove to the satisfaction of the international community that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only, and to comply with UN Security Council resolutions that deal with that matter.  And he has also said that this is a challenge that can only be solved through peaceful dialogue.


Question:  But the US Secretary of State’s, Secretary of Defense’s statement goes beyond that, because he feels that Israel is in a position now to attack Iran.  It’s no longer a speculation.  He is saying that Israel will attack Iran in the near future.  It is no longer a speculation whether Iran should comply with this or not.


Spokesperson:  Well, neither is it speculation that the Secretary-General believes that it is a topic that needs to be dealt with through peaceful means.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about this incident in South Sudan, where it is reported that the UN transported two conflicting groups and that they say up to 37 people are dead in a shootout.  One, how many people are dead?  What provisions for, I guess, disarming people before putting them in a room together took place?  And I wanted to again… you said yesterday that you understood the question, but I want to ask again, since Hilde Johnson, the head of the mission at issue, said on that very screen that she would provide the date on which she was subsequently told there would be Russian helicopters, either the date or why.


Spokesperson:  The expression I used Matthew was “I hear you”, that’s the expression I used.


Correspondent:  Oh.


Spokesperson:  But just to…


Question:  What does that mean, though?


Spokesperson:  I’ll come back to that bit in a second, but to answer your question on South Sudan, we are not in a position at the moment to confirm the death toll.  We have seen the reports on the figures.  What I can tell you is that the Mission, the UN Mission in South Sudan is urging the Government of South Sudan to investigate this incident and to bring the perpetrators of the attack to account.  I can also tell you that, on that day, it was 1 February, Wednesday, a team from Bentiu comprising seven staff from the UN Mission in South Sudan along with three state government officials travelled by UNMISS helicopter — so a Mission helicopter — from Bentiu in Unity State to meet with the County Commissioner of Mayendit County in order to investigate recent inter-communal violence along the border between Warrap and Unity States.  And during the course of that meeting, the County Commissioner from the neighbouring Maper County which is in Lakes State appeared and interrupted the meeting with some angry remarks directed to his Mayendit counterpart — and this was in a local dialect.  And then four pickup trucks carrying armed men appeared and started shooting indiscriminately at the Mayendit County Commissioner’s compound.  And it appears that the UN team itself was not the target of the attack.  One staff member from the UN Mission was wounded in the crossfire.  And then when the shooting stopped, the wounded staff member along with the rest of the team were flown to Bentiu on a Mission helicopter with Mission force protection.  And the injured staff member was subsequently evacuated to Juba, where he is undergoing medical treatment and is in a stable condition.  And just to reiterate, we can’t confirm the death toll figures, but we have urged, and the Mission has urged, the Government of South Sudan to investigate this incident.


Question:  Just one… and thanks a lot, that’s really… it’s really helpful, but there is a quote out there, it is attributed to the UN and it’s in quotation marks, saying that the people that opened fire that showed up in the trucks were believed to be SPLA, i.e. the Government itself, so…


Spokesperson:  It is believed to be SPLA and SSPS, which is one of the reasons why we are urging the Government of South Sudan to investigate this incident and, needless to say, to bring the perpetrators of the attack to account.


Question:  Right.  Okay, I just… I mean, I guess the question is, if in fact the Government that the Mission is partnering with is opening fire on people, does it change the dynamic?


Spokesperson:  I think it is important to stress the words “believed to be” and that’s why there needs to be an investigation.  Other questions?  Yes?


Question:  I was wondering if you have any update on any future contacts between Morocco and the Polisario here in New York regarding the Western Sahara situation.


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any, but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be.  I’d need to check with my colleagues who know about these things.  I don’t have any update for you just at the moment.  Yes?


Question:  And I wanted to ask you also about…


Spokesperson:  Of course.


Question:  Colombia, the terrorist attacks in Colombia in the last two days, do you have any… something from the Secretary-General on that matter?


Spokesperson:  No, as I mentioned to you yesterday, we are certainly aware of these two incidents, but we don’t have anything for you at the moment.  Of course, any loss of life is regrettable, but I don’t have anything further for you at the moment.  Other questions please?  Yes?


Question:  I want to ask you about Sri Lanka, but first just a follow-up on Morocco.  There are these reports of, you know, clashes between police and unemployed youth in the city of Taza that has been reported in many places and I just wondered, is anyone in the UN, whether it is DPA or otherwise, tracking that?  Do they have any comment on how the Government should respond to these demands of unemployed youth in their country?


Spokesperson:  I would be certain that my colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs are tracking this as they track many other things.  And the Secretary-General has consistently said that leaders everywhere need to listen to the voices of their people, and that young people in particular need to be listened to.  And what was your question on Sri Lanka?


Question:  Okay, it has to do with, again, Shavendra Silva, but also something new.  There has been an open letter by Edward Mortimer, who used to be the Communications Director for Kofi Annan, saying and stating as a fact that the UN investigating itself under Thoraya Obaid is… has been disbanded, did not proceed.  I wanted you to confirm if that’s true.  And I also, the organization that Mr. Mortimer is the chair of, called the Sri Lanka Campaign, has provided… has given a quote about Silva saying that “very surprising that the Secretary-General would accept Mr. Silva given the allegations against him of war crimes in a Secretary-General’s report that hasn’t been acted on”.  So I wanted to… I mean, you said various things before.  I have actually looked at the GA resolution; it doesn’t seem to on its face say that the Secretary-General has to accept it.  So I want to ask you again, given that former UN officials are saying it’s a black mark for the UN to have alleged war criminal as an adviser on peacekeeping, what’s the thinking in the Secretariat?  Is there any attempt being made to defuse this, to seek another individual from Sri Lanka, or are you simply saying we have no power, we accept it whatever the consequences?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, it is not a question of accepting or not accepting.  It is a question of the Member Stats deciding.  It is a question for the Asia group among the Member States to decide — and that was their decision.  And I suggest that you take it up with them.


Question:  I had, and there was no election in the Asian group, and I guess, the reason I think it’s legitimate to ask you is that this is a former UN official saying it is surprising that Ban Ki-moon accepts this, i.e. his thing having had experience in the UN system that clearly the Secretary-General, he can make calls, he can attempt… and I just wanted to know, if in fact there is a switch, which may take place to Mr. Kohona, is the Secretary-General in any way involved in that or entirely [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, with great respect to Edward Mortimer, whom I know, he is not in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General any more.   And so he cannot be privy to what may or may not take place there, at all.  The fact of the matter is that there is a resolution from the General Assembly, and it states very clearly and it sets out very clearly who does what.  And the Secretary-General is responsible for selecting and nominating five eminent persons.  This, he has done.  The other people on that panel or group were to be selected by others.  And that has also taken place.  And I think that’s really what I have to say on the matter.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Masood?


Question:  I am just going to follow up on this Middle East question that I asked earlier.  I mean, Iran has also called for some peaceful talks because the UN inspectors are there and everything else.  What else does it need to do, because you have been saying that it should open up and it has… UN inspectors are there, it has opened up its… I mean, it has opened up talks over there, and it says it wants more talks.  What else does Iran need to do in order to convince [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  They don’t just need to talk…


Question:  …and the situation is becoming very serious.


SpokespersonMasood, it is obvious that talking is really important and that’s what we’ve said, there needs to be peaceful dialogue about this with the international community, particularly with the E3+3 group.  What needs to happen, of course, is that Iran needs to comply fully with existing resolutions.  And that means, not least, cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.  And while there was this recent visit to Tehran by inspectors, there is still some way to go on that.  And I know that the Agency and others would still wish to see full cooperation.


Question:  So basically the Secretary-General believes that things have not come to that place where he can call a Security Council meeting to look [inaudible], pose a threat to international peace and security?


Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has made his position quite clear that this needs to be dealt with through peaceful means.  Yes, Ozlem?


Question:  Martin, there are some news stories coming from Cyprus saying that the Greek Cypriot side doesn’t want the Council, or National Council, I think.  They don’t want Mr. Downer, the Special Cyprus Adviser of Mr. Secretary-General, to continue his work.  I don’t know if you are aware of those stories and do you have any reaction to that?


Spokesperson:  Of course, we are aware of the stories, and the Secretary-General has full confidence in his Special Adviser, Alexander Downer.  Okay, other questions, please?  Last one, because I can see that the next people, the President of Palau in particular, is about to start his press conference.  So last question please?  No two prongs, please, thank you very much.  One question.


Question:  Sure.  I wanted… I am still waiting on Schulenburg, because the UN has now spoken about something I asked two days ago.


Spokesperson:  Well, you don’t need to wait then, because there was a statement.


Question:  Okay, okay.  What I wanted to ask you is about, I have heard from sources that there is now a UN system task force on Syria headed by the… Ms. Alsoswaof UNDP, a former Minister in the Ali Saleh Government of Yemen, and involving Mr. Taranco, who you mentioned earlier in the briefing, and I would like to know, can you confirm such a task force and what is going to be its mandate?  And with whom, including Member States, has the Secretary-General’s Office spoken with about it?


Spokesperson:  I will check with you on that, but as you well know, the Department of Political Affairs and others coordinate very closely, not least because there is a UN presence, a country team in Syria, in Damascus.  And obviously, the United Nations system is looking very carefully at the ramifications of what is happening on the margins too, whether it is refugees who have gone into neighbouring countries — these are all matters that clearly the United Nations needs to monitor.


Question:  I heard there was meeting yesterday and there is some concern being expressed about a minister formerly with Ali Saleh chairing a UN body having to do with Yemen.  I am also told that even permanent members of the Security Council haven’t heard about the task force.  So I want, if you can address those things in what you confirm or deny about the task force I would like to [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  By all means.


Correspondent:  Thanks.


Spokesperson:  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record