23 July 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


This morning, the Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Montenegro, where he met with the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Speaker of Parliament.  We hope to have a readout of these meetings soon.


Speaking to reporters, the Secretary-General said that Montenegro's future is full of promise.  He added that the European Union's decision to open accession negotiations illustrates the country's progress in the six years since its independence.  While in Montenegro, the Secretary-General took a helicopter tour of the country's coastline.  He also visited the old city of Kotor, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site.


Over the weekend, the Secretary-General was in Croatia, where, in the capital, Zagreb, he gave a lecture on the twentieth anniversary of the country's membership in the United Nations.  He also spoke at the Andrija Štampar School of Public Health, which was named after one of the founding fathers of the World Health Organization (WHO).  He then travelled to the island of Brijuni, where he held talks with Croatia's President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.  We issued a readout of those meetings over the weekend.


The Secretary-General arrived in Belgrade, Serbia, a short while ago.  He has already held meetings with the President and Foreign Minister, and should be meeting with the Prime Minister-designate anytime soon.


** Syria — Humanitarian Situation


In its latest humanitarian bulletin, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), up to 1 million people have been internally displaced since the conflict began.


Violence has engulfed large parts of Damascus, causing new patterns of displacement.  Increasingly, people are being displaced for a second time, as former safe havens become affected by military operations.  The outlook for food security is grim.  The crisis has forced people to leave their homes and livelihoods and negatively impacted employment, crops and livestock.  The preliminary findings of a joint United Nations-Government food security assessment suggest that the number of food insecure is now approaching 3 million.


Health services have been severely affected by the violence.  There are increasing reports of hospitals in areas of conflict being closed, damaged, surrounded and sometimes occupied by security forces, and/or lacking medical supplies.  Fear of detention reportedly leaves some people reluctant to seek assistance and ambulances have repeatedly come under fire while recovering the injured.


** Syria — United Nations Relief and Works Agency


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) views with increasingly grave concern the situation in Syria, particularly as regards the implications for the stability and protection of 500,000 Palestinian refugees across the country.  In a statement, the Agency says it is also concerned about the safety of UNRWA staff, the security of its facilities and about humanitarian access to affected refugees.


The current situation in the Damascus neighbourhood of Yarmouk and in rural Damascus, home to both Syrian and Palestinian communities, is especially worrying. UNRWA calls on all parties to take steps to ensure the protection of Palestinian refugees in the situation of armed conflict in Syria.  There are more details available online.


** Iraq Bombs


The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) condemns in the strongest terms the wave of attacks that haskilled dozens and injured many more across Iraq since yesterday.  Mr. Gyorgy Busztin, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Political Affairs, says he strongly condemns the heinous attacks and the senseless violence and bloodshed across the country.  He adds that the scale and brutality of the attacks are appalling.  The criminals who perpetrated these attacks must be held to account, he stresses.  Mr. Busztin extends his condolences to the families of those who were killed and his wishes for the speedy recovery of those who were injured.


That’s about it for me.  Questions, please?  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question: The statement which condemns these attacks, they call them attacks.  Are they not terrorist attacks?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re not labelling them.  They’re attacks.  We are… we have issued the statement and we’ll leave it at that.


Question:  Well, but sometimes, I mean, when a rocket, for example, is fired from Gaza, it’s called by the United Nations as terrorist attack.  Why isn’t a car bomb killing civilians called a terrorist attack?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, this statement was issued by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General’s Office in Iraq and we’ll check with him to find out.  Masood?


Question:  Yes, do you have any comments on the situation in Syria on [inaudible] the story in The New York Times yesterday, that having failed at the United Nations, that the United States and European countries are now going to overtly fund the rebels?  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we see all kinds of reports coming out, Masood, but the Secretary-General’s position is quite clear.  Any militarization of the situation in Syria is counterproductive.  The essence of this fact is we have to address the violence in Syria.  It has to come to an end.  There has to be a Syrian-led political process of dialogue and that is not going to be helped by increasing the militarization.  That is the Secretary-General’s position. 


Question:  So, basically the position is that this… if there is this aid going to the rebels, whoever it is, by Saudis or whoever, what do you call, increasing the militarization of the process, right?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has been quite clear.  Any increase to the militarization of the situation in Syria is not conducive to a peaceful resolution.  What is necessary is a political dialogue, for violence to end, for the killings to stop and for a political dialogue to take place.  The gentleman in the back?


Question:  The continuing killing of Muslim minorities in Myanmar is just going on and there’s no really active, anything against that.  Does the United Nations have anything?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has… was in Myanmar and Mr. Nambiar is keeping a close eye on the situation.  Obviously, we are looking for a situation where all people in Myanmar can live in peace.  The Government has promised they were going to do so.  We’re looking at what the Government is doing.  We are looking at what the communities are doing in order to enhance that.


Question:  But there are reports that say the security [inaudible] forces are killing the Muslims.  They are attending the other rebels for killing and they are the ones who are joining the killing of the Muslims.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check into that.  I don’t have that information.  Nizar?


Question:  These casualties that happened over the weekend in Syria, especially in Damascus, many of them were shown by Syrian television, carried Tunisian, Libyan, Egyptian, Jordanian identities.  Is United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) going to investigate the infiltrations of such groups, especially that some of them have already shown their [inaudible] flag in Aleppo to the Turkish border?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Nizar, as you will recall, General Mood said a few days ago that the Mission had been suspended.  The Mission is trying to do what it can do in very, very difficult circumstances.  If we have any word on that, we will let you know, but as I said, any attempts to further militarize the situation are counterproductive and what the Secretary-General is calling for is for the end to the violence and an end to the killing and the beginning of a Syrian-led Syrian peace process where people can come together and discuss their future in peace. 


Question:  So, for the next 30 days, they will not be investigating any of this kind?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Nizar, if you listen to what General Mood said, he said that, because of the situation, it is very difficult for them to do their work.  If there is a cessation or diminution of violence in Syria, then the Mission will reassess its role.  But, right now, it is suspended and it is only carrying out very limited operations because of the dangerous situation.  Masood?


Question:  On this Iraq thing, do you have exactly how many people were killed?  There are conflicting figures — 45, 60 — how many people were killed?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me see.  I don’t think we have anything in… no, it says they killed dozens so the Mission does not have a precise idea as to how many people were killed.  Madame?


Question:  Thank you.  Is there any response by the Secretary-General regarding yesterday clashes between Turkish police and Syrian refugees on the borders?  Especially since the figures supplied by UNHCR showed that the number of people forced to flee Syria is only going to increase.  So, is there any action to… that should be taken by [inaudible] regarding this matter?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UNHCR has been reporting on the outflow of Syrian refugees, given the violence in Syria.  We have welcomed the generous hospitality offered by countries in the region to these people.  What you say about the Turkish police firing on them is the first I’ve heard of this.  We’ll have to check and see.  You have a question?  No?  One more question.  Masood?


Question:  I was just going to follow-up on the same question on Iraq.  Does… [inaudible] this time has no idea as to how many people are killed and these attacks keep on happening.  Does he know as to where… which region this is happening and what communities are being affected?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to check on that.  As you know, our Mission in Iraq is not a military mission; it’s a civilian mission, so we have to keep that in perspective.  They are not following the military situation completely as they would in a military operation.  They don’t have the troops in there to be able to go out and do counts and to do discuss this.  But, we will check to see if they have any further idea as to how many people were killed in Iraq and we’ll get back to you.


Question:  I ask this because since the withdrawal of the American troops, the killings abated, but now have suddenly increased.  I mean, has he found a reason as to what… why is this happening?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, violence is carried out by those who believe that violence will help them achieve their ends.  The United Nations Secretary-General is completely against the violence that is taking place in Iraq and his spokesperson in Baghdad has said so in the statement they issued.  As you know, the Iraqi authorities are primarily responsible for security in Iraq, so you might want to discuss with them what they are doing in order to help abate the violence and what they are doing in order to protect people in danger.


Question:  About the Syrian refugees, it seems the Gulf States which are very generous with weaponizing and supplying armed groups in Syria are reluctant to take any refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.  Has the Secretary-General contacted any of these States to host some of them when they flee like that, because these countries, like Jordan, like Lebanon, have very limited resources?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I would suggest that you raise this with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who would be in a better position to provide you with information as to what is happening on the ground…


Question:  My question is whether the Secretary-General…


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has discussions with leaders in the region.  He is in an ongoing basis, discussing with leaders in the region a wide variety of developments in Syria and how they’re affecting the region.  But, if you want any more precise information on what’s happening with refugees, I’d suggest you contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record