|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.
Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning in consultations on Syria and on the efforts by the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi. We expect that Mr. Feltman will talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout once consultations have ended.
There have been sporadic fire fights between the Syrian security forces, including the Syrian army, and armed members of the opposition in the area of separation in Golan, the equivalent of a buffer zone between the parties under the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between the Israeli and Syrian forces. These have involved the use by the Syrian armed forces of mortar shells and tank rounds, which on at least two occasions landed across the ceasefire line in Israeli-occupied territory. The Syrian army fired intermittently from the area of limitation towards some towns in the area of separation.
The presence of military personnel and the military operations in the area of separation are a grave violation of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces. It has the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardizes the ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the region. It also exposes United Nations personnel to serious safety and security risks. The safety and security of United Nations personnel are primarily the responsibility of the host Government.
Of particular concern, on 3 November, the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) observed Syrian armed forces conducting operations with at least four main battle tanks and mortar fire inside the area of separation in the vicinity of Bir Ajam against armed members of the opposition. The UN Disengagement Observer Force reported that the situation today is relatively quiet, but has not observed the battle tanks leaving. The Force Commander continues to liaise with Syrian authorities and the Israel Defence Forces to prevent an escalation of tension.
United Nations humanitarian agencies said today they need funds to provide food assistance in Haiti and to help rehabilitate the country’s agricultural sector in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said it needs more than $200 million to fund food assistance for some 425,000 people. The World Food Programme has been providing immediate assistance of high-energy biscuits to close to 13,000 people in temporary shelters. In coordination with the Government, it has also begun distributing 21-day food rations to 100,000 people living in affected areas.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Government of Haiti are also seeking $74 million over the next 12 months to help rehabilitate the agricultural sector. The storm caused colossal damage to Haiti's crops, land, livestock, fisheries and rural infrastructure, leaving more than 600,000 Haitians at risk of food and nutrition insecurity.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that it has received reports of alarming levels of malnutrition among children under the age of five in northern Mali. In Kidal, malnutrition rates have increased from 6 per cent last year to 13.5 per cent this year, close to the emergency threshold of 15 per cent. The Office says that, in response, humanitarian partners are launching a supplementary feeding programme targeting children aged under five, as well as pregnant and lactating women in the Kidal region.
I was asked yesterday about Bahrain. I can tell you that we condemn the bombings in Bahrain on Monday that reportedly led to the death of two foreign nationals and injured another. These violent acts cannot be justified by any cause. We call on all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and to refrain from any provocations. We urge all Bahrainis to come together in a spirit of national unity and to resolve differences peacefully through dialogue and reconciliation.
The Department of Public Information would like to invite United Nations correspondents to a panel discussion tomorrow evening that will examine new evidence of mass graves of Jewish and Roma victims from the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Participants will also discuss the impact on local communities of uncovering these mass graves, and efforts by the international community to prevent genocide today. The event will take place from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Chamber here at United Nations Headquarters.
And that’s what I have for you. Questions, please? Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, sir. On this, in Syria, yesterday when John Ging said that within the infighting, the rebel groups are not allowing the United Nations humanitarian teams to move into some areas and that it is not allowing them; has that situation been resolved as yet, do you know?
Spokesperson: I think you are paraphrasing what Mr. Ging said. There are obviously difficulties with access to some areas, and it is obviously our wish and it is certainly the efforts of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to try to work for that access. I think you will recall that Mr. Ging said there is quite a lot of access, but not enough. So in other words, large efforts are under way and aid is reaching people who need it, but by no means everybody who needs it, and that is something that needs to be addressed. But, specifically, I don’t think there has been any change in the last 24 hours in the access that we would like to see.
Question: Sure, Martin, the… the Secretary-General of the OIC [Organization for Islamic Cooperation] has said that he has written to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, asking him to raise the issue of the Rohingya in Myanmar to the Sec… to the Security Council, I guess that would be under article 100 or, whatever, 99, where he can raise these incidents. Has… has such a letter been received, and what does the Secretary-General think of… of exercising that… that Charter provision to get this issue addressed?
Spokesperson: I will check whether a letter has been received; I am not aware of one. And I don’t think one needs to invoke a Charter provision, in this particular instance; it is… already the Secretary-General of the United Nations has been quite vocal on this, as has Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar. There is deep concern about what has been unfolding in Rakhine State just recently, as well as in months prior to that. It is obviously hugely important that there is access for humanitarian workers so that they can get to the people who need that assistance. I would hope to have something further to say on this in the coming days, but certainly we are very concerned by what has been happening.
Question: No, just one… just… just… and thanks for that… the… the… it seems like the reason that they would be inciting this provision is to… is to wonder whether the Secretary-General thinks the Security Council, with its powers under Chapter VII, do you know what I mean, to… to… to actually put it on the agenda of the Council? Right, that’s what I am saying.
Spokesperson: No, look, I do know what is in the Charter, Matthew. What I am trying to say is that one doesn’t need to invoke it here and now, given that the Secretary-General has been quite vocal on this in any case, and Mr. Nambiar and his team have been working quite hard on this. Obviously, as you are well aware, it is extremely tense, it has been. Many people have been displaced; many are in extremely difficult conditions. So there is great concern. It would be for the Council to look at whether they wish to take this up at this point, I think. Other questions? Yes, Masood?
Question: For the last two days, there have been clashes, rather reports of firing, between Indian and Pakistani troops, on… along the… I mean, the so-called LOC [Line of Control] line that is there. Has the Pak… the… the… the United Nations group, or I mean, Observer Group, has… have they said anything about this? Have they said any… sent any report to you about this? That is why this is happening and what is… why is it…?
Spokesperson: I have to check if there has been any reporting from our Mission there. I don’t have anything on that, Masood. We are aware of the reports, media reports, of what has been happening in the region, but I don’t have anything specific from our Mission.
Question: So you would not have any independent report, just media reports?
Spokesperson: Say again?
Question: No reports from the United Nations group, but from the…?
Spokesperson: As I say, we have seen media reports; I don’t have anything specific on reporting from the Mission.
Question: I wanted to ask again about this… about Uganda’s visit… yesterday; I think you said that there has been no formal communication. Anyway, I don’t want to characterize it, I just want to ask you to confirm that Mr. [Ruhakana] Rugunda, the former Perm[anent] Rep[resentative], met with… did he meet with the Deputy Secretary-General and if so…?
Spokesperson: Yes, he did.
Question: …can you… can you… can you say whether this… the… the… the issue of withdrawing peacekeepers from Somalia or the Central African Republic arose in that meeting?
Spokesperson: Yes, he did meet, and the discussion was about this report of independent experts that falls under the Security Council. I am simply going to reiterate what I said yesterday — that there has been no formal… there has been no formal notification of the kind that you are speaking of. That’s what I can tell you at the moment. The United Nations has had no official communication from the Government of Uganda in relation to this matter.
Question: I just want to ask, you know, that when… when… when Rwanda was the first one to question this… this report, I just wanted to ask if anything has taken place since the time that they raised this issue, in terms of the Secretariat looking at the way, either the vetting of the… of the coordinator of the group of experts or if there has been any lessons learned from… from the… the writings that he wrote about the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] that Rwanda pointed out, has there been any… just on that, as opposed to the report itself?
Spokesperson: No, no, but again, this is… this is, as I have mentioned before, including just a couple of seconds ago, this is under the Security Council, so I think you need to check with them.
Spokesperson: Okay. Any other questions? Yes?
Question: You said that the presence of Syrian military forces is going to encourage the violation of agreement of 1964 between Syria and Israel?
Spokesperson: It’s “the presence of military personnel and the military operations in the area of separation are a grave violation of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces”. That’s what I said.
Okay, and I believe I misspoke on the item about Haiti, when I mentioned that United Nations humanitarian agencies said that they need funds to provide food assistance in Haiti and to help rehabilitate the country’s agricultural sector in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The World Food Programme says it needs more than $20 million to fund food assistance for some 425,000 people. I believe I may have said $200 million; $20 million is what is required. Any other questions, please? Yes?
Question: And… I am sorry, I… I just want to make sure to close this one out. There were… there were reports last week during the visit of… of Personal… Ban Ki-moon’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, to… to Western Sahara. There were various reports by Polisario, but also by some media there, that there were some crackdowns on demonstrations while he was present. So I wanted to know, has he come back to… I… I have seen his pub… his public statement about his trip, but is it… does this mean that this violence didn’t take place? Is he not commenting on it or did it take place?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you is that we are concerned about these reports of violence and we would expect them to be promptly and thoroughly investigated.
Question: I think either… it’s either the Secretary-General or the Deputy that is meeting with Ambassador [Mohammed] Loulichki, even today. Would it be fair to think that this issue might come up? One could get a readout of the meeting? I am sorry, I don’t remember which of the two is meeting with him.
Spokesperson: I believe the Deputy Secretary-General has a meeting at some point. We don’t typically give readouts on meetings with Permanent Representatives, so I think you would have to check with the Moroccan Mission, okay? Yes?
Question: You said that the World Food Programme needs assistance to provide food to more than 135,000 people?
Spokesperson: The World Food Programme… where are we talking about, Haiti?
Correspondent: Yeah, I guess so.
Spokesperson: I am happy to help you with this right after the briefing. All right, thank you very much indeed. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record