20 November 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, and Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.  We have Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson, who is accompanying the Secretary-General, on the line.  So, he will provide us with a briefing of what the Secretary-General has been doing today and yesterday.  And then he will take a few questions.  Martin, can you hear us?


Spokesperson:  I can, indeed, Eduardo.


Deputy Spokesperson:   Welcome.


Spokesperson:  Thank you, thank you.  Good afternoon to you.  So, if I have to leave quickly, it will be because the meeting with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu will have just finished.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General is meeting right now with Prime Minister Netanyahu here in Jerusalem — has been for the last hour or so — and he will be meeting President [Shimon] Peres a little later.  And, you will have seen that the Secretary-General met the Israeli Foreign and Defence Ministers right after he arrived in Jerusalem from Cairo.


And, you will have also seen that the Secretary-General met Egyptian Prime Minister [Hisham] Qandil and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States in Cairo earlier today.  We issued transcripts of those press encounters after both of those meetings and, very soon, I know we will be issuing a transcript of the Secretary-General’s remarks here in Jerusalem before he had his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  And as I said, that meeting is still going on.  And then, finally, to say that the Secretary-General will be going to Ramallah tomorrow to meet President [Mahmoud] Abbas.


So that’s what I have for you at the moment.  I am happy to take a couple of questions.  I think I can guess what those questions are, but I don’t think I’m going to have an answer for you.


**Questions and Answers


Deputy Spokesperson:  Questions, please?


Spokesperson:  So please, questions, please.  I can take five questions.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Questions, please?  Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, Martin, yesterday we discussed the attacks on journalists in Gaza.  It seems the Israelis have resumed their attacks, and they have damaged most of the offices remaining there.  What are they… how are they explaining that?


Spokesperson:  Hello, Nizar, I think that was your question; can you hear me okay?


Correspondent:  Yes, I can.


SpokespersonNizar, look, the Secretary-General is in Israel now, he is in Jerusalem because his paramount and immediate concern is for the safety and well-being of all civilians in Israel and in Gaza.  And he has been appealing to all those commanding, bearing and also operating weapons to respect international humanitarian law, to ensure the protection of civilians at all times.  And I can just see the Secretary-General has finished his meeting now, and we’ll be leaving to go to see President Peres.  I will keep walking and talking, but if I have to hang up, I apologize in advance.  So, could… next question, please?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Evelyn?


Question:  Martin, Evelyn here.  Apologies if I missed that on my way in, but there are… there is talk of a ceasefire being announced in Cairo tonight.  Can you add any… shed any light on that?


Spokesperson:  No, I can’t, Evelyn.  Obviously, I have been seeing the same media reports that you have, but I have nothing fresh for you on that at this point.  What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General certainly considers Egypt to be playing its regional role as a regional leader.  And certainly, the Secretary-General was encouraged this morning in Cairo by the efforts that the Egyptian authorities are plainly making, using their contacts with all sides to push for an immediate ceasefire.  So, while the Secretary-General was encouraged by what he heard in Cairo, I have no further information at this point from… with regard to the media reports that there are at the moment.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin, here, this morning, at the Security Council, there was a press statement that was going to call for a cessation of violence, the silence on which was broken by the United States.  I wonder, in… on Syria, you… the Secretary-General has called for, like, unity of the Council, do you have any comment, and also any comment on… on the fall of Goma and the MONUSCO’s [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] reported inactivity as it was taken over by M23 [Mouvement du 23 mars]?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the last question, Matthew, I defer to Eduardo, who will have been liaising with colleagues from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  I know he has been, in fact, so I will defer to him on that.  Just simply to say that, of course, the Secretary-General has been kept updated on developments even while he has obviously been focusing on the immediate task here.  He has been well briefed on what has been happening in the Kivus, but I defer to Eduardo.


On the first question, I don’t have any comment at this point.  I think, as I have just said, there are strong international efforts going on, led by the Egyptians, to seek an immediate ceasefire, and that’s certainly where the Secretary-General is focusing his attention just at this minute.  I can take another couple of questions, but then we are just getting into the van to go to meet President Peres.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Nizar then Evelyn.  Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, Martin, there were leaflets dropped on population areas in Gaza, whole areas were asked to evacuate.  Hundreds of thousands of people were asked to leave their homes and evacuate that area.  How does the Secretary-General feel about that?


Spokesperson:  Well, let me just be very clear about that, Nizar.  The Secretary-General has said very plainly, and including right before his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that he strongly cautions against Israel launching a ground operation, which would only result in further tragedy.


Question:  Just to follow up, Martin, any word on cross… of the Secretary-General crossing paths with Hillary Clinton, by phone or in person?


Spokesperson:  Say again?


Question:  Any word of the Secretary-General crossing paths with Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State Clinton, by phone or any other means?


Spokesperson:  Well, certainly they are scheduled to be in town at the same time.  We’ll have to see whether they do get to meet.  Plainly, they will obviously want to, in some shape or form, compare notes, but I can’t give you any further details at the moment.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Martin and thank you so much, and safe travels.


Spokesperson:  Thank you very much, thanks.  All the best, bye-bye.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Thank you, bye-bye.  Okay, I have a few things to read and then I will take some questions.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The situation in and around Goma has reached a critical stage.  The M23 is now present in Goma.  The M23 military advances have continued despite the demands of the Security Council, the Secretary-General, the African Union and others, including countries in the region, for the M23 to immediately stop their attacks.


At this stage, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains in control of the airport in Goma.  Robust patrolling by 17 quick-reaction force teams is also ongoing.  MONUSCO troops will remain actively present in Goma and will continue all efforts within their capabilities to protect civilians from imminent threat.


The Secretary-General reiterates his strong condemnation of the grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the M23 that have accompanied their military advance.  MONUSCO is closely monitoring the situation.  Reports indicate that the M23 has wounded civilians, continued abductions of children and women, destroyed and looted property, and intimidated journalists and those who have attempted to resist their control.  The Secretary-General underlines that those who commit violations will be held responsible for their actions.


**Abyei


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is pleased to announce that the status-of-forces agreement for the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) has now been signed by both Sudan and South Sudan.  The Government of Sudan signed the status-of-forces agreement on 1 October and the Government of South Sudan signed it earlier this morning.


** Syria


The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was in Kuwait today.  He held a meeting with Sheikh Sabah Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Kuwait.  Mr. Brahimi was then received in audience by the Head of State, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.  The discussions focused on the Syrian crisis.  As you know, Mr. Brahimi will be in New York next week to brief the Secretary-General, the Security Council and the General Assembly.


** Afghanistan


Because of plant diseases and bad weather, potential opium production in Afghanistan decreased by 36 per cent over the past year, according to a study prepared by the Afghan Government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.


At the same time, the area for opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan covered 154,000 hectares in 2012, which is 18 per cent more land than was recorded the previous year. Cultivation increased despite a significant 154 per cent increase in Government eradication efforts, the survey says.


The Executive Director of the Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov, said that high opium prices were a main factor that led to the increase in opium cultivation.  He called for a sustained effort to address illicit cultivation with a balanced approach of development and law-enforcement measures.


** Pakistan


The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, made her first visit to Pakistan this week to assess and draw attention to the urgent needs of communities affected by the floods in the south and displaced families in the north-west.  She said funding for the protracted displacement crisis in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas was inadequate.  She said that $79 million was urgently needed to help people in that area as winter approaches.


**HIV/AIDS


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) says that an unprecedented acceleration in the AIDS response is producing results for people.  A new World AIDS Day report shows a more than 50 per cent drop in new HIV infections across 25 countries as countries approach the 1,000-day deadline to achieve global AIDS targets.  In addition, the number of people with access to antiretroviral therapy increased by 63 per cent in the last 24 months and AIDS-related deaths fell by more than 25 per cent between 2005 and 2011 globally.  The full report is available online.


Also, UNAIDS has appointed Nobel Peace Prize winner and Member of Parliament Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as a Global Advocate for Zero Discrimination.  In this new role, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will call on her fellow citizens and people around the world to eliminate stigma and discrimination.  There is more information on the UNAIDS website.


**Press Conference


And following this briefing, at 12:30 p.m. here in this room, there will be a press conference by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on “Promoting Cooperatives Beyond 2012”.


**Stakeout


And at 12:45 p.m. today, Ambassador Matthew Nimitz, the Secretary General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will speak to reporters at the stakeout position at the North Lawn Building.  We have time for a few questions.  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Regarding the situation, the humanitarian situation, in Gaza, are there any plans to send or to boost aid to the Strip, since, of course, the population is not working and they have been locked under bombardment, there is lack of medicine, tents, or hundreds of the badly injured people need more medicine and hospitals, are suffering from shortages?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I have for you from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] is that there is significant and increasing displacement across Gaza, with families relocating from neighbourhoods targeted by, or considered at risk of, Israeli airstrikes to safer areas.  And the principal humanitarian concerns in Gaza relate to the pre-existing shortages of drug and medical supplies, which are exacerbated by the current escalation in violence.  You may want to contact the OCHA spokesperson to find out more details.  Miki?


Question:  Yes, may I ask you to elaborate a little bit more about MONUSCO?  What are they doing to, you know, protect civilians?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, well, MONUSCO has conducted active attack-helicopter sorties every day since the M23 attacks began on 15 November.  The helicopters have fired hundreds of rocket and missile rounds on M23 positions to seek to prevent their further military advance.  The Mission has just under 1,500 troops in Goma, which is a city of an estimated 1 million people.  And MONUSCO, of course, cannot substitute for the efforts of national security forces, including the FARDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo].  The UN peacekeepers’ use of force is principally to protect civilians, not to engage in armed confrontation for broader military purposes.  That’s about it.  Evelyn?


Question:  Just how can you protect civilians if you are not engaging the M23 in the broader sense to get them out of Goma?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, the main actors in protecting civilians are the security forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The UN forces are there to support them, and as I just said, 1,500 in a city of a million.  There has to be a value judgement made — do you open fire and put civilians at risk, or do you hold your fire, continue your patrols, observe what is happening and remind the M23 that they are subject to international humanitarian and human rights law?  Matthew?


Question:  I mean… I just… I… I have this… that same question, it was sort of implied, the M… the… the… the… MONUSCO has joined the FARDC and in… in… in engaging with M23 outside of Goma.  Who made that decision and when… that when M23 actually arrives, they wouldn’t fight?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you know, the Force Commander on the ground decides what is best for the safety of the civilians.  And as I just told Evelyn, when you have 1,500 troops in a city of a million people, if you risk having a fire fight, you put the civilians at far greater risk than by holding your fire and making sure the situation remains calm, and making sure that you are observing and keeping records of what is happening from a humanitarian and human rights point of view.


Question:  One question on… on Saturday, Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] said that there were some 6,000 peacekeepers in North Kivu, 1,500 of which were in Goma.  Were any troops brought to Goma in the last three days?


Deputy Spokesperson:  There are 6,000 peacekeepers in North and South Kivu, and you will recall that it is not just Goma that is unstable and has problems; it is a whole region.  Therefore, the troops are displaced around the areas where there is insecurity.


Question:  Can DPKO confirm that FARDC has essentially left Goma and is now at Sake and is trying to protect Bukavu?  What is its current state of…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you now is what I have been given here; is that the Mission has just under 1,500 troops in Goma, and that MONUSCO cannot substitute for the efforts of national security forces, including the Congolese Armed Forces.


Question:  How many does it have in Bukavu?  Can we get that number, or a briefing by Mr. [Roger] Meece, or somebody?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we will have to get that number for you.  Miki?


Question:  Has Goma fallen already?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said here, M23 is in Goma.  I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.


Question:  Do you have anything on the protests in… in… in Bunia and Kisangani and elsewhere in the DRC?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  Okay, one more question.  Evelyn?


Question:  Yes, do we know the number?  We have 15,000… 1,500 peacekeepers; do we know how many FARDC are in Goma and how many M23?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, no, Evelyn, that’s impossible for us to be able to judge.


Correspondent:  No, we don’t?  Okay.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record