1 February 2013
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.


** Syria


The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will meet this evening with Mouaz Alkhatib, a leader of the Syrian opposition, on the margins of a security conference in Munich.  Tomorrow, he is scheduled to have bilateral meetings with United States Vice-President Joseph Biden and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.


Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has this week completed a first delivery of winter emergency relief to the Azzas area of northern Syria, where thousands of internally displaced people are living in makeshift camps.  Two hundred metric tons of tents and blankets were airlifted last weekend from the Agency's central warehouse in Copenhagen to a civilian airport near Latakia on the Syrian coast.  From there, it was transported by road in an eight-truck convoy to an area between Aleppo and the Syrian-Turkish border.


** Mali


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that considerable challenges remain to a safe and sustainable return of displaced people to their homes in Mali and that refugees are continuing to leave to neighbouring countries.


The agency said that while some of the displaced are eager to return home, reports of unrest and revenge attacks against certain groups are dissuading others.  Shortages of food, fuel and electricity, as well as disruption to basic services, such as health and education, are cited by people who at present prefer to wait and see before returning to the north.  The presence of anti-personnel landmines and unexploded ordinance is also a serious concern.


In Burkina Faso, 5,411 people arrived since the beginning of the French intervention in Mali on 11 January.  In Mauritania, 10,688 people arrived since the intervention.  In Niger, the number of recent arrivals remains small.  The UN agency said that, according to the refugees, this is due to the lack of affordable transportation.


** Burundi


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, arrived in Burundi today for a two-day visit.  He will be meeting with the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB), as well as with the UN country team.  He is expected to hold discussions with President Pierre Nkurunziza and officials of his Government, representatives of Burundi’s political parties and civil society organizations.


**Security Council


And the Republic of Korea has assumed the Security Council’s rotating Presidency for the month of February.  The Council’s first scheduled consultations are to be held next Monday, on the programme of work.  After that, the new Security Council President, Ambassador Kim Sook of the Republic of Korea, will brief you in this room at 12:30 p.m. on the Council’s work during the coming month.


That’s it from me.  I have time for a few questions.  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, Eduardo, regarding this… I mean, the attack on Syria a couple of days ago, have the UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] and UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] established exactly what happened, because there is talk about 10 aircraft were used?  And how could they cross Mount Hermon and that region without being observed by all these observers?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, yesterday, we issued a note to correspondents, we stand by that.  We have no further information.  Lou?


Question:  Have you conducted an investigation about how this happened?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, as I said, when we have more information we will give it to you.  Lou?


Question:  [inaudible], this attack that took place in Ankara on the [ United States] Embassy, is the UN going to have some sort of statement on it, do you expect?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything now.  If that changes, we will let you know.


Question:  Do you know if anything is in the works?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t, I can’t say.  We’ll have to let you know.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, sure, I have a couple of other questions, but I wanted ask you first something direct.  There are… there’s some controversy about whether Sudan… earlier in January, I had asked you, the… whether Sudan was able to vote… whether they are behind on dues and you… your office said that they were behind by $1 million, but they could still vote.  Now, it has been reported that they can… cannot vote, and the Sudanese ambassador says it is because they can’t have a bank account in New York.  So, I know that there has been efforts by the Secretariat and the Comptroller to somehow solve this problem, that the host country is supposed to provide banking services for diplomatic missions in New York.  I guess I want to ask you, maybe you will have it or you don’t, but if it is possible to get a statement from the UN whether Sudan can or cannot vote, and what the status is of this issue of missions being able to open bank accounts.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll try to get something for you, Matthew.  I don’t have anything right now.  Hank?


Question:  Hi, Eduardo, thank you.  About this… the resources international fact-finding mission on settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories.  A couple of months ago, Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur, suggested something that some reporters thought was outside the lines, which was that there should be a boycott of companies that are working on settlements that are profiting from settlement-building.  With that, perhaps, as an example, I just wonder, what is the [Secretary-General’s] thinking towards taking an extra step if there is anything?  He has been very clear about how he feels about settlement-building, he has condemned it as illegal, but I just wonder, these condemnations come time and time again with outlaw States.  What will he actually do to set things right?  Because this particular outlaw State doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to what the UN thinks.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has made his points of view over and over again, he has said that the settlements are illegal, that continued building is against the road map and against the Security Council resolutions, and the Security Council has to find a way to enforce the resolutions.  Nizar?


Question:  May I follow up on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry?


Question:  May I follow up on that?  We all know the Security Council is helpless on this particular issue, because of United States’ veto.  So again, thinking outside the box, does the [Secretary-General] have any ideas on how this wrong might be righted?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you know, the [Secretary-General] is governed by the regulations of the Organization, and it’s the Security Council that has to take steps in order, in anything of that nature.  The Secretary-General can’t act unilaterally no matter how outside the box or inside the box it is.  He has to follow Security Council and General Assembly guidelines.  Nizar?


Question:  I am sure today you heard about this attack against the Lebanese army in the border… near the border with Syria in Assal region.  Six soldiers were killed and more than four injured.  Do you have any comment about… there are suggestions that the Free Syrian Army conducted that attack?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, as we said on numerous occasions here, the Secretary-General has called on all sides to end the violence.  He is especially concerned, and he has made his concerns known about the spill-over effects of the situation in Syria and neighbouring countries.  And if these reports are true, then this would be one more example of why the violence has to stop and people have to sit down and negotiate their differences.


Correspondent:  But, this is an aggression by those groups which are supported by the international community and being financed…


Deputy Spokesperson:  But, Nizar, both sides are being supported by different parts of the international community; not just one.  And both sides have to stop the violence, and have to begin to find a political solution to the problem.  As the Secretary-General has said, there is no military solution, and all parties, all international parties, as the Secretary-General has said, should not contribute to the militarization of the situation there.


Question:  [inaudible] an aggression against another country, it’s not within Syria.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, exactly.  As I said, the spill-over, dangers of the spill-over from the Syrian conflict are very real and we’re witnessing it every day.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Mali, two things.  One, Amnesty International has put out a report today specifying that the Malian authorities arrested 24 people on 11 January right before France’s intervention, and they suspect many of them have been killed.  So I wonder, I understand each time this is asked there is the idea that some kind of a team is being deployed to Bamako.  What has the UN actually done since… since 20… the… the… since the resolution was passed to look into these human rights violations?  Also, separately, what’s the Secretariat’s view of a UN peacekeeping force as opposed to AFISMA [African-led International Support Mission to Mali] somehow a different than what was pa… was… was enacted in December?  There is a lot of talk now of a UN peacekeeping force, France says it supports it.  What does the Secretariat think?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretariat follows what the Security Council decides, Matthew, as you know.  So, what the Security Council decides will be the decision that the Secretariat implements.  As you know, the Secretary-General has made certain recommendations, a number of options to the Security Council.  When the Security Council has considered them and gets back, then we will know what we are doing.  With respect to the human rights investigations, yes, we have a small team in Bamako that is growing.  I will ask them to see if there is a follow-up to the issue you raised.  Yes?


Question:  Hugo Chavez was unable to be sworn in on 10 January because of health reasons, and the opposition in Venezuela is stating that the constitutional order is being broken.  Any comments from the Secretariat?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is confident that the people of Venezuela will be able to resolve their differences peacefully and that the situation will be rectified.


Correspondent:  Yes.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  Tim?


Question:  So, you say you have a small team in Bamako which is growing.  Do you have any detail on that and where the observers will be going?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details on that right now, but we will try and get you something.


Question:  Who do they come under?  Is that [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or the Political Department


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think they come under [Department of Political Affairs], if I am not mistaken.  It’s a joint thing.  We’ll have to get the exact modalities for you, what the composition is and what they are doing.  I don’t have that information with me.  Nizar?


Question:  Local figures in Timbuktu speak that the manuscripts which were kept in the sacred shrines there were destroyed by French aircraft, by French attacks.  There are many reports suggesting that Tuareg chieftains have been saying that.  Are there investi… any investigations to be carried out to establish who were behind this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] has been very clear that the cultural patrimony of Mali must be protected by all parties to whatever conflict is taking place there.  I, personally, have not seen any reports of these manuscripts being destroyed by bombardment.  What I have seen is reports of the manuscripts having been torched, some of the manuscripts having been torched.  So, we’ll have to investigate that and find out.  One more question, Matthew?


Question:  I want to ask on Myanmar and then also money.  Myanmar, just, may… maybe this is something you will just take the question.  But, there… there is a report that this independent investigation into a crackdown by the Government on a copper mine protest in November found that white phosphorous was used against the protesters.  And, since there have been a lot of laudatory statements from the Secretariat, Mr. Nambiar, about Myanmar of late, I am wondering, are they… are you aware of this report of the use of white phosphorous on protesters and what… what would… what will this… what does or would the Secretariat think of the use of this chemical?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to find out, Matthew.  And your last question?


Question:  Sure.  You… you know I asked about the… the Libya building, so I am… you don’t have, there is not an answer yet?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.


Question:  The other money one is, it came up in the… in the… in the Staff Union de… debate before they passed the resolution of no confidence in the Secretary-General.  There was a lot of dispute of how much money is actually spent on the travel of the Secretary-General and his entourage.  Some people said it was as high as $210 million, which seems too high.  Other people said there is an [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions] document that specifies it, but they couldn’t find it.  The final resolution just refers to, if he stopped travelling so much, the budget cut… the $100 million could be solved… saved.  Can you come up with a number of how much is spent annually by the Secretary-General on his travel?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I made a statement the other day on what our reaction was to the resolution.  That’s all we plan to say.


Question:  [inaudible], money question, how much is spent on the travel by the General… Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We will answer the money questions to the appropriate committees and with the appropriate United Nations authorities, Matthew.  We are not going to…


Correspondent:  [inaudible]


Deputy Spokesperson:  We are not going to, we don’t.  I don’t have that information, and…


Correspondent:  No, no, no.


Deputy Spokesperson:  …and we are not going answer to you.  If Member States have a question, they can come and ask us.  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record