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.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Mary Robinson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, briefed the Security Council by video teleconference this morning, following her first trip to the region.


She said that there were reasons to hope that the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was signed in February, can work.  She said this was a chance to do more than attend to the consequences of the conflict by resolving its underlying causes.


Mrs. Robinson said that between 28 April and 5 May, she visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and South Africa.  She met with many of the leaders of those countries on that visit.  She told the Council that there are no guarantees that this new push for peace will succeed.  However, we can be sure that if it fails, the consequences will be grave.  She added that success will require an all-out, concerted series of actions that are both serious and sustained at the national, regional and international levels.


**Abyei


Starting about now, the Security Council expects to hold consultations to receive an update on the situation in Abyei from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous.


You’ll recall that we issued a statement over the weekend in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the killing of the Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief DengKuol Deng and a peacekeeper from the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) in an attack by a Misseriya assailant on a mission convoy in the Abyei area.  Two peacekeepers were also seriously wounded in the incident.


This proves again how crucially important it is for the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to establish the temporary institutions as stipulated in the agreement of 20 June 2011 and continue discussions on the final status of the Abyei area.  And you can find the whole statement from the Secretary-General on our website.


** Darfur


On 4 May, the joint African Union-UN mission in Darfur, UNAMID, dispatched peacekeepers to a site hosting internally displaced people, or IDPs, in Labado, in East Darfur, in response to sounds of gunfire.  Upon arrival, the peacekeepers encountered an unidentified armed group trying to steal livestock.


The peacekeepers came under fire and repelled the assailants.  The mission has provided medical assistance to two IDPs and to one of the attackers, who was later handed over to the authorities.  No peacekeepers were injured in this incident.


**South Sudan


The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan expressed his deep concern today over the situation in Jonglei State, where thousands of civilians need assistance and protection.  Toby Lanzer said that, since February, aid workers have treated more than 450 casualties, including children.  He urged all parties involved to abide by their obligations under national and international law, to ensure that civilians are not caught up in the hostilities and to enable all of the wounded to have access to medical care.  And Mr. Lanzer’s full statement is available online.


**Syria-Israel


In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed grave concern about reports of air strikes in Syria by the Israeli Air Force.  The Secretary-General called on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict.  The Secretary-General urged respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region and adherence to all relevant Security Council resolutions.


And that’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Joseph?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just with regard to the statement you just read out on the reported attack by Israel on Friday, on Syria.  The reference to all UN Security Council resolutions; could that include Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), which prohibits the sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related materials, weapons, et cetera?  Because Israel has alleged, on a number of occasions, that arms were flowing through Syria into Lebanon to Hizbullah, and perhaps one of the reasons for the attacks over the last several days are the prospect of advanced weapons going to Hizbullah, which Israel was trying to stop.  So, I just wonder whether, in that context of what you just read, is the Secretary-General commenting also on adherence to all the terms of resolution 1701 (2006)?


Spokesperson:  Well, it says “to all relevant Security Council resolutions”, and 1701 (2006) is potentially one of those relevant Security Council resolutions.  But, I would not want to specify specific resolutions.  That’s why it says “all relevant Security Council resolutions”.


Question:  But, given part of 1701 (2006) is relevant to the stated reasons for Israel’s alleged attack, I am wondering whether there could be any follow-up in terms of trying to contain the whole crisis if the attacks were one part of the equation, but the cause of them, which was a continued import of advanced weapons to Hizbullah is the other part of the equation.


Spokesperson:  Well, look, again, Joseph, I understand what you are saying, and simply to say, repeat what the Secretary-General said, which is that we need to ensure that all sides exercise maximum calm and restraint and act with a sense of responsibility.  And I am not going to go any further than that at this point.  Other questions, please?  Yes?  And then I am coming over here.  Yes?  Yes?


Question:  To repeat, who is looking into what the UN has to say about the statements made by Carla Del Ponte in Switzerland?  And also, can you say what will be the response after the Free Syrian Army leader said that they don’t have any relation with the attacks and use of chemical weapons, which means Del Ponte had stated that they have indications that they were the ones they used it, not the Government?  Can you talk a little bit about that?


Spokesperson:  I would refer you to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.  They issued a press release today, clarifying that it has not reached conclusive findings about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.  And, as a result, the Commission said it is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.  And I would also note that the press release, in that press release, the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, reminded all parties to the conflict that the use of chemical weapons is prohibited in all circumstances.


And I would also add that the Secretary-General’s investigation into allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria is not connected to this International Commission of Inquiry, which is mandated by the Human Rights Council.  The Secretary-General’s mechanism, which provides for his investigation into the allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, is put together, and the head of that mission continues, with his team members, to seek information from relevant countries.  So, this is a process that is under way.  There is a technical investigation; the Commission of Inquiry is much broader and looking at human rights allegations inside Syria.  So, separate; this one that the Secretary-General established is very technical.


Question:  Do you know when that will happen, the results, when we will have the actual findings from that investigation?


Spokesperson:  As you well know, we continue to seek access to Syria itself to look into the allegations further, actually on site.  We don’t have the agreement that we need to be able to do that.  In the meantime, the team, including the head of the mission, Dr. [Åke] Sellström, continues to seek information from relevant capitals.  And that’s something that is going on actively as we speak.  Yes, Matthew, and then Hank?


Question:  Yes, I want to follow up that, then I want to ask about Abyei.  But, since… since Carla Del Ponte said that this… this… her statement of concrete suspicions of use of… of sarin gas by the opposition came from interviewing victims, doctors in field hospitals, it seems like… is it… would it be fair to say that… that, although they are two separate UN entities, that Mr. Sellström’s team would try to view the same evidence that Carla Del Ponte was talking about, as well as speaking to capitals?


Spokesperson:  I would simply refer you to what the Commission of Inquiry said in its press release:  that it is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.  And, as I have just explained to your colleague, the technical mission headed by Dr. Sellström continues its work.  Yes, Hank?


Question:  Thank you for those answers, Martin; those were my questions.  But, now I will ask this, I suppose.  With consideration to the SG’s statement over the weekend concerning the two air strikes, he expressed concern.  In this charged situation that Syria finds itself under, why wouldn’t two unilateral airstrikes elicit a condemnation from the SG?  Does it have to do with the Israelis maybe not taking responsibility?


Spokesperson:  I really wouldn’t read too much into that.  Parsing statements in that way is, I think, going a little too far.  The Secretary-General expressed grave concern — not just concern, if you wish to parse it further — about reports of airstrikes in Syria by the Israeli air force.  And we also made clear that the United Nations doesn’t have details, and it is also not in a position to verify independently what occurred.  And the key message was, of course, the Secretary-General was calling for maximum calm and restraint on all sides.  And, as we also said, that everyone needs to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation.  The situation is already extremely dangerous as it is.  Yes, Nizar?  And then I am coming to you at the back there.


Correspondent:  In most of his reports…


Spokesperson:  Say, again?


Question:  In most of the Secretary-General’s reports to the Security Council, whenever any missile lands in the desert coming from Gaza is condemned.  Let alone when it kills people.  Why is it not the same standard applied here?  I mean, here we had an attack,; violation of the UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] separation 1974 agreement, violation of 1701 (2006), violation of the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] area — so many violations here — but no condemnation, no criticism, just calling for calm.


Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, I just said, and repeated, that the Secretary-General expressed his grave concern about it; he’s called for restraint and calm, and on all sides to act with a sense of responsibility.  Yes, at the back?


Question:  Yeah, I… there is reports the Americans are being, talking with the UK and France about airstrikes in Syria.  Do you have any comment on that?


Spokesperson:  No.  There are all kinds of media reports around, and I am not going to comment on all of them, no.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about this Abyei incident.  I am sure that you’ve seen that… that the Sudanese Government has said that there was no… that UNISFA didn’t get permission to travel to Dafra, outside of Abyei city, that they sought to stop the convoy and there was a shooting incident, they claim that UNISFA fired first.  Can you… can you respond to that?  They said that also that 17 Misseriya were killed on the other side.  Some people think that the… somehow the chief was set up.  What… which… who fired first and was permission to travel to Dafra sought?


Spokesperson:  I would need to look into this further.  But, simply to say that UNISFA is maintaining patrols throughout the area and that its three battalions have been placed on high alert.  As I understand it, it remains tense in the area.  But, the Paramount Chief was killed, and so was a peacekeeper, Matthew, and two peacekeepers were also seriously wounded in the incident.  And the Secretary-General has made it clear that there should be calm and that this should not be escalated.  Also, the mission, UNISFA, is maintaining a presence at the Banton Bridge, which is the link between Agok and Abyei town.  So, that’s what I have for you, Matthew.


Question:  Sure, I just wanted to, and I… I understand that, I just… I guess to put the question… I heard… I mean the killing of the peace… of the chief and the peacekeeper are very serious, I didn’t mean to say it wasn’t; I am just saying, there are… the Government of Sudan is saying that 17 Misseriya tribesmen were killed.  So, I am asking:  Is the UN going to state on the other side?  Not to… not to in any way diminish the effect on them, both how many people they believe were killed and who started the fight.  Who shot first?  That’s the question.


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, I said at the beginning that I would look into those details for you.  But, this is what I have at the moment.  Other questions, please?  Yes?


[The Spokesperson later added that the information UNISFA has is that a Misseriya youth shot the Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief and one Ethiopian peacekeeper first.  In the exchange of fire which followed, three Ethiopian peacekeepers were injured.  UNISFA does not have confirmation about Misseriya casualties.]


Question:  I want to know if there is any… and maybe I’ve… maybe there was one by the mission there, comment on the… the Li… over the weekend, the Libyan parliament passed this somewhat controversial political isolation law saying that anyone… I won’t summarize it, but basically, [Muammar al] Qaddafi-era people cannot participate in the Government.  Is there any UN response to… to… to… to the passage of that law?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check with our mission there.


Question:  And… and… and I’m… I’ll do this really fast, but I wanted to ask you on the… this internship at the UN question, just one follow-up.  I have spoken this morning with a P5 member of the Security Council who suggested that the UN’s remedy may be to not allow someone who wins the internship for $26,000 to actually come in.  I am not aware of that being something the UN could do.  What’s the UN’s thinking?  Is there any update and is… can you respond to the suggestion by a… by a mission to the UN that that’s what the UN either could or should do?


Spokesperson:  Well, just to repeat, for the umpteenth time, Matthew, that the internship being auctioned off on this website, charitybuzz.com, is not a United Nations internship.  The details of the internship in question have been amended on the website to clarify that the internship is not with the United Nations.  And, as we have said repeatedly — and I just said just now — internships at the United Nations are not for sale and they cannot be put up for auction.


Question:  So, when it says a way to… to learn how the UN works and to get your foot in the door, does that mean a foot in the door with a particular NGO or with the UN system?  It’s…


Spokesperson:  As I have said, Matthew, internships at the United Nations are not up for sale and the details of the internship in question have been amended on the website.  That’s what I have.  Thanks very much; have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record