16 May 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.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General arrived in the Russian Federation earlier today.  He is now in Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast, and tomorrow he is scheduled to meet President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov there.


After his visit to Russia ends on 19 May, the Secretary-General will travel to Mozambique.  During his stay in the capital, Maputo, the Secretary-General will hold talks with Mozambican Government officials, including President Armando Guebuza and Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi.


He will also participate in a round-table event on “The Future We Want — Millennium Development Goals’ Post-2015 and Agenda 2025”, and will visit a school on the theme of “‘UNiTE to End Violence against Women and Girls’ Campaign, Education and Youth”.  The Secretary-General will conclude his visit to Mozambique on 22 May.


**Secretary-General on Israel-Palestine


I have a readout of the Secretary-General's telephone conversations with the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of Palestine.


In the past two days, the Secretary-General has had phone conversations with both the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of Palestine.  They discussed the Middle East peace process and the situation on the ground, including in East Jerusalem.  The Secretary-General strongly encouraged the ongoing efforts towards the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and expressed his hope that they will lead to a substantial peace initiative soon.  He stressed the importance for the parties to create the conditions conducive to a resumption of meaningful negotiations.


Regarding the recent tensions in East Jerusalem, and more particularly, restrictions of access to Muslim and Christian holy sites, the Secretary-General conveyed his concerns to the Israeli authorities, urging Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law.  The Secretary-General stressed to both leaders the importance of respect for the religious freedom of all, and that worshippers of all faiths should have access to their holy sites.


With regard to the regional situation, the Secretary-General reiterated that all should act responsibly and abide by international law to prevent escalation.


** Nigeria


We received questions yesterday about the declaration of a state of emergency in parts of Nigeria.


I can say that the Secretary-General is aware of the decision by the Nigerian Government to declare a state of emergency in three north-eastern states of Nigeria.  The Secretary-General has been and remains very concerned about the continued violence and the deteriorating security situation in north-eastern Nigeria, which poses a threat to national peace and security.  He calls on all extremist groups to cease their attacks.  The Secretary-General reiterates his firm conviction that no objective can ever justify such use of violence.  He underscores the need for all concerned to fully respect human rights and to safeguard the lives of all Nigerians.


** Iraq


Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, welcomed the relocation of a first group of 14  Camp Liberty residents to Albania.  He said the arrival last night of the residents was an encouraging first step in the relocation of the group of 210 residents that the Albanian Government has agreed to receive.  He thanked the Government of Albania and encouraged other Member States to come forward and to receive residents in their countries as well.


** Yemen


The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said today at a press conference in Geneva that stability in Yemen may collapse if the humanitarian crisis in the country is not properly addressed.  Over half of the population of Yemen needs humanitarian assistance, including 10 million people who do not have enough to eat and 6 million who do not have access to basic health care.  There are also more than 340,000 internally displaced people in Yemen.


The Humanitarian Coordinator said that 1 million children suffer from acute malnutrition and that more than 15,000 of them are so malnourished that they may die if they don't receive immediate assistance.  Eighty-nine humanitarian organizations are working in Yemen to help 7.7 million vulnerable people across the country. However, the humanitarian appeal for this year, which requires $716 million, is only 28 per cent funded.


**Tropical Cyclone Mahasen


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that Tropical Cyclone Mahasen has been downgraded to a tropical storm, as it has weakened in the past 24 hours.


In Bangladesh, an estimated 1 million people were evacuated last night and this morning ahead of the storm, which made landfall north of Chittagong.  The UN is committed to working with the Government to provide support.  In Myanmar, while the storm has moved further away from the country, rain is still expected.


Aid organizations have some 250 staff on standby to respond.  The Government estimates that nearly 78,000 people in Rakhine State have been relocated.  Assessment teams are expected to visit affected areas as soon as possible after the storm subsides.  Monitoring continued today at various camps, and community leaders, religious leaders and international aid organizations are working together to help alleviate the concerns of people who have been resistant to moving to safer areas.


**Security Council


The Security Council held consultations this morning on the work of its sanctions committee dealing with resolution 1718 (2006), concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the one dealing with sanctions in Sudan.


**Noon Briefing Guest


And, as you may be aware, tomorrow will be marked by millions of people around the world as the International Day against Homophobia.  And so, I will be joined by Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), and Maarit Kohonen Sheriff, the Deputy Head of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who will brief on the issue of homophobia.


Questions, please?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  In the Adamawa State in Nigeria, since there has been an army curfew, I am wondering what UN teams are doing to ensure food aid to the civilians that are being affected since they implemented that curfew.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d have to check with OCHA.  You might want to check with OCHA; I don’t have any information on that right now.  What I do have is the statement I read that we issued last night in terms of the imposition of martial law.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  The plan for the stable recovery for Mali contains 12 priorities, including territorial integrity, peace, development, security, etc.  Does the Secretary-General think that it is realistic to plan for the elections in July in the country?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that is what is planned, and it is on course.  The Secretary-General has called for elections to be held as soon as possible.  You need to have a representative Government in order to implement many of the changes you want implemented.  And right now, you don’t have that.  You also need the territorial integrity of the country to be guaranteed, which is why we are waiting of the forces to arrive.  Edie?


Question:  Two questions, Eduardo.  First, there seems to be some confusion on the UN death toll in Syria.  The President of the General Assembly yesterday used the figure 80,000, a figure that the Prime Minister of Britain has also used.  Yet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has not raised the death toll from 70,000.  Could you try and clear up this confusion?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll try and find out.  Obviously, it is very difficult to get exact figures on the ground since we don’t have anybody there really in a position to assess how many people have died.  So, we depend on a variety of sources.  Those sources have to be evaluated, the information has to be collated and we’ll see if we can get some kind of a figure from the Secretariat, but right now, it is a very fluid situation.  Many people continue to die every day and that’s the reason why the Secretary-General continues to call for an immediate end to the violence.  Another question?


Question:  Yeah, on the Africa trip, is he going anywhere after Madagascar?  I mean, Mozambique, I am sorry.


Deputy Spokesperson:  If we have anything to announce, we will announce it.  Right now, we have got Russia and he’s got Mozambique, and that trip ends on the… what did I say, the twenty-second of May.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, actually, I am sorry… you… you… I have seen that MONUSCO has announced that he is going to go to… to the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], so I wanted to know, is that… was that wrong… the… the… the… I… I… I… the…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, as you know…


Correspondent:  Yeah. MONUSCO said it.


Deputy Spokesperson:  …Secretary-General’s trips are announced from Headquarters; we have not announced anything.  If and when we have something to announce, we will announce it.


Question:  Okay.  Can I…?  I want…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I imagine you have another question.


Question:  I do.  I… I wanted to ask you, I know that the Deputy Secretary-General met with Riyad Mansour of Palestine and three… at least three Perm Rep… Permanent Representatives of the Arab countries, and… and I wanted to know what came up.  One, if there… is it possible to get a readout?  I’ve… I understand that they met with the [Deputy Secretary-General] instead of the Secretary-General due to scheduling, but is it possible to get, one, some readout?  And two, whether the Secretary-General as… as I have been told, and was… was… undertook to make calls to… to both Israel and Palestine following that meeting?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I read out…


Correspondent:  Okay.


Deputy Spokesperson:  …the readout of the Secretary-General…


Correspondent:  Great.


Deputy Spokesperson: …he did call the…


Correspondent:  Okay.


Deputy Spokesperson:  …Prime Minister of Israel and the President of Palestine, so it’s there in the readout.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Deputy Spokesperson:  That is a readout of what we have…


Correspondent:  Okay


Deputy Spokesperson:  …on the situation.


Question:  Okay, very good.  I… I… all right.  And… and, on this issue that arose yesterday in the… in the debate on the Syria resolution in the General Assembly, where Ambassador Ja’afari of Syria held up an e-mail which he says is from a… I… I… I… have learned more about it since asking at yesterday’s noon briefing.  He says it is from a UN, you know, staff person in Damascus, high up in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] is what he said, stating that the Syrian opposition ambassador “in Doha was involved and… and in… in… some way in the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers”.  Is there any UN response?  It seems like it is a very serious charge.  I understand you can’t reopen the negotiation, but do you deny that the UN is aware that the Syrian ambassador in Doha was part of the kidnapping?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we don’t comment on leaked documents.


Question:  I mean for… so… forget that he waved the e-mail.  I guess I am asking you, is it the UN’s understanding that the Syrian opposition that’s mai… named in the resolution adopted yesterday was involved in the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we are not going to comment on the modalities of the negotiations that took place for obvious reasons.  Edie?


Question:  Eduardo, the BBC had a report today on… on the alleged use of chemical weapons in another place in Syria, and I wondered whether there had been any progress at all in getting the UN team into Syria.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, negotiations continue, and the team continues to do its work outside Syria, receiving information from a variety of sources.  And I imagine if the BBC has anything to share with them, they will take it into consideration and it will be part of their analysis.  Okay, one more question?


Question:  Sure, I guess, you… you… there was an announcement yesterday about this, you know, in South Sudan, the UN’s concern about attacks and looting.  Now the Yau Yau group has said that they have laid siege to Pibor.  Is that… I mean, do you have any update on… in terms of what either UN… UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] with its… with its peacekeepers is doing to the… protect, you know, both civilians and aid operations, and is… is it true that Pibor is… is under siege?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you, the situation in Pibor remains tense.  The UN Mission has a full-time presence in Pibor and is continuously monitoring the security situation, particularly in respect to the few remaining residents.  The Mission is prepared to assist and protect civilians under threat in the current period, as well as preparing to assist and protect should residents decide to return to their homes.  That’s what I have on Pibor.


Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record