23 July 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Security Council


Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning, saying that time is of the essence in the effort to renew a serious dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians.  He noted that the Secretary-General has welcomed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s intense diplomatic efforts in recent months, and noted that some very tough choices will be required from both sides in the period ahead.


Mr. Serry said that the bloodshed in Syria continues unabated and that parties to the conflict continue to fail in their obligation to protect civilians.  He added that the surge in sectarian threats and violence in Syria and across the region is deeply worrisome.   Syria is increasingly turning into a regional, if not a global, battleground.  Mr. Serry said that all fighters in Syria should be reminded that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law will be held accountable.  We have his remarks available in my office.


** Myanmar


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar.


The Secretary-General welcomes the release of 73 political prisoners in Myanmar yesterday and also the recent statement by President Thein Sein that all political prisoners in the country will be released by the end of the year.  He hopes that these and other measures undertaken recently in the country's transition to democracy will further strengthen efforts towards a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire and national reconciliation in Myanmar.


** Mali


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is continuing preparations with the Malian authorities and neighbouring States for out-of-country voting for refugees.  It says that it is important that the Malian authorities quickly make public the voters’ lists and speed up distribution of the electoral cards in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.


The agency’s role in the elections is to help refugees to be able to vote in a safe environment.  UNHCR has also helped to transport some election-related materials, but the transportation of sensitive materials, such as voters’ cards or ballot papers, is the responsibility of the Malian electoral authorities and the countries of asylum.  The Malian authorities have informed UNHCR that they are considering alternatives to allow refugees to vote in case of further delays.


**Questions from Yesterday


And also on Mali, I was asked yesterday about the distribution of voting cards in the country.  The UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, plays a role in providing technical assistance, logistical support and security to the electoral process in the northern part of the country, where it is deployed.  But, MINUSMA is not organizing the elections.  The Délégation Générale aux Elections du Mali is the body in charge of organizing elections.  The Délégation Générale has told the Mission that 81 per cent of voting cards have been collected by voters so far.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, reports that heavy fighting appears to have stopped today around Goma.  Yesterday, as you are aware, the Mission reported intense fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 [23 March Movement] armed group in the Mutaho-Kibati area.  MONUSCO peacekeepers in Goma and its surroundings remain on high alert.


**South Sudan


The World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an operation to bring urgently needed food assistance to tens of thousands of people who have fled to hard-to-reach areas to escape violence in Pibor County in South Sudan’s Jonglei State.  The World Food Programme says it needs more food supplies and more helicopters to take the emergency assistance to areas that are inaccessible due to a combination of insecurity and roads made impassable by heavy rains.  In areas of Pibor County where the humanitarian community has gained access, WFP is providing food assistance through distributions this week in Dorein, Labdab and Pibor town.  There is more on that in a press release.


** Darfur


The World Food Programme (WFP) says that the escalation in the decade-long conflict in Darfur has created the largest wave of population displacement that the region has seen in recent years, and is straining its ability to feed vulnerable families.  The World Food Programme says that new violence since the beginning of the year has prompted more than 250,000 people to flee their villages and abandon their livelihoods.  There is also more on that in a press release.


** Iraq


The Acting Special Representative for Iraq, György Busztin, has condemned in the strongest terms the assassination yesterday of Sheikh Abdallah Sami al-Assi, a pivotal and well-respected political figure in Kirkuk.  Sheikh al-Assi was the head of the Arab bloc in the Kirkuk Provincial Council and the Deputy Chairman of the Provincial Council Security Committee, and he had worked with the UN Mission in Iraq in the discussions on the way forward for holding Kirkuk elections.


**Secretary-General at Stock Exchange


The Secretary-General will visit the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow and deliver remarks on the evolving role of stock exchanges in promoting sustainable capital markets.  He will also join New York Stock Exchange Euronext Chief Executive Officer Duncan Niederauer in ringing the closing bell at 4 p.m.  The closing bell ceremony is open to the media.  More details are available in my office and on the New York Stock Exchange website.


The reason for the visit to the New York Stock Exchange Euronext is that the Stock Exchange is expected to announce that it will join the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative.  The initiative aims to explore how exchanges can enhance corporate transparency on environmental, social and corporate governance issues.


**Reporter’s Murder


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, has said it deplores the recent murder of reporter Alberto López Bello and called for a full investigation.  The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said that the killing must be investigated thoroughly as part of the endeavour to stem violence against the media in Mexico.  This killing brings to three the number of journalists murdered in Mexico this year.  More details are on UNESCO’s website.


That’s what I have. Questions, please?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Celia Mendoza, Voice of America, Latin America Service.  What can you say about the situation in Egypt?  We understand that Tuesday they had at least six people dead, and the Brotherhood is still protesting and asking the reinstitution of Mohamed Morsi.  Is the UN… I understand that the… the Commission of Human Rights had… has a group that is ready to be deployed in case of need, and if the Government accepts their assistance.  What can you talk about?


Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General remains seriously concerned about the developments in Egypt.  Senior UN officials are in touch with the Egyptian authorities.  A part of the aim of that is to underscore the need for reconciliation and for an inclusive political process so that there can be a swift return to a civilian administration.  So, if I have any more on that, I will let you know, but certainly, there is considerable concern, including about the most recent bloodshed just overnight.  Yes, Masood?  And then Pamela.


Question: [inaudible] I wanted to ask you about the question that I’ve been asking you about this tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.  All the weekend and yesterday, so many people have died in clashes and [inaudible] the… the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir took on the demonstration himself against these atrocities committed by the Indian troops.  Does the Secretary-General have something more substantive to say and talk to the India Government than just saying that… calling for calm?


Spokesperson:  Well, what the Secretary-General has repeatedly said is that he calls on all concerned to exercise restraint and solve issues peacefully.


Question:  He has not been able to talk to the Indian Prime Minister or anybody in India in a position of authority?


Spokesperson:  I think his public call is very clearly heard by all concerned and that’s another reason for repeating it here right now.  Pamela?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Do you have any sense of the impact of the European Union labelling the militant wing of Hizbullah a terrorist organization?  Any ideas about whether there will be an impact on UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] or any other peacekeeping units?  There’s been a lot of speculation about that.  And then just… since the peace talks — and you mention that the peace talks in the Middle East are restarted — is there any sense of the Quartet being restarted?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the first part, there is no impact on UNIFIL.  UNIFIL’s mandate is very clear and it has no impact, and of course, the United Nations was not a part of this recent decision by the European Union, and so I don’t really have any further comment on that.


Correspondent:  Just to follow up on that.  The speculation is that violence may break out in Lebanon, that there might be some impact, generally speaking, on… potential of civil war and any other kind of violence in Lebanon.


Spokesperson:  Look, there is enough happening on the ground, for real, in the region without speculating further.  I don’t want to wander into the realms of the hypothetical at the moment.  To answer the second part of your question, about the Middle East peace process, of course, we have already said that the Secretary-General clearly endorses Secretary Kerry’s efforts on this, considerable efforts, those, and of course, those in the region.  With regard to a Quartet meeting, that’s, of course, for the members of the Quartet to deliberate on.  I don’t have anything on that at the moment.


Question:  Just to follow up on that, the UN is, obviously, one of the four members of the Quartet; any intention to try to restart?


Spokesperson:  As I’ve said… as I’ve said, it’s for the members of the Quartet.  Yes, the United Nations is a member of the Quartet, there are three other members of the Quartet, therefore, it would be amongst the four to deliberate and decide.  I don’t have anything for you on that at the moment.  Yes, please, Oleg?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  It’s been announced today that the Security Council is going to meet for informal consultations on Friday… the Syrian Opposition Coalition; the delegation would be headed by Ahmed al-Jarba.  I wanted to ask you if the Secretary-General is going to meet with him in person?


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that. I will check, but I am not aware of that.  Yes, Matthew?


[The Spokesperson later said that no such meeting with the Syrian opposition leader is planned.]


Question:  I wanted to ask about Mali, two things.  One is, I know… before you said that the UN had heard from Nigeria about withdrawing troops from UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] in Darfur, but they’re keeping these reports, and in fact, Mr… President [Alassane] Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire has said that the Nigerian announcement impacts MINUSMA in Mali, as well.  So, I wanted to know if there’s any update on Nigeria and MINUSMA.  And also, on the voting announcement that you made from UNHCR and the role of MINUSMA, seems like UNHCR… I mean, they… they reported some… some pretty low numbers for voter registration, which I’m assuming that statement somewhat addresses, but one thing that wasn’t addressed is that there are 1,500 Malians in Algeria.  They didn’t provide any data on how many of those are registered, and I’m wondering whether there is any plan, through UNHCR or otherwise, to have Malian refugees in Algeria be able to at least… theoretically be able to vote?


Spokesperson:  Well, look, obviously, this is a matter for the Malian authorities in the first instance.  The UN refugee agency is doing its best to help those who are refugees as a result of the recent fighting and upheaval in Mali.  There may be people who have been refugees much longer and outside Mali for much longer, and it may be that those people do not figure in the registry of voters as the result of the most recent census that was carried out, but as I say, and as you heard me say a little while ago at the top of the briefing, the UN refugee agency is doing its best to try to help those refugees who are eligible to be able to vote in a safe environment.  With regard to Nigeria and its contingent within MINUSMA, I am not aware that there has been any official notification to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  If that changes, I will let you know.


Question:  I just wanted… because… because of the statement by the Secretary-General about, you know, that… that the result should be… you know, should be accepted, even if imperfect.  I just wanted… I mean, it’s the numbers that UNHCR is reporting, the percentage of people eligible to vote, that have actually shown up in the registry to be able to vote, is below a quarter in Burkina Faso, so I’m wondering… I mean, again, this is not to… this is not Ban Ki-moon’s fault, obviously, but I’m wondering, is there a level… again it’s a question I tried to ask you before.  Is there a level of people, kind of disenfranchisement, not being able to vote, that would be… that the UN itself would say, maybe the results can’t… you know?


Spokesperson:  The United Nations is not observing or monitoring the elections.  It is providing, as I have just said, technical, logistical support and security in the area where it is deployed, in the north of the country, and so that is the extent of its role.  I’ve also told you that there is a part of the Malian authorities that is dealing, specifically, with the elections and you may wish to contact them for further information about the number of voters and so on registered.  The figure I gave you, 81 per cent of those eligible have collected their voter cards, that’s within Mali.  Everybody understands that there are still people who may wish to have the voting cards who are refugees, and that is why the UN refugee agency is trying to do its best to help them.  But, of course, it is, in the final analysis, for the Malian authorities to do that.  I think I saw your hand, Masood?


Question:  I just wanted to ask you about these talks between Russia and US on the way forward in Syria.  Are they still on or are they not happening?


Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi continues to work with the US and Russian authorities to try to find a way forward.  It’s obvious that this is not going to happen in the immediate future, but they continue to work hard to try to make it happen sooner rather than later.


Question:  Why such a long period to delay?  Is it because too much is happening in the Middle East between Egypt and Syria and Lebanon?


Spokesperson:  Mr. Brahimi spoke more eloquently than I could about this yesterday in Washington.  I would refer you to his remarks there.


Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record