22 August 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


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria yesterday.


The Secretary-General remains deeply troubled by the reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The Secretary-General believes that the incidents reported yesterday need to be investigated without delay.  Since yesterday he has been in touch with world leaders on the matter.  He has instructed Under-Secretary-General Angela Kane to travel to Damascus.  Furthermore, senior UN officials have been in contact with the Syrian authorities since the first reports were received.


The Secretary-General takes positive note of yesterday’s meeting of the Security Council, as well as the conclusions by the President of the Security Council supporting his intention to conduct a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation.


The Secretary-General now calls for the mission, presently in Damascus, to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident which occurred on the morning of 21 August 2013.  A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the Government of Syria in this regard.  He expects to receive a positive response without delay.


The Secretary-General reiterates his call for a cessation of hostilities so that humanitarian assistance can be urgently delivered.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General arrived in the Republic of Korea today.  As we have mentioned already, on Friday, he has meetings with the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  We will provide details on those meetings as we get them.  The Secretary-General will also speak to the diplomatic corps based in Seoul about the Millennium Development Goals and attend an event hosted by the UN Academic Impact.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council met in closed consultations, first on Liberia, and then on Sudan and South Sudan, receiving a briefing by Special Envoy Haile Menkerios.


In the afternoon, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet will brief the Council in consultations on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  The Council will also discuss Sudan sanctions and other matters.


** Mali


As you may have already seen, the Secretary-General congratulated Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on his election as President of Mali in a telephone conversation yesterday and welcomed the peaceful manner in which the elections were conducted.


The Secretary-General pledged the support of the United Nations to the Government of Mali in its efforts to address the root causes of the crisis, including through dialogue and reconciliation.  The Secretary-General also offered support for the implementation of the 18 June Preliminary Agreement between the Government of Mali and northern armed groups, and for the organization of legislative elections.


Also, in a statement issued today, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, said that the entire fragile Sahel region needs to be supported so as to build sustainable peace.  He said that the UN system is working on the implementation of a UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, which was presented to the Security Council in June.  The full statement is available in our Office.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reports that fighting resumed yesterday between the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and M23 armed group in the Kibati area, 15 kilometres north of Goma, in North Kivu province.  The Mission says that populated areas and UN positions were directly targeted by mortars and hit by indiscriminate fire.  In response, Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the Mission, has ordered UN peacekeepers to take necessary action to protect civilians and prevent an advance by the M23.


** Darfur


As part of its ongoing efforts to address the needs of civilians affected in the East Darfur intercommunal clashes, the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID), said today that it assisted in airlifting more than 300 civilians, on 18 August, from El Daein, East Darfur, to Abu Karinka, located approximately 50 kilometres north-east of El Daein.  In addition, yesterday, the mission provided logistical support by transporting representatives of Rezeigat and Ma’alia tribes to Al Tawisha, North Darfur, to participate in the signing of an agreement to cease hostilities in East Darfur.


**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees


The UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, said today it categorically rejected the allegations made in a film released by an Israeli filmmaker that the Agency promoted anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in its “summer camps”.  UNRWA said it conducted a lengthy and detailed investigation into the film, called Camp Jihad, which it said is grossly misleading.  The full statement is available on UNRWA’s website.


** Colombia


The Director of Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, said after a recent visit with representatives of international non-governmental organizations to Colombia that while the humanitarian situation in the country has improved greatly, there is still more to be done.  Mr. Ging said that the international community must support the people of Colombia as they strive to recover from decades of conflict.  He said that, while there has been recent progress in the peace talks, there are still hundreds of thousands of people waiting for the most basic improvements in health care, sanitation, food security, education and livelihoods.


**General Assembly Meeting


The General Assembly will hold a plenary meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. to discuss sport for peace and development.  The plenary meeting will be followed by an informal segment to mark the adoption of the “International Day of Sport for Development and Peace”, featuring statements by Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, and Novak Djokovic, world no. 1 ranked tennis player.


** Syria


And yesterday I was asked about a rebel group in Syria warning aid workers to leave.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that it has received no reports of such threats.  None of its partners has brought these reported statements to its attention.  Humanitarian organizations are working in very dangerous conditions, but they continue to do their best to negotiate access to get vital aid to people in need.  The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, has frequently reminded all parties of their obligations under international law to allow humanitarian workers safe passage.


We have time for a few questions.  Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, Eduardo, regarding the call by Secretary-General for investigation in the alleged chemical attack in Damascus yesterday — yesterday, Mr. Eliasson said that we need cessation of hostilities in the area.  Did any country or any organization contact the opposition rebel forces in order to arrange for such cessation of hostilities?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The UN is in contact with… with different parties in Syria trying to get this; the message has obviously been received by all concerned.  We have been repeating it for the past two and a half years, Nizar, and there is nothing new in that statement.  From the very beginning, the Secretary-General has said that the only solutions to the problems in Syria are political solutions, and that violence has no place.


Question:  Does that include [inaudible]?  Does… does the contact [inaudible]?  What’s happening here?  Yeah, do the contacts include Al-Nusra, for example, who are…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not going to get into details as to whom we have contacted.  The contacts are there, the message has been sent out, the message is known by all, and we have been repeating it for two and half years.  Sherwin?


Question:  Eduardo, I noticed… I noted the Secretary-General’s congratulations to the President-elect in Mali.  Why not a similar congratulatory note to the President of Zimbabwe, who was inaugurated today?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we have a mission in Mali, and the elections — the United Nations helped with some logistics preparations and that’s why we thought it was appropriate.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, great.  I want to ask just one follow-up on your statement about OCHA.  I mean, I understand that they gave you that statement.  There… there is a CBS News story saying that the State Department, it has been contacted by humanitarian groups in north Syria, there is also an interview that I sent to… to OCHA of ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] admitting that it has told foreign humanitarian groups to leave northern Syria.  So I’m… I was wondering, is this the… if you look at… at what the State Department said and what you’re saying, is it that these groups are more comfortable speaking to… to the US than to OCHA or what’s…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew…


Question:  …what would explain it?


Deputy Spokesperson: …what I have told you is that the OCHA has not received any complaint from any NGO, from any humanitarian organization operating in that part of the world.  In the back?


Question:  Mr.  del Buey, there have been, or there are, reports that four rockets were launched from Lebanon into Israel.  Any comments, please?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  UNIFIL is aware of the reports, and the mission has sent one of its helicopters to investigate the incident.  The Force Commander is also in contact with various parties and has called for restraint.  Nizar?


Question:  A follow-up on that.  Has there been any results of the investigations with regard to the al-Labouneh incident which took place [inaudible]?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we have no results yet.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about this DRC fighting that you gave the… the readout about.  You know, there are reports from there of two things that I wanted… that, one, in… in your readout, one is that the… the Congolese army, using helicopters, has bombed a Vodacom telecommunications tower that’s actually just used by civilians, not just by rebel groups, and there is also some complaints of firing across the border into Rwanda.  So in… in what am I read… am I reading your readout right that Mr. Kobler views the fighting… the… the purpose of MONUSCO only to stop advances by M23, or is there any actual watching which units of FARDC are involved and what would he say about the bombing of the telecom tower?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The purpose of the UN Mission there is to protect civilians, Matthew.  If civilians are coming under attack by rebel groups, by armed groups, then they take action to prevent it.


Question:  But my question would be if… if an army of a country is bombing a telecommunications tower which is the only thing that allows people to speak by cell phone, including to, for example, report rape, which is a big thing that MONUSCO or MONUC used to say it would stop, okay, I guess, but the factual question is, can MONUSCO confirm that FARDC has bombed the telecommunications tower for Vodacom?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to find out, I’ll have to find out, but you can always phone MONUSCO and find out yourself.  Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, there are compelling evidence that there is systematic ethnic cleansing in northern Syria where the opposition control against Armenians, against Syrians and Kurds.  Are there any follow-up from the OCHA… from OCHA, or others about this phenomenon?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to find out from OCHA, Nizar.  Matthew?


Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about Haiti.  The… the… I am sure that you have seen your… your colleague, Martin, wrote a response to an editorial in the Washington Post.  And they… they filed the second editorial saying that the problem was that he didn’t address this claim that the UN actually brought cholera, and I notice in the most recent report that’s put out it’s not addressed either.  I wanted to know, what does the UN… people are saying there may be legal advice given to your Office not to even comment on… on that, and so the… I also know, like Al-Jazeera America had… had… had a pretty, I have heard, damning documentary 30 minutes on yesterday, but it is not able to be viewed here, it’s not on the UNTV…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew…


Question:  …but what’s your response to it?  It seems like [inaudible].


Deputy Spokesperson:  …we have said everything we are going to say about that.  We have said it repeatedly, and we are not going to comment any further on it.


Question:  Well, what would you say to those that the failure to even, sort of, even deny… even address this idea that you brought the thing…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we have addressed the issue, I am not going to go any further.


Question:  Do you deny bringing it?  That’s, I guess, my question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  It’s not clear.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?


Question:  I have a follow-up question on the trip by [Under-] Secretary-General Kane to Damascus.  Does she have a itinerary, can you elaborate any more on what she’ll be doing there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we are not going to elaborate on her itinerary yet.


Question:  Do you have any reaction on the statement of France yesterday that the States should make… should send troops to Syria?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been on the record for the past almost three years saying that a military solution is not an option for Syria.  That continues to be our position.


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


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For information media • not an official record