8 November 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  First, I would like to welcome a group of Palestinian journalists who are here with us today.  They represent a variety of local and international media outlets in their home country.  They are currently participating in the annual UN Department of Public Information training programme for Palestinian journalists.  Welcome, all of you.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General has returned to New York, where he is holding meetings at UN Headquarters this afternoon.


He returned this morning from Chad, where he met yesterday with President Idriss Deby Itno, in a delegation including officials from the World Bank Group, the African Union, the African Development Bank and the European Union.


They discussed Chad’s efforts to tackle the serious security and development challenges facing the country and the region.  And, among other topics, they exchanged views on the worrying security and humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic, noting the need for greater international attention to the crisis.  The full readout is online.


The Secretary-General said to reporters upon departing the country that he leaves Chad and the Sahel with hope and optimism.  He said he was encouraged and inspired by the strong commitment by the leaders of the region.  His press remarks are also online.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Special Representative of the Secretary General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, today ended a two-day visit to the eastern part of the country.  During the visit, Mr. Kobler travelled by helicopter to Tchengerero and Tchanzu, areas formerly under the control of the M23 (23 March Movement), which are now controlled by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC).  Mr. Kobler saw large quantities of ammunition and heavy weapons left behind by the M23, including artillery that was used to target the civilian population in Bunagana.  The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] (MONUSCO) confirmed that 15 civilians were killed and two dozen injured during the bombardment of Bunagana by the M23.


Mr. Kobler added that restitution of the State authorities in the liberated areas is now the main priority.  He confirmed that a needs assessment mission, including representatives of MONUSCO, the Government and donors, is under way.


The UN Mission will continue to neutralize other armed groups, in particular the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and is also engaged in border surveillance.  Refugees from Uganda and internally displaced persons have started returning to their villages and towns.


** Central African Republic


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is in Bangui today, where he is attending a meeting of the International Contact Group on the Central African Republic.


At this meeting, Mr. Feltman delivered a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, calling for action to address the dire situation in the country.  In the statement, the Secretary-General says that there is a chance to work together to reverse the downward spiral and to set the country on a path towards peace and stability.  Mr. Feltman held talks with the country’s transitional authorities.  He also met with the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and other senior African officials.


In a statement issued today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that there is an urgent need for the restoration of the rule of law in the Central African Republic.  Ms. Pillay said that unless immediate action is taken, both by the authorities and by the international community, there is a clear risk that the situation will degenerate rapidly and inexorably into a full-blown conflict.


And the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that the conflict in the Central African Republic has put more than a million people at risk of hunger. The situation could worsen because of poor harvests and a drastic slowdown in economic activity following months of violence.  There are more details on this available online and in our office.


**Typhoon Haiyan


The United Nations and its partners in the Philippines are supporting the country’s Government in assessing the damage being caused by Typhoon Haiyan, which made landfall early this morning.  The Government has taken preventative steps to save lives by moving people from coastal and low-lying areas prone to flash flooding and landslides.  The UN humanitarian country team and its partners have complemented the Government’s efforts by pre-positioning stocks to respond to the needs of those who are affected.  There is more information available online.


** Syria


UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) say that the largest ever consolidated immunization response in the Middle East is under way to stop a polio outbreak, aiming to vaccinate over 20 million children in seven countries and territories.  UNICEF and the World Health Organization have organized emergency immunization campaigns in and around Syria to prevent transmission of polio and other preventable diseases, and more than 650,000 children in Syria have been vaccinated.  This is in response to the first polio outbreak in Syria since 1999, which, so far, has left 10 children paralysed and poses a risk of paralysis to hundreds of thousands of children across the region.


** Yemen


The UN refugee agency says that it has recorded more than 62,000 arrivals by sea so far this year in Yemen, from 1 January until 31 October.  The agency remains concerned about the very high numbers of people who are risking their lives by making this perilous journey from the Horn of Africa.  Yemen has seen six successive years of high arrivals by sea, with more than 100,000 people making the crossing last year.  The Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for asylum-seekers and migrants.  And UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has more details on its website.


That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, Edie?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the apparently positive turn in negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re studying the matter at this stage.  As you know, the talks have been proceeding in Geneva, and we will continue to monitor them.  Of course, the Secretary-General has been encouraged by any process by which the countries can come together.  And we will have to see what the results of today’s talks are.  And we may have something further to say as we get more details of those.  Yes?


QuestionFarhan, has there been any comment on the impact of the non-payment by the [United States] and Israel for two years of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations) or the suspension of the [United States]-Israel vote today?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  I believe our UNESCO colleagues have commented on that, and I will leave any further comment to them on that.  Yes?


QuestionFarhan, now that it has been widely reported that Jordan is going to take the seat which the Saudi Arabians have denied, how… do you confirm that the Saudi Arabians have indeed given up the seat?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, I cannot confirm that.  We continue not to have received any formal notification of any Saudi withdrawal.  Yes?


Question:  I just want to a… I mean, I am sure you have seen that Denmark saying that it would offer to transport chemical weapons out of Syria, and also to provide bodyguards for Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag.  Do you have any… is… is… is this an o… did the U… the UN make the request and are you going to take… accept the offer this now been made publicly?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Government of Syria has turned in a plan on the destruction of its chemical weapons to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, and the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will consider that plan.  I believe that, on 15 November, they will consider what to do with the plan.  Until then, we don’t really have any particular details to share, because, ultimately, that is a question for the Member States of the Executive Council.


Question:  So it’s up to… just one thi… so it’s up to Denmark or any other country making these offers to convey it for that meeting on the 15th?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, they certainly can, they certainly can make their offers known, but in any case, part of what is happening right now is that Syria itself presented a plan the details of which, as you know, have not been shared.  The Executive Council will then consider what to do with that plan and we can move forward from here. Yes, Oleg?


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The Russian Foreign Ministry today announced that the Syrian opposition rejected an offer for talks in Moscow.  I wonder how the Secretary-General reacts to this situation and how does it influence further prospects of Geneva talks?  Thank you.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you are aware, Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, does intend to bring the same interlocutors that he has been dealing with in recent days together to Geneva on 25 November to take stock once more.  So, between now and then, we certainly hope that efforts to bring the parties to an international conference on Syria will continue and that we can make some progress.  Certainly, Lakhdar Brahimi and his Deputy, Nasser al-Kidwa, will continue with their own efforts.  But, we will have to take stock again and then see where we can go.  Ultimately, the end goal remains, as Mr. Brahimi put it a few days ago, that we continue to strive for holding a Geneva II conference before the end of this year.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Yes, sir.  Farhan, does the Secretary-General have any comment, or the UN has any comment, on this latest report which was yesterday by Foreign Policy magazine, which basically said that Saudi Arabia is paying for lots of… I mean, hundreds of soldiers to be trained by Pakistan to be brought then into Syria?  And that is a report.  That is a very alarming basically and… I mean, development.  Does Secretary-General have anything to say about this?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything specific to say about that particular report.  We don’t have any way of confirming those particular details.  However, our general stance on this remains, as it has been, that the Secretary-General is firmly opposed to the further militarization of the situation in Syria, and that includes by arming or providing military assistance to any of the parties.  Yes, Tim?


Correspondent:  [tries microphone]  One side is broken, the other one is not working.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Can one of your friends lend you theirs?  There, there you go.


Question:  Okay, thank you, Farhan.  Do you have any more detail on what kind of border monitoring MONUSCO is doing in eastern Congo?  And also, the 15 dead, over what time was that?  Over what time frame?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll need to check with DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) about those details.  What I have read is what I have on that one.  But, we will try and get some more.  Yeah?


Question:  Sure, I… I wanted… I guess I wanted to ask you what I asked yesterday, which is whether the status of the M23 people that crossed into Uganda, including Mr. [Sultani] Makenga, does the UN have any idea whether he is actually in custody, has surrendered?  And also, there are reports that Monday will be the date for… for the signing of some kind of a… I don’t know if it is an agreement or a declaration; what… what’s the UN’s role in the… in the signing of this?  And is it an agreed or… or just sort of a unilateral thing by the Congolese Government?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on the first question, we did check with the UN Mission, MONUSCO, and yes, they can confirm that the Uganda authorities do have in their custody Sultani Makenga and some of the senior commanders.  In the case of the second question, as you know, Mary Robinson, in her work as the Great Lakes Envoy, has also been working to try to get the parties together; she and Mr. Kobler have participated in the diplomatic efforts.  And if there is an agreement signed in Monday in Kampala, we would have… we would expect to have a further reaction to provide to you at that point.


Question:  Can I just ask, on… on Mr. Makenga, what… what does the UN think should happen?  Mr… yester… yesterday, Laurent Mende said that they don’t have to make a request for extradition, that it is… it is somehow inc… it’s part of the agreement signed in Addis by Uganda that they have to turn him back over.  What’s the… what… what should happen next, and what do you… what… what are the steps?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think, first, we will see how the two Governments themselves deal with this matter, and we’ll see what their response is.


Okay, have a great weekend, everyone.


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For information media • not an official record