7 January 2014
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 morning, everyone.


** Syria Weapons


The Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations confirms that an initial quantity of priority chemical materials was moved from two sites to the port of Latakia, in Syria, for verification and was then loaded onto a Danish cargo ship today.  The vessel has been accompanied by naval escorts provided by Denmark and Norway, as well as the Syrian Arab Republic.  This movement initiates the process of transfer of chemical materials from Syria to locations outside its territory for destruction.


The vessel has now left the port of Latakia for international waters.  It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.  Maritime security is being provided by naval escorts from the People’s Republic of China, Denmark, Norway and the Russian Federation.


The Joint Mission continues to coordinate with Member States, in particular Syria, to mobilize resources and undertake all the necessary steps towards the complete removal and elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.


We issued a note concerning this and we do expect to have a statement from the Secretary-General about this later.  [Following the briefing, the following statement was issued:


The Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations has informed the Secretary-General that further progress has been made towards the removal and elimination of Syrian chemical weapons programme.  A first quantity of priority chemical materials was moved from two sites to the port of Latakia for verification and was then loaded onto a Danish cargo ship today.


The Secretary-General welcomes the continuing progress in the international effort to eliminate the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian Arab Republic, as demonstrated by this latest achievement.


The Secretary-General once more commends the Special Coordinator and her team for their steadfast work in challenging circumstances.]


** Syria Conference


Also on Syria, you will see that we issued a statement yesterday confirming that the Secretary-General has sent invitations to Syrian and international participants of the Geneva Conference on Syria.  The list of invitees was determined at the 20 December trilateral meeting between the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations.


The Secretary-General views the conference as a unique opportunity for ending the violence and ensuring that peace can be restored and the transition foreseen in the Geneva Communiqué can be implemented in a way that fully meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.  At the core of this effort is the establishment of a transitional governing body based on mutual consent.  And that full statement is online.


**Iraq-Syria


The UN refugee agency said that the Syrian-Iraqi border opened on Sunday and more than 2,500 Syrians crossed by barge.  Border crossing points between the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Syria had been closed since mid-September in the wake of an exodus of some 60,000 Syrians.  Aid workers and local authorities worked overnight Sunday to process the group.


Authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq have told the refugee agency that they have adopted a flexible approach, and those Syrians who say they do not want to stay as refugees can visit for up to seven days or approach the local authorities to legalize their stay.


**Syria — Children


The UN Children’s Fund and the UN refugee agency, together with its partners, have launched a $1 billion public engagement campaign to prevent a lost generation of Syrian children and lift them out of misery, isolation and trauma.


UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said that now is the time for the world to step up and provide Syrian children with fresh hope and confidence for their future.


There is more information online regarding this campaign, which the Secretary-General also supports.


**South Sudan


The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, continues to protect approximately 62,000 civilians in its bases, with humanitarian organizations providing relief and support.  This includes nearly 30,000 people at its two Juba bases.


The Mission reports that the situation in Juba continues to be tense.  In addition to protecting civilians in its bases, Mission troops are conducting day and night patrols in the capital.  The Mission also reports continued instability and fighting in a number of locations, including around Bor and in areas in Unity State.


In Jonglei State, the Mission reports fighting south of Bor and sporadic gunfire in the vicinity of its compound.  It also says that a number of explosions have been heard this morning southeast of the city.  In Unity State, the Mission undertook a patrol to Pariyang and observed that most villages along the road from Mayom Junction to Pariyang appeared burnt or looted.  Severe food, water and shelter shortages were also reported to the Mission by local officials.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, continues to meet with senior Government officials, as well as with opposition leaders, to ensure full cooperation with the Mission to enable it to implement its mandate to protect civilians.  This includes cooperation for flights to Bor to deliver essential supplies for UN personnel and displaced people seeking protection in the Mission’s base.


Preparations continue for the deployment of military and police reinforcements for the UN Mission.


**South Sudan — Humanitarian


Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that more than 23,000 South Sudanese refugees have already crossed into Uganda as a result of the fighting that broke out more than two weeks ago.  Refugees are now crossing at a rate of up to 2,500 people a day.


The agency says that it is struggling to provide enough water and adequate sanitation at transit centres and at reception centres in the West Nile region of north-western Uganda.  It adds that its staff and supplies in Uganda are stretched because other refugees are still arriving from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Meanwhile, smaller but growing numbers of South Sudanese are also fleeing to other neighbouring countries.  The refugee agency says that more than 5,300 refugees have been registered in Ethiopia.  And in Kenya, 300 South Sudanese are now arriving daily at the Kakuma refugee camp.


Inside South Sudan, the agency is still continuing to provide assistance, despite operating with reduced staff.  Yesterday, a chartered flight arrived in Juba carrying essential relief items from the UNHCR stockpiles in Nairobi.  They include 12,500 blankets, 2,500 sets of cooking pots and other kitchen equipment, and some 4,000 plastic sheets to shelter 20,000 displaced people in and around the capital.


** Central African Republic


The World Food Programme (WFP) resumed food distributions today to displaced people at Bangui International Airport in the Central African Republic.  The World Food Programme plans to reach all the displaced people there within 10 days.


An estimated 100,000 people have sought refuge around Bangui airport.  The last food distribution, on 18 December, was suspended when men armed with machetes stormed the distribution site and some food was stolen.  Today’s distribution included food, as well as buckets, tarpaulins and water containers provided by other organizations.  It took place without incident.


The World Food Programme remains deeply concerned about deteriorating security in the north-west of the country and urges all parties to the conflict to ensure safe access to people in need of assistance.


** Cambodia


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that it is following the situation in Cambodia with serious concern, noting its deep alarm at the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials in responding to demonstrations.  The Office said that on Friday five people were killed when security forces opened fire, with 20 more people injured by gunfire and beatings.  It calls on the Cambodian authorities and security forces to exercise utmost restraint.  There is more information on the Office’s website.


** Philippines


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, shelter is an urgent priority and more funding is needed to scale up relief activities.  Electricity is still unreliable in vast parts of the affected areas, and that is hampering economic recovery.  Many schools reopened this week, but there are continued shortages there.  More information can be found online.


**Questions from Yesterday


I was asked yesterday about a South Sudanese Member of Parliament.  Here is what the UN Mission in South Sudan has to say on this:


The UN Mission in South Sudan has a mandate to protect civilians if they are under imminent threat of physical violence and if national authorities and their security forces, who have primary responsibility, are not in a position or not willing to do so.  The Mission’s protection mandate is based on the principle of non-discrimination.  It applies to all civilians irrespective of who they are or where they come from.  The United Nations is not disclosing any specific details regarding individuals having sought our protection.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


And tomorrow, we have a press conference.  Tomorrow at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Evo Morales Ayma, the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, following the handover ceremony of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 from the Republic of Fiji to the Plurinational State of Bolivia.


That’s it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  According to some unconfirmed reports, the material, the chemical material, that has been loaded on the Danish vessel would be processed in a European country, that is, in Italy.  Do you have any information on that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I do not have any confirmation of that.  Instead, as I pointed out, the vessel has now left the port of Latakia for international waters.  It will then remain at sea, awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.  At that point, it may pick up those additional materials.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you give any more detail on how much… how many tonnes of these chemicals were loaded onto this ship?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe we’re providing those until we… at this stage, there’s a process of several phases by which material will be loaded, as more and more materials arrive at the port of Latakia.  I think we might give a final number at that point.  I’ll see whether we can give some interim number at this stage, but I suspect that we’ll give a final number once all the material has been loaded on.  Yes, in the back?


Question:  How many countries have been invited to the Geneva Conference?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Besides Syria itself, 30 countries have been invited, as well as three international organizations, not including, of course, the United Nations itself.


Question:  Will you give us a list of those countries?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve been providing that information.  It’s the same list that the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, announced to the press last year on 20 December.  So that list has already been made public, but I can show you that list afterwards.


Question:  It was announced that the Government or Army of South Sudan had reached a ceasefire agreement with the [David] Yau Yau rebels in Jonglei.  And I wanted to know, one, if UNMISS played any role in this, if they have any comment on it and if they see it… is it joining forces or is it actually a reduction in… in fighting in Jonglei state?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At present we don’t have any comment on this.  We’re studying the latest developments.  If we have anything to say down the line, I’ll let you know at that point.  But at present we’re simply studying it.


Question:  Can I also… I wanted to ask you… the Syrian Information Minister has said, I think earlier today, that whatever was agreed to in Geneva II would be subject to a referendum inside Syria.  And I wanted to know, is that the Secretariat’s thinking of what… what… any possible outcome of the Conference?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we’re not going to speculate on what the outcome of the Conference is going to be at this stage.  First, we’re going to try to get the parties together.  Once they are able to have some discussions, we’ll see what the outcome is, simply from them being able to discuss proposals with each other.  But we’re not advocating any particular view before the Conference begins.


Question:  Sure, but the concept of whatever is agreed — I’m not asking what your view is of what should be agreed — should it be subject to a referendum inside Syria?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That is part of the issues that would need to be discussed by the parties themselves.  We’re going to leave it to the parties themselves to discuss what they themselves feel they can agree on.  Tim?


Question:  On Bor, do you know how many people are in… the camp there?  And how many UN peacekeepers are in Bor?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll try to get the latest numbers.  I believe it’s a very large number.  It could be as much as 10,000, but I’ll try to get a precise figure for you.


Question:  Sure, I wanted to… there were people who work in the Publishing Section here at the UN, received letters yesterday that seemed to talk about separation from service, notices of termination.  I wanted to know, is that accurate?  Is that… since the budget was adopted in late December, have there been, you know, essentially, lay-off letters issued, and, if so, how many?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t… the budget was only just agreed to.  I believe that there’s a series of Town Hall meetings being conducted with staff to reflect on what the results of the budget mean.  So I’ll wait for those town hall meetings to proceed and then let’s see whether we can say anything further after that.


Question:  But could I… I’m specially asking about a DGACM [Department for General Assembly and Conference Management] meeting that was held yesterday at 11:15, at which letters were handed out, called formal termination… notice of termination and separation of service letters.  And I wanted to know… I just want your confirmation that, prior to the town hall and anything else, that these letters did go out.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of anything like that.  I can check with them, but ultimately the initial result of the last few weeks’ developments on a budget is that we’ll be able to discuss with staff through town hall meetings.  I believe one of them was happening today with the Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet.  I believe the Secretary-General will also have town hall meetings with staff.  Yes?


Question:  Yes… a couple of days ago, Secretary of State [John] Kerry said that Al-Qaida, the militants of Al-Qaida is the, is the most dangerous element of the crisis in the region.  And that region — I guess he was not talking only about Iraq — he was talking probably about Syria, Lebanon and all that.  Does the Secretary-General agree with this?  What is for the Secretary-General the most dangerous element of the crisis in the Middle East at the moment?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t quantify what is the worst aspect of any particular crisis.  Obviously there’s a number of things happening between the rising level of violence, sectarian tensions, problems caused by religious extremism, including, of course, the threat caused by Al-Qaida.  The United Nations, as you know, has been well aware of the threat perpetrated by Al-Qaida.  For about 14 years now, you’ve had a Security Council sanctions committee created under resolution 1267 (1999) that is there to put restrictions and different bans on any individuals and entities associated with Al-Qaida.  So, we’ve tried to do what we can to undercut any support for that organization, but certainly that is one of a variety of different threats that has been affecting the region over the past decade or so.


Have a good afternoon, everyone.


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For information media • not an official record