27 february 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing and welcome to those in the room — you seem very quiet today — and those watching the webcast through the UN website.


**Genocide Commemoration


The Secretary-General will speak this afternoon at the New York launch of Kwibuka20, a series of events marking 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda.  The theme for Kwibuka20 is “Remember, Unite, Renew”.  The Secretary-General will call for those words to be an inspiration during the weeks of reflection ahead, as the world remembers the more than 800,000 innocent people who were so brutally murdered, draws lessons from the unity of the Rwandan people since that tragedy and marvels at their determination to renew their country.


**South Sudan


The Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, visited Malakal yesterday and said he saw “shocking scenes” at the teaching hospital — with nothing left at the hospital apart from dead bodies.  He added that Malakal town looked and felt deserted.  After visiting Malakal yesterday, Mr. Lanzer was in Bor today.  He said there were four mass graves in Bor and the business district had been totally destroyed, but there were a few civilians on the streets and some civil servants were working and there were signs of some trade activity.  Mr. Lanzer added that an estimated 1,200 people were leaving Jonglei every day for Minkaman, Awerial County in Lakes State.


And the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, says it has received multiple reports that opposition forces are in control of Owatchi in Payikang County and Lelo in Malakal County, in Upper Nile State.  Yesterday, the Mission conducted two patrols in Malakal town around key sites, including churches and a college serving as shelters for displaced civilians.  During these patrols, the Mission helped 1,750 people leave the Christ the King Roman Catholic Church compound in Malakal town.  The Mission also undertook a number of other patrols to sites to assess the situation of displaced persons, including to Melut in Upper Nile State, and outside of Bor town in Jonglei State.


Finally, the Mission says that 122 Ghanaian soldiers arrived in the capital, Juba, on Wednesday through an inter-Mission cooperation arrangement, in order to further strengthen the Mission’s protection capacity.


** Sudan


The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Adnan Khan, has welcomed the African Union’s invitation to the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) to talks in Addis Ababa on 28 February, so, tomorrow.  He urges the Government and the SPLM-N to take immediate steps to ensure that humanitarian needs can be addressed while political dialogue continues.


Mr. Khan said there were urgent and critical needs in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States and the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance should not be conditional on political progress.  And there’s a press release available on that.


** Central African Republic


In the Central African Republic, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that humanitarian actors and international forces are finalizing the evacuation plan for 3,000 internally displaced people trapped in the PK12 neighbourhood of Bangui and at risk of massacre.  These are mainly elderly people and children trapped by insecurity.  Meanwhile, the Office also says that access to water, basic sanitation services and improved hygiene practices are needed for 900,000 affected people.


Humanitarian partners have almost completed the rehabilitation of the water distribution system by the national company in Bangui.  Partners have also provided enough products to allow the city’s water treatment plant to deliver safe water to 600,000 people for the next three months.  The Office also says that internally displaced people, especially those in flood-prone areas, need emergency shelter support and basic household goods, particularly ahead of the rainy season.


And finally, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been able to resume assistance in greater Bangui in the past weeks thanks to the arrival of convoys carrying more food supplies.


** Philippines Recovery from Typhoon


The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, wrapped up her visit to the Philippines today.  Speaking to reporters, she commended the work of the Philippines authorities and the humanitarian community, as well as the resilience of the Filipino people, for the pace of progress more than 100 days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the country.  Ms. Amos noted that, even as she saw progress, she also saw how much remains to be done.  Millions of people still require urgent assistance to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and ensure that the gains made are not rolled back.


She said that in the coming months, UN agencies and their humanitarian partners will be prioritizing efforts to help people find durable housing and livelihoods while continuing to provide life-saving assistance.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator said that the humanitarian community will continue to support local authorities to help people recover and build back stronger and safer so that the next massive storm does not bring such terrible levels of devastation.


** Lebanon


The Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Paolo Serra, called on the President of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri in Beirut today and discussed the situation in south Lebanon.  He also met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam earlier this week.


He said afterwards that he was encouraged by the Lebanese leaders’ support for the UN mission.  They reiterated their commitment to resolution 1701 (2006) and acknowledged the enhanced significance of the mission in keeping the calm along the Blue Line in these challenging times.  And there is a press release with more details.


** Afghanistan


I was asked yesterday about the travel of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, to Pakistan.  Mr. Kubiš travelled to Pakistan from 23 to 25 February, where he met with Pakistani officials as part of his mandated regional cooperation outreach activities.  During his meetings, Mr. Kubiš repeatedly stressed the importance of the elections and the political transition in Afghanistan and acknowledged the successful preparations for the presidential and provincial council elections in April 2014, as well as the critical importance of holding the elections on time.  He maintained that peace, stability and prosperity in Pakistan and Afghanistan were interlinked.


I was also asked about the dialogue on the Bilateral Security Agreement between the Governments of Afghanistan and the United States.  That, of course, is a bilateral matter that is for both countries and their people to decide.  The United Nations remains determined to continue its support to Afghanistan.


Questions, please?  Yes, Edie?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  A couple of clarifications:  on the 1,750 people that the UN helped leave this church in Malakal, where did they go?


Spokesperson:  A good question.  I assume they have been taken to a protection site, but I will ask my colleagues to confirm that.


Question:  Yeah, and also, just as another follow-up, on the people, these 3,000 people being evacuated from the PK12 site in Bangui, I assume those are probably Muslims.  Is that correct?


Spokesperson:  That I do not know, but except as I said, that they are mainly elderly people and children.  But, I will be able to check that and let you know.  [The Spokesperson later confirmed that the 3,000 people evacuated from the PK12 site in Bangui were Muslims.]  Yes, please, Pamela?


Question:  Martin, is there any fleshing out you can do on the Special Envoy Robert Serry’s trip to the Ukraine?  Has he met with people, who has he met with, has he spoken with [Viktor] Yanukovych or with the opposition?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I said yesterday, I find it hard to believe that Mr. Serry has spoken to Mr. Yanukovych.  And as far as I know, that remains the case today, that he has not.  But, he is in Kiev still and continues to meet a wide range of officials and diplomats based in Kiev.  But, I don’t have any specific further details on that right at the moment.  That’s pretty much what I have for the moment.


Question:  All right.  And can you explain what his, then more generally if he has met with the opposition you will let us know, but, um… or met with members of Parliament…


Spokesperson:  He has met with a wide range of interlocutors from different parts of the political spectrum, of course.


Question:  And no specifics on that?


Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  Can you just explain maybe what is… how does he see the mission… what is the UN role in Ukraine right now?  There is obviously a lot of turmoil.


Spokesperson:   He is there at the request of the Secretary-General on a very narrowly defined visit.  This is his role, as you well know, as the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  That’s his job.  He was asked specifically to undertake this short-term and targeted mission because of his expertise in Ukraine, where he served as the Dutch Ambassador for some time, and is, therefore, quite well connected and knows the people.  It made sense to make use of that expertise at this time.  And he is ably assisted by the Department for Political Affairs on the ground and from Headquarters.


Question:  And just one quick follow-up:  is there any way you can encourage a briefing with us when he returns?  Or a Skype?


Spokesperson:  Well, we can look at that, for sure.  I don’t know whether it will be possible, but we can certainly look at that.  I understand the obvious interest that there is, but I think we also have to understand that this is… a lot of this is quiet diplomacy rather than megaphone diplomacy.  I think you had your hand up?  Yes?  Could you…?  Yeah, yeah, exactly, you’re on.


Question:  What time is the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) report coming out today?


Spokesperson:  The OPCW report; I think you need to ask them.


Question:  It was supposed to be in today.  Do you have any information on what is going on with them?


Spokesperson:  Let me check afterwards if we have a time for that.  But I think you probably need to ask the spokesperson Michael Luhan in The Hague.  [The Spokesperson later said that the report had gone to the members of the Security Council on Wednesday evening.]  Okay.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke by phone with the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. [Matteo] Renzi, who said that the Secretary-General assured him his commitment to solve the issue of the two Italian marines held in India.  Can you confirm that and tell us which steps the Secretary-General is planning to take for a positive outcome?


Spokesperson:  No, I can’t confirm that.  But, we will be providing a readout shortly.  And I think it might even be in your e-mail as we speak, but let’s see.  There should be something soon, and it will be available online.  [The Spokesperson later issued the following readout:


The Secretary-General spoke by telephone yesterday with Mr. Matteo Renzi, President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic.


The Secretary-General congratulated Mr. Renzi on his appointment and expressed his wishes for continued strong collaboration with Italy.


The Secretary-General and Mr. Renzi discussed issues of mutual interest to Italy and the United Nations, including peacekeeping operations and climate change.]


Yes, Ivan?


Question:  Thank you.  Do you have anything to say on a new timetable to remove chemical weapons from Syria by late April?


Spokesperson:  Simply to say that we have been in touch with Sigrid Kaag, who, of course, is the head of the Joint Mission.  And she says that they are studying this timetable, and that she would expect to be able to say more about the timetable in the coming days, but not at the moment.  They are still studying the ramifications of this proposed timetable.


Question:  Can I ask one more question?


Spokesperson:  Yes, you may.


Question:  Is the UN going to help North Korea to cope with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, if they request it?


Spokesperson:  Well, if… whenever there is a request for humanitarian assistance from any country, then it is looked at very carefully by the relevant UN agencies; so that would seem to be for Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the first instance — and with, potentially with the World Health Organization (WHO).  But, I think just as a general proposition with any country, if assistance is requested, it is, of course, looked at very seriously.  Yes, Oleg?  And then, Matthew.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Can you confirm — this is the regular question, I guess — uh, that Lakhdar Brahimi is going to be briefing next week the Security Council; is it possible?


Spokesperson:  Well, there is a Security Council briefing next week, as I understand it.  I can’t confirm the date at this point.  But, Mr. Brahimi is expected to brief the Council at that point.  Precisely what his travel dates are have not yet been determined.


Question:  At that point; you mean next week?


Spokesperson:  Correct.  No, not next week; the week after.  Not next week; the week after.


Question:  Yes, Martin.  I want to ask about [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and also Myanmar again.  On, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Russ Feingold testified, and he said that soon MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and its Force Intervention Brigade will have to go after the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) or, or you know, in terms, or lose their credibility, essentially.  And just now, this morning, I spoke to a Rwandan diplomat who said that… so when… when is that going to take place given that M23 (23 March Movement) was neutralized?   Can you say what are the plans of, of MONUSCO and the Force Intervention Brigade to actually begin action on FDLR; is it in fact dependent on, on the Congolese Government and the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo)?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think you’d expect me to comment on operational activities that have not yet started and might not start.  And if they were to start, I don’t think we would be broadcasting it in advance.


Question:  But, what would you say to those who say that… that… that… that the purpose of MONUSCO’s role was to neutralize both groups; they have taken out one group and months go by without any action on the other, what… that it looks imbalanced?


Spokesperson:  I would say… I would say that the Force Commander and the Commander of the Force Intervention Brigade are extremely experienced officers with very capable troops under their command, and that they will be taking the appropriate action as they determine it with the… obviously, with the head of the Mission overall, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Martin Kobler.


Question:   But is it… is it dependent on a decision by the Congolese Government and FARDC to do it or can they do it on their own?  That’s the last question I will be asking on this.


Spokesperson:  Well, this is turning into a little bit of an interview, here.  I think that this is… there is always going to be a level of coordination and cooperation — that’s the nature of the presence of any peacekeeping operation.  But, I am not going to discuss operational details at this point.  And for your other question, if you could wait please, because there are other hands in the air.  First of all, here, and then I am coming to you.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Hizbullah has written he will respond for Israeli strike; is that, that this strike target one of their sides on the Syrian-Lebanese border.  On the other hand, Israel doesn’t confirm the strike.  I am asking if the United Nations has concerns or fears that this could transfer the Syrian war to Lebanon and if so, do you have any information if there are… if there is any international mediation to calm this down?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Look, we don’t have independent confirmation about air strikes.  We’ve seen the media reports, and simply to reiterate what is self-evident:  that anything that adds to the tensions in an already tense region, we would certainly suggest should be discouraged.  There is enough going on in the region as it is.   Yes?


Question:  Regarding North Korea’s short-range missile strikes, I… I… I am aware that these have been categorized as routine tests, but does the Secretary-General have a statement on this and whether or not it will impact the recent seeking of better ties with South Korea?


Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything to say on that.  We are, obviously, aware of the reports and the characterization of the nature of those missile launches.  We, obviously, monitor the situation on the Korean peninsula closely, but we don’t have any specific comment on that.


And I just wanted to add one thing to what I had said yesterday about the presenting of credentials tomorrow by the incoming Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  There will be two other new Permanent Representatives presenting their credentials at that time:  Cabo Verde and Cambodia.  And it is standard practice for the Secretary-General to have a short protocol exchange, in other words, welcoming the new Permanent Representative in his office.  That is standard practice with every incoming Permanent Representative.  But, I tell you now, do not expect a readout on any of them.  Right, yes, right at the back there?


Question:  On Thailand, in light of the statement yesterday by the Secretary-General and the offer of assistance, has the UN received any contact from either the Thai leadership or the opposition?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Thai have reported a telephone conversation with the Foreign Minister, and I confirm that there was such a telephone conversation.  The Secretary-General has expressed, as we said in that statement, his readiness to assist the parties and the Thai people in any way possible.  Now, this depends on the opposition and the Government requesting assistance, and then it would need to be looked at very carefully, what form that assistance could take.  But, the Secretary-General is watching this closely; he is rather concerned about the level of violence that’s been seen.  And also you’ve seen that there is the potential for talks.  And so, he is watching that, as are my colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs.  If we have anything further on that, I will let you know.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just a short follow-up on, on the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s] missiles.  So, did UN confirm the firing or you are just still checking the…?


Spokesperson:  No, we’ve seen the media reports on that.  We don’t… the UN does not monitor missile launches anywhere in that way.  And certainly, we’ve seen the media reports, we don’t have any particular comment on that.  We’ve seen the characterization of those reported launches, as well.  Other questions?  Okay, last question, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, could I ask about Myanmar and also Sri Lanka?


Spokesperson:  You can ask about Myanmar, okay?


Question:  Okay.  All right.  I wanted to ask you, President Thein Sein has come out in favour of a law that would prohibit the marriage of Muslims and Buddhists in the name of preserving Buddhism and I… since it’s a… he is reported to… he’s asked the lower house to pass the bill and I wanted to know if the UN, which is, you know, obviously… visited and has some interest in the country if they have any comment on that and also if you have any answer from [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] on the report that Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar invited them to do, contribute peacekeepers.


Spokesperson:  I am awaiting a response on the latter part.  On the first part, as this is not legislation that has been passed, it is not usual practice to comment on a legislative process that is under way.  If we have anything further to say on it, I will let you know.  [He later added that, during Vijay Nambiar’s recent meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s Defence Services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the question of Myanmar’s cooperation with the UN on peacekeeping was discussed.  The Special Adviser explained that, like any Member State, Myanmar was invited to discuss its interest in specific terms with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations which would consider such a request in accordance with its regular parameters.]


Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record