5 March 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.


So, by special delivery, I have the briefing material.  So, I can start pretty much straight away, if that is agreeable.  Okay, so, just to welcome you to this part of the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General is in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he is about to take part in the ceremony marking the closing of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the country (UNIPSIL).  And in his remarks, the Secretary-General is to say that Sierra Leone has taught the world many lessons but none more important than the power of people to shape the future.  He’ll stress that a strong investment in material resources, human energy, international support and national goodwill can bring lasting peace, and that other countries devastated by conflict can draw hope from Sierra Leone.


And then earlier today, the Secretary-General had meetings with the staff from the UN office in the country, and as the UN presence in the country will now focus on development.  And he also met with the President of Sierra Leone, as well as representatives of political parties and civil society.


You will have seen he had a press conference in Freetown and we have issued a transcript of that.


**Security Council


As you will know, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, is briefing the Security Council on the Joint Mission’s work in Syria.  You’ll recall we provided an update on the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons yesterday.  Ms. Kaag expects to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout shortly and that may indeed happen around 12.15 p.m., so earlier than originally anticipated, but I will be given a signal when that is happening.


Earlier today, the Security Council adopted resolutions reaffirming the arms embargo on Somalia and extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts dealing with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea until 5 April 2015.


**South Sudan


The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is concerned by a number of shooting incidents which occurred in the capital, Juba, today. Fighting seems to have initially taken place around 9 a.m. local time in the barracks of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the Jebel area, not far from UN House.


Additional reports indicated sporadic shooting in several locations in Juba, including around the university and the World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse and near the UN Mission compound in Tomping.  As of midday local time, SPLA troops were deployed across the city and several roads in and around the capital were also blocked by the authorities.  Currently, the situation appears to be calm in Juba, although security checkpoints remain in the city.


The Mission also reports that some 70 additional civilians have sought safety in the UN House site.  In all, the Mission continues to protect approximately 43,000 civilians at two sites in Juba and more than 77,000 civilians at UN sites throughout the country.


Separately, in Nassir, in Upper Nile State, the Mission reports that armed young people continue to fire sporadically in the town.  Yesterday, a stray bullet hit an office of the UN Mission, but no injuries were sustained.  The Mission reiterates its call on all parties to respect the work and sanctity of UN premises.


**International Support Group for Lebanon


Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, attended the meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris today.  At the conclusion of that meeting, Mr. Feltman delivered the Chairman’s Summary Statement on the Support Group’s behalf.  Among other things, the International Support Group’s participants warmly welcomed the announcement on 15 February of the formation of a new Government in Lebanon and expressed their readiness to work closely with Prime Minister Tamam Salam and his Government to promote support for Lebanon.  They also strongly condemned the repeated terrorist attacks and bombings in Lebanon and underscored the importance of bringing those responsible to justice.  And the full statement is available in my office.


** Iraq


Today, the United Nations in Iraq and the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement launched an appeal to address the immediate humanitarian needs of people affected by the fighting in the Anbar Province in the West of the country.  The Iraq Strategic Response Plan requires $103.7 million to serve 240,000 people over the next six months.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, says that the Plan, once funded, will enable the UN and partner agencies to continue supporting the humanitarian efforts of the local and national authorities.


** Darfur


The acting United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Adnan Khan, has expressed his deep concern at reports that thousands of people are fleeing their homes.  That is due to fresh fighting between armed movements and the Sudanese Armed Forces and its allied paramilitary groups in the Um Gunya area of South Darfur.  The latest fighting there has displaced more than 15,000 people, the majority of whom have gone to camps outside of Nyala city, where services such as water and medical care are already thinly stretched.  Mr. Khan said that more people were displaced in Darfur last year than in any single year since the height of the Darfur conflict in 2004.  And there is more information in a press release available in my office.


**Press Conferences


So there will be a press conference at 12.30 p.m., today by Afaf Konja, Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly.  And as I told you yesterday, she will brief you on the High-level Event of the President of the General Assembly that has the title “The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.  And that event is taking place tomorrow and the day after.


And then tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., Arancha Gonzalez, the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, will hold a press conference here on the Commission on the Status of Women.


And the guest at tomorrow’s Noon Briefing will be Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN-Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women).


And that’s what I have for you.  And I am happy to take questions and [as he is handed some sheets of paper] pieces of paper!  Thank you very much.


So, questions, please?  Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, sure, thank you.  I… I… I’d… I’d like to ask you; there is uh, a leaked audio has come out of Cathy Ashton speaking with the Estonian Foreign Minister about events in Maidan Square; and among other things it states, the Estonian Foreign Minister says that protesters and police were shot by the same snipers, and, meaning that not by the [Viktor] Yanukovych forces, but by somebody trying to stir it up.  And Ms. Ashton says:  we should investigate that.  This is widely circulated, so I wanted to know in terms of Mr. [Ivan] Šimonović’s mandate there in terms of human rights and… and investigation, one, does the UN have any response to this… this, uh, leaked audio?  And number two, does it fall within the scope of what Mr. Šimonović would be looking at in Ukraine?


Spokesperson:  No, I am not going to comment on leaked audio.  What I can comment on is Mr. Šimonović’s planned mission.  The details are still being worked out, and so, we’ll be providing more details in due course.  But, the remit is to look into a broad range of allegations and to simply take stock, to try to understand across the entire spectrum, from the west of the country to the east of the country and to the southeast.  So, this is going to be a broad-ranging mission.  I would not say it is an investigation.  It’s a fact-finding mission.  And on his return, Mr. Šimonović will, of course, report to the Secretary-General and to the membership.


Correspondent:   But, with this type of allegation, I mean, without… you’re saying you won’t comment on a leaked audio, although there were some comments on the Victoria Nuland one, from this podium.  So, I wanted to know…


Spokesperson:    Well, that’s because there was a specific reference to, within those allegations, to the United Nations.  There is no reference to the United Nations in what you have mentioned, and so that’s the reason I am not going to comment on it.  But, where there are allegations made within Kyiv, when Mr. Šimonović arrives there, I am sure that this is something that would be part of what he is looking at.  I don’t see any particular discrepancy there.  Yes, Oleg, and then Pamela?


Question:  One quick follow-up:  Is there any changes in the visit of Ivan Šimonović to Ukraine, maybe in the schedule, as I understand he was supposed to leave today, right?


Spokesperson:  No, you understood incorrectly; he was not supposed to leave today.  Pardon?


Question:  When?


Spokesperson:  That is still being worked on.  And as soon as we have details of the precise schedule and where he will be visiting, then we will let you know.  But, that is still a work in progress.  As you have heard, repeatedly in recent days, this is a remarkably fast-moving and at times unpredictable set of events.  And so, we will keep you informed.  Yes, Pamela?


Question:   Thank you, Martin.  Has the Secretary-General made any further follow-up phone calls to Russian President [Vladimir] Putin?  Obviously, the one you had sent information out about was the last one.  And just, can you clarify what he sees, what the UN sees as the UN role right now?  Is he encouraging mediation; is there any formal role in negotiating the Budapest memorandum?  And has anyone weighed in on the Budapest memorandum?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the [Deputy Secretary-General] addressed that question, already about UN involvement, and so I will leave it with what the Deputy Secretary-General just said.  With regard to… remind me of the first part again?


Correspondent:  Putin.


Spokesperson:  Exactly, yes.  Right, thank you.  I should have written it down.  Okay, the Secretary-General has not spoken to President Putin again since the Saturday conversation, but there have been plenty of conversations between the Russian authorities and the UN at different levels in between times.  And I can also…


Question:  Could you flesh those out at all?


Spokesperson:   No, I can’t; not at the moment.  But, you did hear that the Deputy Secretary-General has been speaking with the Russian diplomatic mission in Kyiv, amongst others.  What I can tell you is the Secretary-General said it himself in Sierra Leone, at the press conference he gave in Freetown, that he did… that he has been, of course, focused very much on Ukraine throughout his travels.  And from Freetown, he did have a telephone conversation with the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, a little earlier today.  And that was, of course, focused on Ukraine.


Question:  Any readout on that?


Spokesperson:  We will try to get some more details, but at the moment simply to say that it was focused on Ukraine and certainly the Secretary-General was able to update Mr. Kerry on the great amount of work that has already been done and what has still to be done with regard to our involvement in dealing with this crisis.  Jonathan, and then Ali.  I am terribly sorry, Evelyn, I will get to you shortly, okay?


Correspondent:  Mr. [Robert] Serry


Spokesperson:  With the microphone, please.  And you a TV reporter.


Question:  The incident involving Mr. Serry this morning, it’s… it’s… obviously, it sounds quite serious.  What does the UN do in such circumstances?  Is there going to be an investigation to try to ascertain who was threatening him?  Obviously there was an attempt at intimidation here, which can impact on his… his efforts to mediate.


Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to talk about security arrangements and precisely how such matters are dealt with; but as you heard, the Deputy Secretary-General said Mr. Serry certainly felt intimidated, at the very least, and that’s why he conversed with Mr. [Jan] Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary-General.  Obviously, there have already been contacts, as he himself said, with Ukrainian authorities, with the Russian authorities with a view to understanding precisely what is behind this and why it took place.  But, this is still a moving story, and I don’t have any further details at this point beyond what Mr. Serry said.


I am going to Evelyn before she gets more upset, and then I will come to Ali, okay?


Question:  Um, can you repeat what the [Deputy Secretary-General] said about talking to the Russians?  I mean, who has spoken to the Russians in the Ukraine?


Spokesperson:  Why would I need to repeat what the [Deputy Secretary-General] says?


Question:  Yeah, well, he said, you — I didn’t hear, it was sometimes hard to hear, and has anyone from the UN in the Ukraine spoken to the Russians in the Crimea anywhere else?  Mr. Serry gotten to them or this whole incident prevented it?


Spokesperson:  Well, again, the intention was for Mr. Serry to be able to brief the Deputy Secretary-General before coming on this phone call on his activities.  As it turned out, he was having to convey a different message when he spoke to the Deputy Secretary-General.  So, that’s why, at this point, I can’t tell you much more about Mr. Serry’s activities.  [He added, later that afternoon, that Robert Serry was taking a late flight out of Simferopol and would shortly return to Kyiv to continue his mission, which was cut short by today’s incident.]


With regard to contacts, the Deputy Secretary-General has spoken a couple of times to the charge d’affaires of the Russian Embassy in Kyiv.


Question:  And one short question:  do you have any news on other pro-Russian protests?  I hear there was one in Odessa when they tried to storm government buildings and we’re not talking about the east now, we’re talking about the south, the west.


Spokesperson:  Well, again, the Deputy Secretary-General was asked a similar question and we simply don’t have… we’ve seen the media reports, but we don’t have anything firm to confirm at this point.  Ali?


Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin.  I’m going to switch to Syria, if you allow me, please.


Spokesperson:  The floor is yours.


Question:  Is there a time… a day set for Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi to come here to New York?  We understand that he is scheduled to speak in the Security Council; does he plan to talk to the General Assembly?  And my other part of the question on Mr. Brahimi; we saw that Mr. Nasser al-Kidwa leaving the team, and now Mr. [Mokhtar] Lamani is expressing his intention to leave.  We know before that Khawla Matar left.  We know that Rania Hadra left the team.  And another Rania also left the team.  Is there… is… is the… is the team of Mr. Brahimi still intact?


Spokesperson:  Mr. Brahimi has plenty of people who are supporting him.  I think I would answer your question about Khawla Matar offline.  And with regard to Mr. Lamani, we’ve said very clearly that he has asked to be relieved of his duties because of family and personal reasons.  It is not a duty station for families.  He has been there for 18 months, and so that’s a fairly prosaic and personal decision.  And that request is being considered.  As I say, Mr. Brahimi has the team that he needs to do the job.  He is due in, as the Secretary-General has said, in New York next week.  And the programme of work of the Security Council introduced by Ambassador [Sylvie] Lucas yesterday will surely give you a hint as to when he is likely to appear.  Okay?  Any other questions?  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I wanted to ask you on… on the… the… the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), at its weekly press conference, produced some statistics about human rights violations of the UN under a Security Council man… resolution mandate has been collecting; and they seem to say that… that… that 36 per cent of the violations found in the month of January were by FARDC (Congolese Armed Forces), the Congolese army.  So, what I am wondering is how, one, you know, which units that is and how this… if one arm of the UN is collecting this type of statistics, how this relates to this, to what’s called the human rights due diligence policy of not providing support to army units engaged in abuses if… if… if this high a percentage is by the army, what’s the connection between the two processes?


Spokesperson:  Well, there is a connection in that the due diligence policy means that such reports from the human rights part of the Mission would be looked at and studied very carefully.  I will check with my colleagues in the Mission to see if I can give you some more detail, but I don’t have any at the moment.


Question:  Sure, just one… just… just to understand the policy a little more, is it possible to know from them whether support actual, has actually been suspended to any unit of the Congolese army since this policy was… was… was… was publicly announced?


Spokesperson:   Well, I am sure my colleagues, as I have said many times before, from Peacekeeping Operations, are listening attentively right now, and will be on it.  Any other questions?  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  Israel claims to have intercepted arms from Iran going to Gaza and it was done in the Red Sea between Eritrea and Sudan.  Does the [Secretary-General] have knowledge of this and what are his comments?  Thank you.  This happened today.


Spokesperson:  We are aware of the reports, but I don’t have any immediate comment.  But, we’re certainly aware of the reports.  And if I have anything further, then we’ll let you know.  Did you have a question?  That was your question?  Okay.  All right, thanks.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.


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For information media • not an official record