21 April 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  I hope you all enjoyed a Easter/Passover or just three days off.  Back to work. 


**South Sudan


Starting off with South Sudan, Human Rights investigators from the UN Mission in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, have confirmed that on 15 and 16 April, when SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) in opposition forces captured the town of Bentiu, they searched a number of places where hundreds of South Sudanese and foreign civilians had taken refuge and killed hundreds of the civilians after determining their ethnicity or nationality.


The Mission strongly condemns these targeted killings.  It also condemns the use of Radio Bentiu FM by some individuals associated with the opposition to broadcast hate speech.


The Mission calls for these atrocities to be fully investigated and for the perpetrators and their commanders to be held accountable.


Between 15 and 17 April, the Mission extracted hundreds of civilians who were facing threats of violence in several places in Bentiu and Rubkona where they had taken refuge.  Over 500 civilians, including many wounded, were extracted from the Bentiu Hospital and other places, while thousands were escorted as they walked to the UNMISS base.


The Mission is currently protecting over 12,000 civilians in its base.  It reminds the parties of their respective obligations to protect civilians and calls on them to immediately stop targeting unarmed civilians and to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement they signed in January.


**Afghanistan


From Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, Ján Kubiš, today highlighted the importance of continued meaningful engagement and inclusion of women in Afghanistan’s political processes.


After meeting with Afghan women parliamentarians, Mr. Kubiš congratulated the country’s women for participating in the recent elections as voters, electoral workers, observers and candidates.


He said that through such actions, women can help to improve the country’s political life, adding that women’s participation is central to promote development and economic growth.


Mr. Kubiš also noted that voters expect the next Afghan President to honour pre-election pledges and to ensure that there is an improvement in the lives of Afghan women and girls.


And the Special Representative’s statement is available on the Mission’s website.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, humanitarian organizations reported that some 100,000 people have been newly displaced since the start of this year in Katanga Province, due to clashes between the Congolese army and armed groups.


This brings the number of people currently displaced in Katanga to an estimated 500,000 people.


Insecurity has also affected food production and access to markets, leaving over 80 per cent of displaced families food insecure.  During the first three months of 2014, the World Food Programme (WFP) reached nearly 70,000 displaced people with food. 


UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are providing support on cholera prevention and treatment, in response to some 3,500 cholera cases recorded since January in the Province.  A recent measles vaccination campaign also targeted over 7 million children under ten.


**Somalia


From Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, Nicholas Kay, condemned in the strongest terms the murder of Isaak Mohamed Rino, a Member of the country’s Federal Parliament.  He also called for a full investigation of the attack and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.


Mr. Rino was killed this morning in Mogadishu when an improvised explosive device planted in his vehicle detonated.  Another parliamentarian and several civilians were reported also to have been injured in the incident.


**Iraq


And from Iraq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq spoke out against yesterday’s suicide attack on the Imam Kadhim University in Baghdad, calling it a vicious and cowardly attack on innocent civilians.


Nickolay Mladenov’s statement is available on the Mission’s website.


**Central African Republic


And just flagging a couple of things from the long weekend:  the Secretary-General sent a radio message to the people of the Central African Republic.  In it, he continued to appeal for an end to the fighting.  He said many had fled their homes and must feel safe to return to their communities.


The Secretary-General called on the people of the Central African Republic not to let extremists destroy their country and their children’s future.  He said that Central Africans would not be able to build their future through partition or bloodshed.


And the video of that statement is available on the Web TV UN platform.


**Syria


Also on 19 April, which was two days ago, Sigrid Kaag, Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) Joint Mission in Syria, issued a statement in which she says the Syrian Arab Republic has removed or destroyed in-country approximately 80 percent of its chemical weapons material.  Further engagement is expected to sustain momentum and to complete removal operations during the next few days, with a view to concluding the entire elimination of the country’s chemical weapons programme within the deadlines set by the OPCW Executive Council. 


And that statement is up on the Mission’s website.


**Press Conference


And lastly, this afternoon at approximately 4 p.m., Derviş Eroğlu, the Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community, will address press, following his meeting with the Secretary-General.  And that would be at the stakeout on the 1st floor, near Conference Room 1.


That’s it for me and I am happy to entertain some questions.  Yes ma’am?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Syrian Parliament declared today that the elections would be conveyed on 3 June.  I wanted to know how will you react to this, and I wanted to know if the Secretary-General call Mr. Brahimi to know what’s going on?  How much this will change the plan, the way to Geneva III?  Thank you.


Spokesman:  I think that both the Secretary-General and the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, have repeatedly warned that the holding of elections in the current circumstances amid the ongoing conflict and massive displacement would damage the political process and hamper the prospects for political solution that the country so urgently needs.  Such elections are incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Geneva Communiqué.  We will, nonetheless, continue to search and build upon any opening to a solution to the tragedy in Syria.  Yes Pam?


QuestionStéphane, in addition to the atrocities in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer tweeted out that there was a need for help for UNICEF and WHO for vaccinations; desperate need for vaccinations against measles and cholera and called for an NGO (non-governmental organization) to support the effort.  Has there been response to that or what is the status of that?


Spokesman:  I haven’t seen any particular response to that, but clearly the situation in South Sudan is dire for the civilians — Both the civilians that are left outside of the protected UN sites, and obviously very challenging for those inside the UN compounds.  We’re doing our best to support them but it is a challenge.  Yes, Edie, and sorry, we’ll move this way.


QuestionStéphane, as a follow up to that, has the Secretary-General been in contact with the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan to try and renew an effort to have this ceasefire hold?  And, as a follow-up question on Sigrid Kaag, is there, do you know of any plans for her to be here this month, in the next few days, or brief anybody?  Meetings? 


Spokesman:  I will ask Sigrid.  For some reason, I think she will be coming here sooner rather than later, but I’ll ask her.  I’ll check with her.  You know, on this situation in South Sudan, the political negotiations are being led by IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) and under the auspices of IGAD; I mean the Secretary-General and his staff on the ground have been encouraging both parties to obey, to live up the cessation of hostilities agreement, and, as I said, to remind them of their obligations not to intentionally target civilians and their responsibilities to protect civilians in a conflict zone. 


Question:  Follow-up on South Sudan and a question on Ukraine.  On South Sudan, I just wanted to know:  the Foreign Minister of South Sudan has said that he’s “written to the UN”, didn’t say if it was DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) or Secretary-General, to begin a review of status-of-forces agreement.  This comes after they basically tried to sort of cast blame on the UN for what happened in Bor.  And I wanted know has DPKO and Secretary-General received any letter to that effect?  And do they have any comment on the comments by the information minister…


Spokesman: No, we have not, as of a few minutes ago, the UN mission or anybody here had received any formal request.  Obviously, a change in the mandate would go through, would have to be taken up and agreed upon by the Security Council in this peacekeeping mission.  I would say that we have, the UN has done its utmost to… within its resources it has on the ground, to protect as many civilians as possible.  As you saw, we have about 12,000 in one camp and many thousands in other camps, but it remains the overall responsibility of the Government, of any Government, to protect the civilians. 


Question:  Isn’t the status-of-force agreements something that is done between DPKO and the Government?  Rather than the Security Council?  SOFA (status-of-forces agreement) as opposed to mandate?


Spokesman:  You asked me about the mandate.


Question:  I also said SOFA.


Spokesman:  Then I haven’t…


Question:  Then I also… and maybe I’m sorry if the UN has said something on this:  this shooting in Slavyansk at the checkpoint since it obviously… given what may or may not flow from it.  What’s the UN… how many people were killed?  Who did it? 


Spokesman: We have no information as to who did it and perpetrators and no mandate to investigate a particular incident like that.  We obviously have our human rights monitors on the ground.  They will report back soon, as Mr. Šimonović said, but we would also expect all the parties involved to live up to the commitments they made in Geneva. 


Question:  Thank you.  Back to Syria.  There seems to be phone call between Lavrov and Brahimi today, this morning. 


Spokesman: This is why I come to the briefing, to learn things.  If you say it, I will check. 


[The Spokesman later confirmed that there had been a phone call between the Russian Federation’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov, and the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Mr. Brahimi.]


Question:  Second question as a follow-up to Matthew’s one.  On Slavyansk, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe) mission just arrived there, to check out what happened there.  Are the UN observers cooperating with them?


Spokesman:  Obviously the OSCE mission and the UN mission are separate, but we are working on getting closer coordination and sharing of information as much as possible.  But there are two separate missions and two separate mandates. 

Matthew?


Question:  On Burundi, I wanted to ask… I know that, you know you’d said on Thursday that the UN was troubled by the “PNG” letter.  I wanted to know, one, did the… is the head of security… has he complied with the letter from the Government and left.  And does the UN have any comment on the President of Burundi since Thursday having done a meeting or a rally with his youth wing.  The same youth wing that the UN memo said was being handed weapons. 


Spokesman: No.  I have… I don’t know what the status of the staff member who was “PNG-ed”.  We can check.  And on Burundi, I think what we had to say last week stands. 


Question:  Obviously you’ve seen the Times article on Sunday, I wanted to ask… seemed to quote Mr. Medrano as predicting in advance that this panel he would be on with the Government may provide assistance, but he said, like, the word “compensation” won’t be used.  So I wanted to know, is that a UN position?  Is it his prediction of that the Government doesn’t want the word “compensation” used?  And is there some way that we can have by video or otherwise, a kind of, some kind of presentation by Mr. Medrano?  


Spokesman:  Sure, on Haiti, over the weekend, the terms of reference on this high level committee on cholera, which would be a UN and Government of Haiti committee, have been officially agreed on.  And the aim is really for the joint effort of to fight cholera between the UN and the Government of Haiti.  The Committee aims at further improving the coordination response to the epidemic and obviously we expect to have an official announcement in the next couple of days.  But this is a very important… the establishment of this committee is a very important one in terms of our efforts, and most importantly the Government of Haiti’s efforts, to address not only cholera but also the associated water and sanitation issues. 


QuestionStéphane, on Pedro Medrano Rojas, he said that the epidemic is not on the radar screen in the last few days and that was in response to some questions about how the $38 million fund raising is only 25 per cent filled.  Is that still the case or has it gotten any better?


Spokesman:  I think it’s still… you know, we are getting some money.  We’ll be able to start the vaccination campaign targeting about 200,000 people in June.  But obviously, I think what Mr. Medrano meant is that there is an urgency to this crisis, not only as I said for cholera, but also to support the Government of Haiti’s efforts in rebuilding its water system, its sanitation system, and those resources have not materialized.  I mean, you’re dealing with a situation where, you know, about 30 per cent of the population doesn’t have any access to clean drinking water.  There’s a lot of… what’s the right term?  There are a lot of structural issues in terms of water and sanitation which need to be addressed.  And you know the task of the Government and the international partners is great but the funding is limiting, is hampering the Government and the UN’s capacity to pursue a lot of these efforts. 


Question:  A follow-up:  Who exactly is on the committee that you were just talking about?


Spokesman:  We’ll give you… it’s the UN and the Government of Haiti.  But we expect to have a more official announcement shortly.  Yes madam?


Question:  Could you give us an update on what the WHO (World Health Organization) is doing for the Ebola outbreak in Guinea?  Last I heard there were some supplies that arrived there.   But, the World Health Organization supplies that arrived there…


Spokesman:  I’ll have to get you something.  I don’t have anything at my fingertips. 


[The Spokesman’s Office later shared the following link with the journalist to the latest update on Ebola from WHO:  http://www.who.int/csr/don/2014_04_17_ebola/en/]


Matthew?


Question:  Sure, so I mean… just on Medrano, I will like to say again if you could do a briefing in this room it would help….


Spokesman:  I hear you.


Question:  On Western Sahara, I wanted to ask you a couple of things.  One is, this letter, it was said that it was sent last Tuesday from the Secretary-General of Polisario, Mohammed Abdulaziz, he said publically that he sent the letter, so I wanted to know somehow did it arrive?  And two, the King of Morocco visited Dakhla since I guess… and you know there was a lot of, you know, some people see it as good and some people see it as a provocation.  I wanted to know if there’s any comment on the UN system on it.  And finally, I know that the Turkish Cyprus community, Mr. Eroğlu, he’s speaking today on the first floor on UNTV.  The Polisario representative has complained that the last two times that he’s been both banned or barred from speaking on UNTV.  And I wanted to know, can you distinguish these two cases?  How can it… they both seem to be UN-mediated conflicts.  How can it be in one case that Mr. Eroğlu can speak but on the other hand Polisario has been told it cannot speak?  


Spokesman:  First question, don’t know if the letter has been received.  Second question, the answer is no, but I don’t really remember the question. 


Question:  The king… Positive…


Spokesman:  Ok, don’t have any comment on that.  And, I really have nothing to say on the UNTV issues.  Oleg?


Question:  Any updates on the UNICEF personnel missing in Pakistan? 


Spokesman:  They were freed.  We are very pleased.  Our colleagues in Islamabad just informed us a short while ago that they were freed and we’re happy. 


Question:  There were also missing World Health Organization personnel, like from February over there.  Anything…?


Spokesman:  I don’t have anything further on that. 


Question:  How many of them were they?


Spokesman:  There were two staff members if I’m not mistaken.  I am trying to kill time here by looking at my notes.  I’ll get you more details, I know they were freed, which was a headline, but I’ll get some… if I have more information I’ll get it to you right after the briefing.  Pam?


Question:  There were some very strong comments by Robert Serry on the blocking of a church in Jerusalem, in Al-Quds.  Can you follow up on that?  Is there any, has there been any response to it?


Spokesman:  Yes, we saw the… I’m sorry, I’m really not organized this morning.  There we go.  We are aware of the incident that the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace process, Robert Serry, experienced on Saturday in the Old City in Jerusalem and the ensuing statement he issued in this regard.  The issue has been discussed between the UN and Israeli authorities. 


Question:  What was those… I mean, can you report on those discussions?  I mean… was there any explanation?  If there were discussions… 


Spokesman:  I think the, you know, the statement from Mr. Serry is clear and the issue has been discussed by UN and Israeli authorities. 


Question:  I mean did Israel respond to why it was blocking? 


Spokesman:  I think there was a public statement by the Israelis which is public and this issue is also being discussed by UN officials and Israeli officials.  Yes Matthew?


Question:  Sure, great.  I wanted to ask about Somalia and something sort of nitty-gritty on Syria.  On Somalia, Mr. Kay has been quoted in Janes, but the article’s… either behind a paywall or I’m not so sure, but the headline put on their website is that the UN is scaling back its presence in Mogadishu due to security.  So I’m wondering is that something you can confirm…? 


Spokesman:  No, I cannot confirm it and I think often headlines are not written by the people who write the article, so let’s read the full article and then we can see.


Question:  And on Syria, I wanted to know, since it’s happening tomorrow, I wanted to ask today.  Mokhtar Lamani is slated to speak to WEOG (Western European and Others Group) tomorrow, and I wanted to know in what capacity he’s doing it?  Is he still a UN official, is he doing it in a personal capacity?


Spokesman:  I’ll check.  Thank you very much. 


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For information media • not an official record