Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

4 December 2012

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

4 December 2012
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.

**Secretary-General in Doha

The Secretary-General addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha today.  He told the gathered leaders and delegations that we should be under no illusion that climate change is a crisis that threatens us all — our economies, our security and our future well-being.

The Secretary-General said that the abnormal is the new normal, pointing to rising sea levels, melting ice caps and natural disasters around the world.  He said that we must take ownership, adding that we are collectively the problem.  Greenhouse gas emissions are the highest they have ever been.  He said that policies and actions to take us into a sustainable, clean energy future are being pursued more broadly and with greater determination, but the pace and scale of action are still not yet enough.

The Secretary-General urged Governments to move forward on the adoption of a ratifiable second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.  He urged them to make progress on long-term climate finance and to ensure that institutions to support mitigation and adaptation by developing countries are effective.  He also urged Governments to demonstrate with no ambiguity that negotiations on a global and legally binding instrument remain on track.

He and the Executive Secretary of the Framework Convention, Christiana Figueres, also spoke to the press about the urgency of facing the challenges of climate change.  We’ll provide the transcript of that press encounter as soon as we can.

** Syria

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that the recent escalation of violence in Syria is making it more difficult to reach the country’s hardest-hit areas and that food insecurity is on the rise due to bread shortages and higher food prices in many parts of the country.  It says that high prices are also affecting neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees.

The World Food Programme adds that road access to and from Damascus has become more dangerous, making it difficult to dispatch food from the World Food Programme’s warehouses to some parts of the country — particularly to the north.  The World Food Programme is prioritizing food distributions to internally displaced Syrians who fled from areas which have seen heavy fighting in recent months.  Many of them have been displaced twice.  It also is taking all measures to remain operational, provide assistance and to monitor its operations.

And meanwhile, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection from the UN refugee agency, Erika Feller, visited refugees in Jordan’s Za’atri refugee camp – that was yesterday.  She reviewed reception arrangements at Za’atri, which currently has about 32,000 residents.  Preparations for winter are well under way in the camp, where overnight temperatures are now dropping to 1 °C.  Tents are being reinforced and better insulated to protect against the weather, including the addition of “porches” where gas heaters are being placed.  Some 30,000 high thermal blankets are being distributed, along with winter clothing.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) reports that the overall situation in the Kivus remains volatile, with some security vacuums being filled by other armed groups. 

With regard to the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group, the situation in Goma remains relatively calm following the restoration of control by the national authorities.  Congolese police and army units continue to be redeployed into the city and local administrative structures are becoming operational.  In Uganda's capital Kampala, Congolese Government officials have announced the planned start of discussions with the M23 in the coming days, under the auspices of Uganda in its role as Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.

And I was asked yesterday about the request by the Security Council for an update on external support to the M23.  I can tell you that the Secretariat did provide information on this matter not long ago in a closed session at the Security Council.  And as you also know, the Council is updated on this by the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Meanwhile, also on the DRC, the UN refugee agency says that it is worried about the security of displaced people and aid workers in camps in eastern Congo after an attack on Saturday at the Mugunga III camp outside Goma.  It says the incident highlights the need for security at sites for internally displaced people to be prioritized, along with improved humanitarian access so that such populations can be better cared for.  According to UN figures, 130,000 people have been newly displaced by the recent instability in and around Goma.  This is on top of the estimated 841,000 people who were already displaced before this latest wave of insecurity.

**Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, is in Myanmar today.  It is her first official visit to the country in her role as the UN Humanitarian chief.  Ms. Amos held meetings with the Vice-President, the Minister for Home Affairs, the Minister for Immigration and Population and the Minister for Defence, in the capital Nay Pyi Taw.

During her four-day visit, Ms. Amos is expected to meet with the President of Myanmar, U Thein Sein.  She will also meet with donor States and humanitarian partners.  Ms. Amos is also expected to visit Kachin and Rakhine States.  She will meet officials there, as well as members of the humanitarian community.  She will visit affected people in displacement camps and see first-hand projects being implemented by humanitarian partners.  Ms. Amos will brief the media at the end of her visit on 7 December.

** Somalia

A three-year humanitarian appeal for Somalia was launched today in Mogadishu — the first time such a launch has taken place in Somalia itself.  The 2013-2015 humanitarian strategy targets the immediate humanitarian needs of the Somali people and aims to enhance resilience and address the protracted nature of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia — one of the largest in the world.  For the first year, the appeal is for $1.3 billion and it will fund 369 humanitarian projects targeting 3.8 million Somalis in need.  The strategy will be implemented by 177 national and international non-governmental organizations and UN agencies operating in Somalia.  There is more information on the website of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council adopted its programme of work for the month of December.  And following this briefing, shortly, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference on this matter by Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki, the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for December.  And then this afternoon, the Security Council will hold a meeting on the situation in Yemen.

Questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, recently… I mean, the [inaudible] the Lebanese MP, publicly admitted that he is involved, deeply involved, in providing weapons and money to insurgents in Syria on a massive scale.  How does the United Nations view that?  Many of these organizations are affiliated with Al-Qaida, as we all know, so far.

Spokesperson:  Nizar, I don’t have any specific comment on the particular case that you refer to, except to say we’ve seen the media reports.  I would simply restate what we have said many times before, the Secretary-General has said many times before:  the further militarization of what is happening in Syria is really not desirable and is certainly unhelpful.  Other questions, please?  Yes, right at the back there?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I just had a quick question with regards to yesterday’s event with Syria having… removing [inaudible] of leaving non-essential people there working with the UN.  Do you have any more information in regards to that?

Spokesperson:  I can give you a little bit of an update, certainly.  First of all, as I mentioned yesterday, the United Nations continuously assesses its presence in crisis situations, and the situation in Syria, of course, is no exception to that.  This is part of the United Nations security management framework.  And as a result of this continuous assessment, it was decided to reduce the number of international staff in light of the escalating violence in recent days.  This violence includes, as you well know, increased fighting around Damascus, the closure of the airport for a few days, and fighting on the road to the airport.  It also includes the fact that in recent days, two convoys of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) came under fire and four people were wounded.  It was assessed that the general level of instability was such that most UN programming activity would be affected.

Let me stress that the United Nations is still in Damascus, of course, performing humanitarian operations as security conditions permit.  I referred to that just a little while ago with regard to the World Food Programme.  The Office of the Joint Special Representative in Damascus is also maintaining its activities.  And also, the UN Disengagement Observer Force continues to perform its mandated tasks.  Let me just mention on staff numbers, I know that there is interest in this matter, but I think you'll also understand that for security reasons and also given that staff numbers may not remain constant, we will not comment on the number of UN staff present in Syria.  Other questions, please?

Question:  Yeah, on the same subject?

Spokesperson:  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Here, did you establish whether UNDOF’s operations also will be suspended as a result of this?

Spokesperson:  I just said in that very last sentence that UNDOF, the UN Disengagement Observer Force, is continuing to perform its mandated tasks.  I throw another question here:  did you have another question?  No?  Yes, Miki?

Question:  About the note to correspondents about the… of the Secretary-General on DPRK, can you just give us verbally what the point of [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned yesterday, there is obvious concern about this, and what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General is seriously concerned about the announcement of a planned rocket launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Any such launch would constitute a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874 (2009), in which the Council demanded that the DPRK not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology.  Such a launch would also heighten tension in the region. 

The Secretary-General strongly urges the DPRK to reconsider its decision and to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme.  He further calls upon the DPRK to re-establish its moratorium on missile launches, as required by the Security Council.

And finally, the Secretary-General renews his call on the DPRK authorities to work towards building confidence with neighbouring countries and improving the life of its people.  He reaffirms his commitment to working for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and helping the people in the DPRK.  Okay.  I am coming here.  Matthew, yes?

Question:  Okay, sure, I wanted to ask you on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is that… on the IC… it was announced that the airport would be controlled by a neutral force, the FARDC and 100 troops of M23.  Now the Interior Minister of the Congo has said that that may not be such a good idea, that what is important is that the airport is secured and not a coexistence that creates… could create suspicions and bring us new conflict.  So I guess I am wondering, it said that the UN is currently in control of the airport and it is supposed to be reopened tomorrow; what is the UN’s… does the UN think that the statement by the Government is consistent with the ICGLR accord and will the airport be opened with the UN still in control or… or… or are they going to turn it over to somebody, including M23, or not?

Spokesperson:  My understanding is that, indeed, the airport is due to reopen for humanitarian access.  I don’t have any details beyond that, nor an official confirmation that that has happened.  I understand that it is to happen.  There was an arrangement reached, an agreement reached at that meeting in Kampala of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, as you mentioned, and that is the agreement, the arrangement, that should be adhered to.  But I don’t have any further details beyond that at this point.  Giampaolo, I am deferring to you, or are you here ready for the Moroccan Permanent Representative?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Right, that’s fine.  Yes, please?

Question:  Okay.  Again on…

Spokesperson:  I am trying to be extremely gracious to the UN Correspondents’ Association.

Question:  On Congo, I couldn’t tell from what you read, does the UN think this drawback by M23 that was arranged in Kampala is going to last, or do they need another Kampala meeting.  Where is M23?  Standing right outside the city?

Spokesperson:  Well, as we’ve said, that withdrawal has taken place, and there has been a move for the police and the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo back into Goma.  And the various institutional structures that were operating before M23 arrived are also being brought back into play.  There was an agreement for this withdrawal as part of that meeting that took place in Kampala.  We are obviously monitoring that extremely closely.  As I also said, the situation remains — it’s calm in Goma, but overall the situation remains volatile, so that it needs to be monitored extremely closely.  Other questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, with the fluid situation in Syria as it is on the ground military-wise, and there are possibilities of unconventional weapons falling in the hands of non-State parties in the conflict, how concerned is the United Nations about that and are there any precautions of monitoring that situation with regard to these non-conventional weapons?

Spokesperson:  Well, what is more important, I think at this stage, as you are well aware, is that there are reports about the presence of chemical weapons in Syria, in the hands of the Syrian authorities.  There are reports on that.  The Secretary-General has been extremely clear about what needs to happen there, and that any use of such terrible weapons would have dire consequences for the population of Syria and, of course, potentially for a much wider area.  So this is something that the international community is extremely concerned about and continues to watch extremely closely.  The Secretary-General has, as you will know, in the past communicated his concerns directly in writing to the Syrian authorities - indeed to President Assad.  And so there should be no doubt about the gravity of this and how seriously we take this.

Question:  But the State has pledged not to use them in any circumstances, but how about if they fall in the hands of insurgents and some of them [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Again, again, it is incumbent on the Syrian authorities in whose hands we understand such weapons may be to ensure their safety and security.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about the 5th, I think, was the deadline for Abyei for an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan, was the deadline established, and they pretty much it seems like it is not being reached if parties are no longer negotiating, and what I wonder is, what is Mr. Menkerios… what is… what is his role?  What does the UN think of the coming and soon going of the… of the extended deadline to agree on Abyei?

Spokesperson:  Well, today is the 4th, tomorrow is the 5th, so let’s wait and see what happens, okay?  Other questions?  Yes?

Question:  Does the UN still have contact with President Assad in Syria?  The New York Times seemed to indicate his chair was really wobbly; even Russia had doubts about what to do with him.  Does the UN have contact with him?

Spokesperson:  I think you are aware that the Joint Special Representative and the Secretary-General and others have contact with the Syrian authorities, if not necessarily directly with President Assad, well certainly with senior members of the Syrian leadership and Government in Damascus and elsewhere.

Okay, other questions, please?  All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  The Permanent Representative of Morocco, the President of the Security Council for the month of December, I believe, will be here shortly.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.