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

6 June 2013

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

6 June 2013
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.

** Korean Peninsula

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Korean peninsula.

The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea on their agreement to hold talks.  This is an encouraging development towards reducing tensions and promoting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

As the Secretary-General has consistently stated, any differences should be resolved peacefully through dialogue.  The Secretary-General is hopeful it is the beginning of a process of trust-building between the parties.  He encourages them to build on this opportunity and to generate momentum for further progress.

As Secretary-General, he will spare no effort to support inter-Korean reconciliation.

** Syria

Tomorrow, United Nations and partners will launch the revised 2013 appeals for urgent aid for Syrians caught up in the conflict.  Millions more vulnerable people now depend on humanitarian help, whether displaced from their homes in Syria or living as refugees in other countries.  It is vital that donors continue to give generously so that we can help provide families with life-saving food, clean water, shelter and medical care.

In this regard, the Secretary-General welcomes today's announcement by the European Commission of €400 million in additional funding for Syria and neighbouring countries, in particular Jordan and Lebanon.  This substantial contribution shows the compassion and solidarity of the people of the European Union for Syrians in need.

And just to underscore those needs, a UN assessment team has found that many children displaced from Al-Qusayr, in Syria, are suffering from diseases caused by poor sanitation and hygiene conditions in the shelters.  Other urgent humanitarian needs in Hasaiya, near Qusayr, include food, tents and essential supplies such as hygiene kits.  To prevent and respond to possible disease outbreaks during the summer, health workers are closely monitoring trends in water-borne diseases.

There is more available on this online, for example, on UNICEF’s website and also from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

** Somalia

This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General addressed the Security Council on Somalia.  He said that the country still faces many challenges, but noted how far it has come.

The Deputy Secretary-General said that a major milestone in the UN’s engagement in the country was passed this week with the successful launch of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), in Mogadishu.  The Mission will support political dialogue, peacebuilding and the protection of human rights.

However, the Deputy Secretary-General said, successfully meeting the major peacebuilding challenges depends primarily on the efforts of the Government of Somalia.  His full remarks are available online.

** Guinea

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, is in Conakry, Guinea, today in his capacity as International Facilitator for the inter-Guinean political dialogue ahead of the legislative elections.

Mr. Djinnit has welcomed the start of the substantive discussions between the Government and the opposition yesterday.  He has reported that the discussions took place in a constructive spirit seeking the necessary compromises for the holding of free, fair and peaceful elections.  The parties have agreed to maintain an atmosphere conducive to the continuation of those talks.

Mr. Djinnit has called on all parties to refrain from any action or declaration which could undermine these positive steps.  The discussions were scheduled to resume this afternoon in Conakry.

** Iraq

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, has condemned in the strongest terms the cold-blooded murder of at least 14 border guard policemen and civilians by gunmen at a fake checkpoint in the town of Al-Nukhaib.  He urged the security authorities to take swift and decisive action to arrest the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow, immediately after the briefing, there will be a press conference by video link from Bamako, Mali, to discuss the results of an assessment mission to World Heritage sites damaged in conflict.  There will be a number of participants, and there will also be French-English interpreting for that briefing.

So, questions, please.  Yes, Miki?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] the situation of Golan Heights now that Austria’s Government has announced that it will pull out their soldiers and, you know, the [inaudible] what, what, what is [Secretary-General] planning to do now [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations has been advised by the Austrian Government of their decision to withdraw from the Disengagement Observer Force.  That was done by telephone this morning by the Austrian Foreign Minister, Mr. Michael Spindelegger.  He called the Secretary-General personally to advise him of the Austrian Government’s decision.

Austria has obviously been a key component of the mission and their withdrawal will affect the mission's operational capacity.  Peacekeeping colleagues are in discussions with them about the timing of the withdrawal, and also with other troop-contributing countries to provide replacement troops.

So, certainly, the Secretary-General is concerned about the potential consequences of such a withdrawal on the peacekeeping operation and also on regional security.  And in that regard, he obviously regrets the decision that has been taken.  So, yes?

Question:  A follow-up on that?  What are the other countries that they are pulling their troops on uh…?

Spokesperson:  Well, no other countries.  At the moment, there are 911 peacekeeping soldiers, troops, in that mission.  That is as of 25 May, so rather recent figures.  The breakdown is: Austria — 377, Philippines — 314 and India — 193.  There are some additional civilians and other military personnel, small numbers, making up, if you like, the staff component of the mission.  But the actual troops are the numbers I just gave you.

Question:  I just… that [inaudible] the Croatians haven’t withdrawn from the Golan Heights [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  They have.  Croatia has withdrawn.  Yes?  That was already some time ago.

Question:  So how about the Philippines?  Are they still there?

Spokesperson:  Yes, they are.

Question:  They don’t intend to pull out?

Spokesperson:  Pardon?

Question:  Do they intend to pull out?  Did they express their intention to pull out?

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, they have not expressed that wish.  You will have seen plenty of reporting, not least after the abductions that there were, but to my knowledge there has been no communication of that kind.  They remain with the number I just gave there in the mission.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes, I am sorry if I missed this, but did the Austrians indicate a timetable of phasing of their withdrawal so that Peacekeeping Operations would have a chance to replace those troops in an orderly fashion?

Spokesperson:  Well, no, you didn’t miss it.  You would need to speak to the Austrians about the timetable that they might have in mind.  But, all I would say is that my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations are in discussions with the Austrian authorities about the timetable.  They are discussing with them the timing for that withdrawal.  Tim?

Question:  Two peacekeepers in the Golan were hurt today in a shelling incident.  Was that a spillover from the fighting between the rebel forces and the Government forces for the border crossing, or was that a separate incident?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, two peacekeepers sustained minor injuries when mortar rounds hit Camp Ziouani.  Both of them are reported to be in stable condition.  I do not know the exact circumstances of that incident.  Pamela?

Question:  Oh, my question was about that incident, but my understanding was that it wasn’t confirmed, that they were not targets, they were caught in a crossfire?

Spokesperson:  As I’ve just said, this was as a result of mortar rounds, which had…

Question:  It was not directed at them?

Spokesperson:  Well, mortar rounds are not known for being hugely precise.  Yes, George?

Question:  A quick question, I missed it in the rush of announcements.  The video briefing from Bamako, is that tomorrow after the eh…?

Spokesperson:  It is, indeed.  Yes, Margaret?

Question:  Martin, the two peacekeepers who were injured, do we know which countries they were from for sure?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point precisely whether I am in a position to say which nationality.  I think the most important thing is that they are United Nations peacekeepers.  Yes?

Question:  [Inaudible] what happened today in Golan also the previous incidents, do you have any plan to withdraw from there, or do you consider this option?

Spokesperson:  I am not sure I quite follow you.  If I think I have understood you correctly, the mission is there with a mandate from the Security Council.  It is for the Security Council to decide on the future mandate of the mission.  This is a long-standing mission; going back over four decades.  It has played an absolutely crucial role in maintaining peace and security in the region and it is with that in mind that we look at both today’s announcement, and more generally, the extremely dangerous circumstances that peacekeepers have operated in for several months now.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Do you have, eh, reaction of Secretary-General to the [inaudible]… of his plans to renew [inaudible] Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, and do you have any also reaction to his demand that a United Nations experts, I mean recommendation, be followed on the drone attacks in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  On the second part of your question, Masood, the Secretary-General’s views on the use of drones are well-known; I don’t intend to repeat them here.  What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General is writing to Prime Minister Sharif to congratulate him on being sworn in yesterday, and I would anticipate that the Secretary-General will also welcome the first transition from one civilian Government to another.  He is also likely to praise Pakistan’s role in peacekeeping operations.  He is likely to say he is confident the Government will continue to build on the country’s democratic achievements to date, for example, on women’s empowerment and human rights.  I think I would anticipate that the Secretary-General will also say he is confident the Government will ensure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and that he is looking forward to working with the Prime Minister, and that he welcomes Pakistan’s support for regional cooperation, particularly as it contributes to supporting stability and reconciliation in Afghanistan.  So, what else?  Other questions?  Yes, Miki?

Question:  The first statement that you made about DPRK; this refers to their proposal strictly to pull talks with bilaterally, right?  If [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  This is the announcement that was made that there would be Government-level talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea.  And this is to do with the Kaesong industrial site, which is, as you know, just over the Demilitarized Zone in the North.  So, it is that development that the Secretary-General welcomes.  And, of course, he would wish to see further progress in this area.  Other questions, please.  Yes, Pamela?

Question:  The Austrian statement on the incident in the Golan said that Al Qunaytirah was temporarily occupied by Syrian rebels.  Is there anything that you can confirm about that?  And is there anything that will be done to protect the actual post?

Spokesperson:  Well, all I can tell you is that the mission; so the UN Disengagement Observer Force reports that intense fighting took place between anti-Government elements and Syrian forces within the Area of Separation in the vicinity of Al Qataniyah and Al Qunaytirah; so in the area that you are talking about.  I don’t have any up-to-date information at this point from the mission on who controls that particular check point.  If…

Correspondent:  They put out a statement to DPKO.  I can see that.  But just, they temporarily took the [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Look, I rely on the latest information from the ground, from my colleagues on the ground, from Peacekeeping Operations.  There was, for example, talk of an observation post being taken briefly by rebels.  That is not the case.  There were also reports that peacekeepers were seized.  That is also not the case.

Correspondent:  So, the post was not…

Spokesperson:  I said an observation post.  Peacekeepers took shelter at a number of UN positions — I can give you the numbers:  22, 25, 27, and 60.  But no observation post — observation post, not checkpoint, but observation post — was held by the rebels.

Question:  Basically, the status quo, are you saying?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s also not what I said.  I said I would need up-to-date guidance from my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations. There was intense fighting, as you’ve read and heard widely in the media. There was intense fighting between anti-Government and Government forces — Syrian, of course.  I don’t have anything further on that at this point.  I would hope to have something more formal on this withdrawal announcement, and indeed on the role of the mission, quite soon.  But, I do not have it now.  Other questions.  Yes, Nizar?

[The Spokesperson later released the following statement attributable to him:  The Secretary-General learned today of Austria’s decision to withdraw its troops from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  He regrets Austria’s decision to withdraw, which follows a long-standing and valuable contribution to UNDOF.  The Secretary-General calls on all parties to ensure that the announced Austrian withdrawal takes place in an orderly manner.  The Secretary-General is approaching Member States in an effort to identify urgently new contributors or additional contributions to UNDOF.

The Secretary-General reminds all actors in Syria that UNDOF is mandated to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic.  The continued presence of UNDOF in the area is essential.

The Secretary-General is very grateful to those countries who are continuing to provide troops and military observers to UNDOF.  He calls on all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and safety and security.

The Secretary-General condemns the attack which led to injuries suffered by two UNDOF peacekeepers today.  The Secretary-General underlines that any military activity in the Area of Separation has the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic, and to jeopardize the long-held ceasefire between the two countries.

The Secretary-General stresses once again that all concerned in the region must abide by international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, and calls on all to work for de-escalation of violence.  He urges parties to strictly respect the disengagement agreement, to stop fighting in the Area of Separation and to refrain from any violation of the disengagement line.

The crisis in Syria is having an increasingly destabilizing impact beyond its borders.  The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the growing regional ramifications of the conflict.  He calls on all parties to move swiftly towards a political solution that is the only way to end the violence and the terrible suffering of the Syrian people.]

Question:  Regarding the attacks on, against some [inaudible]… Lebanese town in the north, [inaudible] rocket attacks by the Free Syrian army and also the [inaudible] in Tripoli and they have challenged the authority of the Lebanese army.  Do you have any statement in this regard?

Spokesperson:  I don’t, but Derek Plumbly does, and he visited Tripoli and made a statement there.  I would refer you to that.  Any other questions, please?  Okay, thank you.  Have a very good afternoon.

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