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

12 August 2013

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

12 August 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing, ladies and gentlemen.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General is on his way to Pakistan for an official visit.  While in Islamabad, the Secretary-General will meet with several senior officials, including the President and the Prime Minister.  The Secretary-General will also hold discussions with the Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, and receive an update on national disaster risk reduction efforts, as monsoon season begins.

And in line with the celebration of Malala Day here at Headquarters last month, the Secretary-General will meet with students in Islamabad to discuss efforts to promote and expand quality education for all.  He will also attend Pakistan’s Independence Day celebration and will highlight Pakistan’s role as one of the largest troop- and police-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping at the inauguration of the Centre for International Peace and Stability.

** Mali

Elections were held in Mali yesterday in the second round of the presidential elections.  The UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, reported no major incidents, although heavy rains hampered the smooth conduct of voting operations in many parts of the country.  In accordance with its mandate, the Mission provided technical and logistical assistance for both rounds of the presidential election, as well as support to the Malian security authorities.  In a bid to speed up the process, the Mission is also assisting the Malian electoral authorities with the return of result sheets by airlift from areas where it is deployed in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.

And on election day, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Bert Koenders, visited Kidal, accompanied by observers from the European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  He visited polling stations in Kidal and then Mopti before returning to see more voting areas in Bamako.  Mr. Koenders also visited a cantonment site in Kidal, set up following the Ouagadougou agreement reached last June.

** Syria

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has received reports over the past two days that indicate that more than 3,000 families have been displaced from around 30 villages around Latakia city in Syria.  The Syrian Government has opened three shelters, but reports indicate that 80 per cent of the displaced people are staying with relatives and host communities inside Latakia city.  UN agencies and humanitarian partners are working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to provide aid.

** Sudan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan is concerned by significant flooding across eight states.  Humanitarian organizations report that floods have affected more than 150,000 people, the majority of them in Khartoum State.  More rains are expected and the number of affected people is likely to rise.  UN agencies and humanitarian partners are coordinating closely with the Sudanese Government's Humanitarian Aid Commission and others to assess needs and provide assistance.  Initial reports indicate that the most pressing needs are for food, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene and health services.  As an immediate response to the floods, the United Nations and its partners have provided a range of emergency relief items, including tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and water cans, as well as mobile clinics and sanitation services.

**Appointment

And on personnel issues, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Peter de Clercq of the Netherlands as his Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), where he will also serve as United Nations Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative.  Mr. de Clercq will succeed Nigel Fisher of Canada, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedication and service in Haiti, including as his Special Representative ad interim since February 2013.

Mr. de Clercq brings to the position a solid experience in managing political processes, security sector development, operations and emergency management, protection of civilians and the rule of law, as well as mobilization of humanitarian and development assistance.  He is currently serving as Senior Adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia.  We have a full biographical note in my Office.

Questions, please?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir.  Thank you, very much.  On the eve of this Palestinian talks between… in Jerusalem, between the Palestinians and Israelis, Palestinians announced building of 20… 1,200 new settlements; does Secretary-General have anything to say about it?  And another, as a follow-up, I also want to ask, Palestinians also… Israelis announced the release of 20 Palestinian prisoners; what about thousands of others still languishing over there?  Is the Secretary-General going to talk about that?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has made his position clear on the settlements; settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, they have been and they continue to be illegal.  And that’s the Secretary-General’s sentiment.  With respect to the prisoners, that is something that the Israelis are dealing with, with the Palestinians, in a lead-up to the peace conference and I don’t think we are going to get into that topic.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah, yes, Eduardo.  There was a recent study by a statistician and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), a Dr. Howard Stephen Friedman, and the conclusion was that the general result was that there was no trend — and I am quoting — “in statistically significant accelerations in the MDG [Millennium Development Goals] indicators after 2000”.  In other words, he concluded in this study that the trends on reducing poverty, increase of child vaccinations, decrease in deaths from malaria, HIV, etcetera, were going to happen anyway, that the MDGs did not have a significant accelerating impact.  So, what I am wondering is:  apparently he produced the study while he was on sabbatical from his UN post, and so the UN decided not to officially publish his paper.  I am wondering if the Secretary-General or his office is aware of this study and to what extent it may factor into the post-2015, you know, agenda planning.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are aware or the study.  As you said, it was prepared when he was on sabbatical; it is not a UN study, it certainly doesn’t jive with the figures we have.  We believe that the MDGs have proven, have made an impact on the global situation since 2000, and we are looking forward to the implementation of the post-2015 agenda.

[He later informed the correspondent that the study by Mr. Friedman is a technical, statistical study.  It uses only a subset of the data, assessing only 19 of the 60 MDG indicators, and the data sources used are not the official UN-MDG indicator database, which is compiled by an inter-agency and expert group of statisticians, including country experts.  It is important to note that the study nowhere claims that UN numbers are wrong or that the reported significant development advancements were not actually achieved.  The UN’s analysis has shown that the MDGs have made a significant, demonstrable effect in the world's poorest regions.]

Question:  Eduardo, Syria update, chemical weapons inspectors, where are they?  Are they there yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  They are not there yet; we are still working out the logistical challenges.  Nizar?

Question:  Yes, Eduardo, regarding the recent incursion by the Israelis in Lebouneh, I believe you have some update on the number of Israelis who went in, what kind of support they got when they pulled out after injuring four of them.  Did they find out all the details and the facts about what really happened a few days ago?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that the Force Commander in Lebanon provided an update.  He said that it is clear that the presence of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon in violation of the Blue Line constitutes a serious breach of the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), and the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] investigation team has been to the area and continues to work with the Lebanese Armed Forces to determine all the facts and circumstances.

Question:  That was last week; I mean, is there…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  And continues to be the case.  I have nothing further for you.

Question:  Yes, sir, on this latest Indian… I mean, incursion into Kashmir and everything, and Indian… and Government imposing a curfew in the occupied Kashmir, does Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General continues to ask both parties, all parties to the conflict, to resolve the situation peacefully.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, there… there were reports over the weekend of up to 100 people killed in East Darfur in clashes be… tribal clashes and there was nothing in the reports about UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] either going to try to break them up or protect civilians.  What’s UNAMID been doing as 100 people have been killed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that UNAMID says that, on 10 August, it received reports of further escalation of hostilities in El Daein and the general area, which had resulted in unknown casualties.  Today, UNAMID provided a special flight to a Government-Darfur Regional Authority delegation to El Daein in support of cessation of hostilities.  UNAMID also sent senior personnel to the field to provide technical advice in the mediation.  We have received initial reports that unknown attackers have ambushed a UNAMID-formed police unit patrol in the town of El Daein, East Darfur.  UNAMID has dispatched a quick reaction force to extract the patrol.  At least one peacekeeper has been wounded.

Question:  Can I just… I just… I guess I just… I want to understand what the protection of civilians role of UNAMID is.  Isn’t it, if people are being killed, do they just try to help mediation or, as they are doing in the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], do they feel some responsibility to take military action to protect civilians?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, their job is the protection of civilians.  That’s their mandate.

Question:  So what happened?  Have they actually set out to stop this fighting or they… they’re thinking that the Sudanese Government is going to stop the fighting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it is up to the Sudanese Government to stop the fighting, and they are there to protect civilians when they can reach the areas where the fighting takes place.  Remember, it is a very large geographical area, and they don’t… they are not present in force everywhere.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir, the Secretary-General… is the Secretary-General also going to India, as I think…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  No, okay, he is not going to India.  And where is he going after Pakistan?  Is he going to Afghanistan?  Is he going to Nepal?  Do you… do you have his itinerary…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he is going to neither Afghanistan nor Nepal.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Eduardo, regarding the carnage which took place in Iraq recently, yesterday and the days before, and there are compelling evidence that a lot of those insurgents or the rebels or al-Qaida terrorists get support from Saudi Arabia, be it in Syria or in Iraq.  How does the United Nations view that Saudi Arabia, which has… which finances the counter-terrorisms office with the… with money in the meantime has… helping and supporting and inciting for terrorism elsewhere?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, I haven’t seen those reports, so I have nothing to comment on that.  Edie?

Question:  Eduardo, since Masood asked, there were reports that the Secretary-General may be stopping in the Middle East after his trip; can you comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There are a lot of reports about a lot of things, Edie.  The only time things count is when we announce them from this podium.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Eduardo, I wanted to ask you, there… I mean, there… there was previously, in Sri Lanka, this incident of live fire by the army that I have asked about a couple of times, but over the weekend there was a pretty high-profile storming of the mosque by Buddhist extremists and beating of people in a mosque; so various religious leaders and even some countries’ missions there have spoken on it.  I wonder, does the… does the… one, does the UN see any sort of trend of deterioration of people getting along and do they have any comment on the beating of people in a mosque for their religious identity?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any comments on that right now, but we will check into it and see if we can get you something.  One second.  In the back?  Microphone?

Question:  Yeah, first time.  There are reports that the Syrian chemical weapons team or the UN team going into Syria, it’s been postponed indefinitely.  And I was just wondering if you could elaborate a little bit further on what the timeline is for the logistical planning for the team to go into Syria.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, as Martin said last week, they have gathered… they are gathering in The Hague and logistics are being worked out with the Syrian authorities.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you on… in… in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are reports, BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] and others, of an uptick in… in violence in Katanga Province, which is not in the Kivus, but in which they say civilians are being killed.  And so one is, is MONUSCO [United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] doing anything on that?  What’s their response to that?  And as to the Kivus, I wanted to know, there seems to be a… a… the M23 [23 March Movement] has said that they are sticking by what they agreed to in Kampala and they are not going to… to relinquish their positions near the Goma airport, and the spokesman for MONUSCO has said that they intend to expand the… the… the, uh… weaponless zone to include those positions.  So, does the UN… do they still view what was agreed to at Kampala as… as a binding agreement or does this… do they… does this announcement by the MONUSCO state… spokesman supersede that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.  What I have for you is that the objective of the security zone is to provide better protection to the over 1 million civilians, including internally displaced persons living in the area.  UN peacekeepers and Congolese security forces will continue their patrols and to ensure the area is free of unauthorized weapons.  The Mission adds that the security zone is not an offensive operation and is not targeted against any one group.  They are there to protect civilians.

Question:  Sure, I just… I mean, I just… just, if you could… what’s the relationship between enforcing this zone and those agreements that were reached at Kampala?  I know that… that Susana Malcorra went there, like, there was a signed agreement of where positions were supposed to be, was that… does that mean a position without weapons or… or… it seems like there is a brewing problem?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out, Matthew, I don’t have any information with me.  Last question, Joe?

Question:  It’s actually a follow-up to Matthew’s question, because I believe that there had been a 48-hour ultimatum that MONUSCO reportedly had set for rebel groups to voluntarily disarm, otherwise MONUSCO would go in and… and take… disarm… take offensive action to disarm the rebel groups.  What has happened with that since the 48 hours have passed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo reports that, as planned and in close coordination with Congolese armed forces, the security forces, its peacekeepers have now established a security zone in the greater Goma area and along the Goma-Sake axis, in North Kivu Province.  Masood?

Correspondent:  Yes, sir, just a point of clarification…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.  No, press the button.

Question:  Okay, okay, sir.  Usually Martin is now briefing from the podium.  You are briefing from here.  Is there any difference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I think the quality is the same.  And the quantity is the same.  It’s just two different personalities and two different ways of delivering a solid message to you.

Correspondent:  Oh, I see, okay.  I thought that the format has changed.

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s easier to film when I am sitting, so I try to bend my back, bend over backwards to help the media.  [laughter]  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.

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