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

23 August 2013

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

23 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, and welcome to the noon briefing.

** Syria

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Secretary-General is giving his utmost attention to the tragic situation related to the attacks on the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August.  It is his intention to conduct a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation on the reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons during these attacks.

To this end, the United Nations has already written to the Syrian Government to urgently confirm that it is prepared to provide its cooperation to the UN mission already on the ground, on the basis of the modalities of cooperation set out and mutually agreed on 13 August 2013.  The Secretary-General has also instructed Under-Secretary-General Angela Kane to travel to Damascus, where she is expected tomorrow.

The Secretary-General urges the Syrian authorities to respond positively and promptly to his request without delay, taking into account in particular that the Syrian Government has publicly expressed its own concerns regarding these events.

The Secretary-General also calls on the Syrian opposition to cooperate with the UN mission to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in this most recent tragic event.  It is of paramount importance that all those who share the concern and urgency of investigating these allegations equally share the responsibility of cooperating in generating a safe environment for the mission to do its job.

The Secretary-General further calls on all those Member States with interest and influence to equally exert their utmost efforts for the provision of a safe and secure environment for the mission to engage in its work.

The humanitarian need in Syria is great.  The need to provide humanitarian assistance to all victims of violence, including the latest ones, is imperative.  In this context, the Secretary-General calls for a cessation of hostilities, both in this particular area and in the country.

That is the end of the statement.

**Syrian Children

With the Syrian crisis into its third year, the number of Syrian children forced to flee their country as refugees has now reached 1 million, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) announced today.

Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, said that we should stop and ask ourselves how, in all conscience, we can continue to fail the children of Syria.  For his part, António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said that what is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents.  The two agencies said that children make up half of all refugees from the Syrian conflict.  Most have gone to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, and increasingly, Syrians are fleeing to North Africa and Europe.

Inside Syria, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, some 7,000 children have been killed during the conflict.  The UN refugee agency and UNICEF estimate that more than 2 million children have been internally displaced within Syria.  There is more information online and in my office.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General has had a wide range of meetings with South Korean leaders today, including with the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.  We have provided details on these meetings.  There was a heavy emphasis in those meetings on developments on the Korean peninsula and on sustainable development and overseas development assistance.

At the start of the day the Secretary-General spoke to a gathering of the diplomatic corps based in Seoul about the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda.  As you will have seen, he also spoke about Syria, calling for swift access to the site of the most recent alleged chemical weapons attack.

Later in the day, the Secretary-General spoke to students at an event hosted by the UN Academic Impact, saying that education was a crucial investment for the future.  Over the weekend, the Secretary-General will attend the opening of the World Rowing Championships, visit his hometown and deliver a lecture there to school students.  He will return to Seoul on Sunday afternoon for further meetings.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) said today that for the third consecutive day, fighting continued between the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and the M23 armed group in the Kibati area, 15 kilometres north of Goma, in North Kivu Province.

The Mission said that populated areas and UN positions were directly targeted by mortars and hit by indiscriminate fire.  Four civilians were reportedly killed and 15 others injured due to M23 shelling in the outskirts of Goma.  In response, and as instructed by Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MONUSCO, UN peacekeepers have taken necessary action to protect civilians and prevent an advance by the M23, including by using attack helicopters.

**Trip Announcement

On 27 August, the Secretary-General will arrive in The Hague, The Netherlands, where he will meet with King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima.

On Wednesday, 28 August, the Secretary-General will meet with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and participate in the official commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Peace Palace.  He will also meet with Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans and speak at a ministerial conference on the peaceful settlement of disputes hosted by the Foreign Minister.  The Secretary-General will also give a lecture at Leiden University in the afternoon.

Later in the evening, the Secretary-General will arrive in Vienna.  He will attend the next day a ceremony at the Vienna City Hall, where he will be awarded the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Province of Vienna.  On 30 August, the Secretary-General will travel to Alpbach.  He will address the closing session of the European Forum Alpbach on 31 August, before returning to New York on the same day.

**Deputy Spokesperson’s Last Day

And before we get to questions, I just want to say today is my last day at the UN, it is my last time briefing all of you.  I want to thank the Secretary-General for his appointing me two years ago to this absolutely fantastic job, to Martin Nesirky for engaging me for it, and to my colleagues in the Office of the Spokesperson for all their strong support and friendship.  And mostly, I want to thank all of you who have made the last two years very challenging, and very rewarding professionally and personally.  Thank you, and I will take a few questions, now.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir.  [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Microphone, please.

Question:  First of all, I would take this opportunity on behalf of UN Correspondents Association in wishing you well in your future endeavours to whatever they may be, as you tell me that you are going to go and spend some time with your family, which is very good.  My question about… is about, at this point in time that we… again Secretary-General being that he is now in Korea and everything else, and he is putting all the pressure that he can on the Syrian Government to give permission to allow these inspectors to go and have a look at… at this situation that happened two days ago.  Do you think that such permission, if it comes, that the inspectors will go there immediately, and what kind of access does he want?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, he wants full access to the site and obviously the inspectors would go as soon as the permission has been granted, security permitting.  We have a security situation in Syria, as you know.  We always take security into account in terms of the safety of our staff, but the permission we are looking for is to go, and as we said in the statement, the Secretary-General is looking for countries to influence all parties to the conflict to ensure that there was a safe and secure environment for this mission to do its job.

Question:  My other question is about Egypt.  As you know, Egypt crisis keeps on going, but now certainly it is vanishing from the radar although the murder and mayhem continues.  Does the Secretary-General also, is engaged what is happening in Egypt?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we said yesterday, Mr. Feltman is in Egypt, he is meeting with interlocutors from all sides of the disputes, and the Secretary-General, he is reporting to the Secretary-General; the Secretary-General is keeping a very close eye on what is happening in Egypt.  And no, Egypt has not been taken off the radar screen; it is very much on the radar screen and the Secretary-General, his concern has been expressed and continues to be expressed that there will be a peaceful resolution to the problems there.  Nizar?

Question:  Yes, regarding the explosion today in Tripoli in northern Lebanon, more than 40 people were killed, 500 injured.  Are you… are we… are we expecting any statement today regarding that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We should be expecting something soon, yes.  In the back?

[The Spokesperson’s Office later issued the following statement:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the two bombs, which exploded shortly after Friday prayers, outside two mosques in the north Lebanese city of Tripoli, leaving tens of people killed and hundreds injured.  He extends his condolences to the families of those killed and to the Government of Lebanon, and his sympathies to all those injured.

The Secretary-General calls on all Lebanese to exercise restraint, to remain united, and to support their State institutions, particularly the security forces, in maintaining calm and order in Tripoli and throughout the country, and in preventing the recurrence of such destructive actions.

The Secretary-General hopes that those responsible for such cowardly acts of violence will be brought to justice as soon as possible.  He reiterates the determination of the international community to support Lebanon’s security and stability.]

Correspondent:  I have another question regarding the chemicals in Syria.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  The Russians have indicated clearly that they are… they have strong information that the opposition fired a rocket chemical projectile to that region.  Did they share such intelligence with you?  Did they share any information or pictures regarding that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, we’ll have to check on that for you.  In the back?

Question:  [in Spanish]  Thank you for all your help and support, and I wanted to know, now that the SG is in South Korea, is any mention of the boat in Panama been made with the Korean authorities?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t know, we’d have to check on that.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure, Eduardo.  First, I… I definitely wanted to, you know, wish you well and for what you have done here on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access and I… our sources say that you’re gonna be in the crosshairs as well.  And so good luck in your future endeavours, maybe they will intersect in some way.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Thank you so much.

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask you about the DRC.  I heard your readout.  First, can you… is there some way to say, there are all these reports of, of the UN, you know, actively fighting with the FARDC?  Is this limited just to helicopter gunships or… or are… is the intervention brigade involved?  And also, this… this… relatedly, yesterday, there was some unclarity, Mr. Mulet told… told some of us that the M23 had not gone into the… to the kind of disarmament zone set up around Goma, and then there was a quote from an unnamed UN official saying that they had.  So I wanted to know, what’s the UN’s position?  Has M23 gone into the zone in which there should be no armed groups, or are they being engaged in the area assigned to them by the Kampala Agreement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the situation on the ground is very fluid, Matthew.  We will have to find out exactly.  I know what Mr. Mulet said yesterday, we’ve seen other reports.  All I can tell you is that the Special Representative has asked the UN peacekeepers to take any necessary action to protect civilians and prevent the advance of M23.  That’s what I have.

Question:  I guess… yeah, I just want to ask, because I want to, if you can, when you ask them this, because the… the allegation from there that the FARDC engages M23 and then retreats.  And if M23 pursues them, then MONUSCO says, oh, M23 is advancing.  So I just want… what is… what is MONUSCO’s role in this?  Is it 100 per cent to support the Congolese army whatever their manoeuvres are, or is it to be a kind of an impartial force protecting civilians from both sides?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have to get some exact language for you on that.  Nizar?

Question:  Eduardo, regarding the… yesterday, there are… today, there was an Israeli air raid close to Beirut, south of Beirut.  Do you have any comment about that?  Also…

Deputy Spokesperson:  We may have something a little bit later on.

[The Spokesperson’s Office later issued the following statement:

The Secretary-General is greatly concerned over yesterday’s firing of rockets from the area of Tyre, within UNIFIL’s area of operations, towards Israel, which is a clear violation of resolution 1701 (2006).  UNIFIL is investigating the circumstances of the incident, in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defence Forces.

The Secretary-General notes the retaliatory strikes by the Israel Defence Forces in Lebanon, in the area of Na’ameh, and condemns any and all violations of resolution 1701 (2006).  He urges all concerned to exercise maximum restraint, and cooperate with UNIFIL in order to prevent an escalation.  The parties must fully adhere to resolution 1701 (2006) and respect the cessation-of-hostilities agreement.

The United Nations is committed to continuing to work with the parties to ensure that the calm that has prevailed continues to be sustained.]

Question:  Also, there was… there were reports in the Lebanese media today that UNIFIL is targeted by many suicide bomb cars, bombs, and the Lebanese army shared that information with the UNIFIL.  Do you… are you getting any change of tactics, manoeuvres, by UNIFIL in order to avoid such eventuality?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we don’t comment on the security situation affecting our staff abroad.  Secondly, as I said, we will be looking into it, and whatever they do, they will do.  But we will not be discussing it in public.  George?

Question:  Eduardo, with reference to this…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Your microphone.

Question:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Where is the button?  Sorry.  With reference to the… this UN investigative team who are waiting to go to the site of the alleged chemical attack close to, but nominally outside, Damascus, do they have any… obviously the worry that I have, that I am sure everyone who is concerned about this has, is, by the time they… if they let them in at all, by the time they get there, it will have been sanitized.  Do they have any special training to be able to tell, you know, whether the thing has been cleaned up, and any evidence of any chemical attack that may have taken place has been simply removed, destroyed, carted out, etc.?

Deputy Spokesperson:  George, the only thing I can say is that they are very well, highly trained group of professionals and they will know exactly what they are doing.  Okay, any more questions, ladies and gentlemen?  Matthew, last question of my career?

Correspondent:  [laughter] Oh, okay, then it’s got to be two.

Deputy Spokesperson:  [laughs]

Question:  All right, thanks a lot, I appreciate it.  One, and… and I’ll… I’ll ask them back-to-back and then you do… you do what you… do your magic with them.  One has to do with Mr. Feltman; I wanted to know, in his visit to Egypt, there is a quote from the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Darrag, saying that they weren’t reached out to and that they had no meeting with Mr. Feltman.  Since… given that they are the party that was, you know, ousted in what many people call a coup, did Mr. Feltman seek to meet… meet… meet with them?  It seems like a clear question.  The other one has to do with the Secretary-General’s trip to South Korea.  I know I had asked this in writing, but I felt now that he is there, I kind of need an answer whether he has any position at all on this struggle there that’s gotten other people from other countries involved, fighting militarization on Jeju Island, where there is a proposal for a major military base, and it’s a… it may be a UNESCO site, but it’s definitely a beautiful island, and I think… I just wonder, while… either while he is there or… does he… not only because he is South Korean, but just as a because it is a big issue, how is it [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on your second question, we will have to find out.  I don’t have that information.  On your first question, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman today concluded his three-day visit to Cairo, meeting with a broad range of interlocutors.  He listened to diverse view points and conveyed the United Nations’ full support for an Egyptian-led peaceful path to resolving the crisis.

Question:  A final follow-up.  Does that broad range include the Muslim Brotherhood that was removed from power?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As mentioned, Mr. Feltman saw and spoke with a broad number of interlocutors from the Government, civil society, human rights and political parties, including from the Muslim Brotherhood.  Okay, last question, Masood?

Question:  About this [inaudible], will he be preparing a report for the Secretary-General now that he is… will that report be released to us?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know if it will be released, but I know Mr. Feltman is going to be reporting to the Secretary-General.  He went on the Secretary-General’s instructions.

Question:  Yes, but he will [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Microphone.

Question:  I’m sorry, sir.  Mr. Feltman, that report that he gives to the Secretary-General will not be made public or you have no idea?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you see, it is up to the Secretary-General to decide what he wants to make public and what he doesn’t want to make public.  A lot of these, his reporting is basically for him to take decisions and for future consideration.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon, have a happy weekend and have a great life.

Question:  When are we having a farewell party?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know, you have to check with my colleagues.

* *** *

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