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

6 January 2014

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

6 January 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, says that there have been signs of mobilization over the weekend of both pro- and anti-Government troops in many locations in the country, including reports of military clashes.

It adds that the situation in Bor remains tense.  During the past few days, there has been heavy fighting between pro-Government and anti-Government forces south of Bor.

The UN Mission continues to protect approximately 9,000 civilians in its compound in Bor.  The resupply of the UNMISS Bor base is becoming a critical issue.  Medical capacity continues to be severely overstretched.

The Mission has called on both the Government and anti-Government forces to cooperate to allow resupply flights.

In Juba, the Mission reports that the situation is tense — with incidents of shooting over the weekend.  This includes exchanges of fire on Saturday night near the Jebel market and the National Security headquarters, resulting in a further 1,000 civilians taking shelter in the UN House base.  The Mission also reports that there was a shooting incident nearby the Mission’s Tomping base on Sunday night, with a further number people taking shelter at the base.

Three Bangladesh military utility helicopters deployed to Juba today, on temporary loan from the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  These helicopters will be used to transport personnel and equipment to reinforce UNMISS bases throughout the country.  Preparations are under way for the deployment of new troop battalions and additional police personnel in the coming days.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in its first consultations for January, agreed on its programme of work this morning.

Ambassador Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations and the President of the Security Council for this month, will brief you today at 12:30 p.m. on the Council’s programme of work.

Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council is scheduled to hold a formal meeting, followed by consultations, on the Central African Republic.  The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, will brief Council members on the latest developments there and the work of the UN integrated office, BINUCA.

** Central African Republic

Also on the Central African Republic, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the ongoing violence has forced about a fifth of the population of the Central African Republic to flee their homes.

It adds that according to recent estimates, nearly 1 million people have been displaced, with more than half of them in the capital, Bangui, alone.  There has been a 40 per cent increase in displaced people in Bangui since 24 December.

The Office also says that some 2.2 million people — or about half the population of the Central African Republic — need humanitarian assistance.  But insecurity, as well as the lack of funding and access to people in need, continues to hamper aid efforts, including assessments and response.

The Office adds that insecurity at the international airport in Bangui, where about 100,000 people have sought refuge this month, has made it hard to provide essential services, including an emergency vaccination campaign against measles, which started across the country on 3 January.

Despite the challenges, UN agencies and humanitarian partners are reaching people with essential relief supplies.  The World Food Programme provided over 1.7 metric tons of food to nearly 250,000 people in December.  But it says that its food aid will be 90 per cent depleted in February due to the lack of funding.

Meanwhile, health partners have been providing malnutrition care in six camps in Bangui.  Aid organizations have also provided soap, blankets, kitchen sets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets to hundreds of families around the country.

** Lebanon

The Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, visited Saudi Arabia today and met with senior Saudi officials, including the Second Deputy Prime Minister and the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs.

He discussed the support agenda for Lebanon and the region ahead of the conference on Syrian refugees, which is to be held in Kuwait on 15 January.

Following the discussions, Mr. Plumbly noted the crucial importance of the Lebanese Armed Forces for security and stability in Lebanon and the calls by the Security Council, the Secretary-General and the International Support Group for international assistance in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces.  He warmly welcomed the very generous pledge of assistance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in that regard recently announced by President Michel Sleiman.

**Appointment

We put out a note yesterday saying that the Secretary-General has appointed Jane Holl Lute of the United States as his Special Adviser for Relocation of Camp Hurriya Residents Outside of Iraq.  Ms. Holl Lute will work with a wide range of stakeholders, in particular Member States, with a view to facilitating the relocation of residents of Camp Hurriya outside of Iraq.

Ms. Holl Lute also has previously served as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support (2008-2009) and Assistant Secretary-General for Mission Support in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (2003-2008).

**Answers to Earlier Questions

We had been asked over the past months about the inquiry concerning David Bax, and I have the following to say:

The inquiry conducted by the UN Office for Project Services Internal Audit and Investigation Group into the programme manager in Somalia was extensive and did not find any evidence of misconduct.  The findings have been shared with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

No further action was deemed necessary and the matter is now closed.

**Tribute to Correspondent

Finally, I wanted to express our sorrow at the death of veteran reporter Michael Littlejohns, who died in New York at the age of 90 on Friday.

Michael Littlejohns was a long-time UN correspondent for Reuters and he also worked for the Financial Times and was the host of World Chronicle, a UN television programme.  He had also served as President of the UN Correspondents Association.

His funeral will be tomorrow, 7 January, at 10:30 a.m. at the Little Church around the Corner on East 29th Street, between Park and Madison.  Our thoughts go out to all his friends and family.

That’s it from me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Secretary of State, John Kerry, indicated they have no objection to Iran taking part in the Syrian peace conference.  Does the United Nations have anything on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We do expect to be able to say later on the invitations today.  I don’t have that for you yet.  What I can tell you right now is, as we’ve said previously, the Secretary-General is in favour of inviting Iran, but discussions between the initiating States have not produced final results yet.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet on 13 January, and we very much hope they will reach agreement on Iran’s participation.

We all know that the active support of regional powers in a political solution is critical.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  To follow up on that:  so when you say you will say something about that, that is unlikely to be actual invitations have been sent out?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t you wait and see what we have to say?

Question:  No, because you said…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m waiting for… I expect that there may be a statement attributable to the Spokesperson in the coming hours and you’ll see from that what we have to say.

Question:  But you say there’s no agreement yet, as to the participant’s list?

Spokesperson:  I’ve said that in response to Iftikhar’s specific question on Iran.  We’ll have something more to tell you.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

[The following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was issued later:

Today, the Secretary-General is sending invitations to Syrian and international participants of the Geneva Conference on Syria.  The list of invitees was determined at the 20 December Trilateral meeting between the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations.

The Conference is the result of an important initiative announced by Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry on 7 May 2013 in Moscow.  It aims to bring two broadly representative and credible delegations of the Syrian Government and opposition to a negotiating table in order to end the conflict and launch a political transition process through the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012.

The Secretary-General views the conference as a unique opportunity forending the violence and ensuring that peace can be restored and the transition foreseen in the Geneva Communiqué can be implemented in a way that fully meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.  At the core of this effort is the establishment of a transitional governing body based on mutual consent.

The Conference will convene under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General, first in an international high-level format at Montreux, Switzerland, on 22 January 2014.  Negotiations between the two Syrian parties, facilitated by Joint Special Representative Brahimi, will start at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 24 January 2014.]

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  President [Omar al] Bashir is going to South Sudan to speak to President of South Sudan on re-establishing peace in the region.  Has the Secretary-General spoken to President Bashir before he left?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  But he has spoken, as you know, several times with President Salva Kiir and you will have seen the readout we put out on one of those conversations last week.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to, on South Sudan, I wanted to know, there are reports that a member of Parliament, Kong Dak, who is an ally of Riek Machar has been… that the authorities have gone to his home and searched it, taken computers, tried to arrest him and that he sought protection from UNMISS in Juba.  I wanted to know, one, can you either confirm or find out if he has sought protection, if he had been given protection?  And two, what is UNMISS say about continuing attempts to arrest even members of Parliament allied with Mr. Machar?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly, we have repeatedly called for a political solution and we have continued to encourage the leaders on the ground, including the followers of Salva Kiir and Reik Machar to come together and forge a political solution to this crisis, which has now been going on for several weeks and has affected, as you know, tens of thousands of people seeking refuge just in UN compounds alone.  So we continue to do that and we hope that neither side will take any action to further inflame the situation.  Regarding that specific Parliamentarian, we’ll need to check with UNMISS whether he has sought any refuge.

Question:  Can I said… with the talks in Addis, I wanted to know, first if you could… what the UN’s role, if you could characterize it, if Mr. [Haile] Menkerios is in some way involved.  And also, many people have commented on the lack of women in either side’s negotiating team, in light of the things the UN has said under resolution 1325 (2000) and otherwise.  Does the UN have any response or comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly, we support the idea of the parties coming together at Addis.  This is, as you know, under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  The Secretary-General has made very clear that he supports this process and you’ll have seen the statement that we had issued recently about that.  Beyond that, of course, we hope that the parties have inclusive delegations, but I don’t have any specific comment on who is representing the various parties.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Farhan, the Lebanese authorities recently captured Majed Al-Majed, who is one of the top terrorists worldwide and who passed away in dubious circumstances after his arrest in custody.  How does the United Nations view that someone who is most wanted just disappears like that without knowing anything from him, debriefing him or was there any contact from the United Nations to try to approach or know how he has been dealt with there?  The passing away of a person like that should raise many question marks; why did he pass away like that so quickly?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this is a matter that’s really to be handled by the domestic legal authorities in Lebanon, but certainly I’ll check whether the Office of the Special Coordinator, Mr. Plumbly’s office, has anything to say.  But at this stage it’s largely a question, like I said, for domestic legal enforcement.

Question:  But about the assassination of [Rafik] Hariri and related cases, investigation, where are we at in that?  And do we expect any new cases to be added?  Recent cases?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Those cases, as you know, are under the purview of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which continues its work in the Netherlands.  They have had periodic updates about the course of their trials and I would refer you over to them.  It’s ultimately their decisions what cases they take on.

Question:  The investigation is closed and we have now a Tribunal; so does that mean they will not investigate further, like, cases, current cases?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That would be a question you would need to ask the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  That’s under their purview.

Question:  Does the UN have any comment on the fall of Fallujah in Iraq and possible fall of Ramadi?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have been very concerned about the fighting in Iraq.  The Secretary-General in recent weeks and months, as you know, has made clear his concerns about the violence that has been taking place throughout the country.  And of course you’re well aware also of our concerns about activities by terrorist entities.  So those all apply.  We don’t have any specific comments on this situation while it’s still unfolding.  I believe there’s still different military operations taking place in and around that area, and so we’re monitoring the situation and we’ll see what the result of that is.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Tunisia has been setting up a constitution, a new constitution and in last few days they have been adopting certain articles of that constitution.  Has the United Nations provided any technical assistance in that framework?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of UN technical assistance at this stage of the process.  As you know, for some months previously, we did have a Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, who was dealing with technical assistance on a number of issues, including on constitutional issues.  So we have had a contribution in the past.  I’m not aware whether we’re doing anything right now, but I can check.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, thank you very much for your announcement on Michael Littlejohns.  The church address is 1 East 29th, and that would be between Fifth and Madison, knowing how New York City numbers run.  And that’s tomorrow at 10:30.  Also, he phoned me earlier this month because he gave a contribution to the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund in honour of his partner, who was a UN staff member at DPI [Department of Public Information], Wilhelmina Vandermolen, and that can be seen at unjournalismfellowship.org if anybody wants to read it.  And thanks again, Farhan.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, thank you.  Thanks very much.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes, on the recent terrorist attack in Russia.  Does it… does the UN see any — because there’s been speculation in media — any linkage with the situation in Middle East?  That these attacks somehow, someway could be related also to the crisis in Syria and around?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we’re not aware of any such linkage.  And of course, for us, the United Nations rejects all acts of terrorism, whatever the putative cause of that would be.  We believe there can be no justification for such acts and that remains the case in this situation, as with all others.  And beyond that, I would just refer you to the read out of the case that the Secretary-General made to President [Vladimir] Putin recently, as we’ve shared that with you.

Question:  I wanted to ask, on Syria, not so much in terms of the invitations, just generally, the Kurdish area, Rojava, they’ve put out a constitution.  They say that… the number of official languages, that it would reflect the diversity that either was, or should be Syrian.  And I wonder, has Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi… has he separately maintained contacts with this northern part of Syria and the Kurdish groups?  And what…do you think… is it your sense that they should be represented in some way at Geneva 2 or Montreux 1, or whatever it’s being called?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding that, we’re aware that the opposition has not yet named members of its delegation for the Geneva Conference.  But we do urge the Syrian opposition to name their broadly representative delegation as soon as possible, so as to allow sufficient time to prepare for negotiations.  And so, that’s basically where we stand.  We do call on the opposition to form a broadly representative delegation.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Has there been any communication between the Secretary-General and the Egyptian authorities in regard to the human rights situation?  You know the situation worsened there, and just last Friday, almost 19 people have been killed and expected also more violence.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, did put out a statement in recent weeks concerning her worries about the human rights situation on the ground in Egypt, so I would just refer you to what she said.  Peter, do you have your hand up?  No, okay, Nizar?

Question:  South Yemenis were protesting this morning before the United Nations, demanding some more attention from the international community with regard to their plight, especially after the recent massacres that took place in some of the towns and villages.  How does United Nations view the demands of the South Yemenis?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, Jamal Benomar has been the Special Adviser on Yemen, and he has been trying to deal with the issues of all of the Yemenis, including of course the need for… the concerns about a national dialogue.  So, he is monitoring the situation there and is reporting accordingly on the situation.  We’ll await what his next report is.

Question:  But it seems that they feel they are totally ignored out of that.   With all their contacts, as they said, with Mr. Benomar, still, I mean, they feel that their plight is not duly addressed.

Deputy Spokesperson:  He has reached out to them and he has been talking broadly, not just with the South Yemenis, but with all sectors of society, and reporting back, as well to the Security Council and the Secretary-General on the situation that he has encountered there.  So we look forward to hearing from him about his next update.

Question:  In northern Mali, the MNLA [National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad] has named individuals who they say have been improperly arrested that are civilians, they say are not members of theirs, but there are in Azawad, they call it, and have been arrested by the Government.  They are sort of calling on… they’re contrasting this to the calls by the UN to have discussions around Kidal and stuff.  And I wondered, is the Mission there in contact with these groups?  Do they… what’s their response when a group in that area, you know, comes forward with names and evidence, saying people have been wrongfully arrested?  What does the UN do in these cases?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly, we stand against any improper arrest, but I’ll check what we’re doing about this specific case.  Yes?

Question:  The news out of the CAR looks worse every day.  Do you foresee speeding up the entire peacekeeping contingent?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The peacekeeping contingent in the Central African Republic is not a United Nations force, as you know.  MISCA [African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic] is a separate multinational entity.

Question:  I meant, putting a United Nations force in there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  And any decision on putting, on putting a United Nations force would have to be taken by the Security Council, so we’ll leave that in the hands of the membership.  You’ve seen what the Secretary-General’s recommendations are in his recent reports.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the elections in Bangladesh in which the main opposition party did not take part?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t… we may have something more formal to say a little bit later.  For now, what I can say is that it’s up to the people of Bangladesh to assess the credibility of the elections.  The United Nations neither administered nor observed these elections.  The vast majority of Bangladeshi people want peaceful and inclusive elections.  In the meantime, the United Nations will continue supporting efforts around democratic processes in accordance with our principles of inclusiveness, non-violence, reconciliation and dialogue.

[The following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bangladesh was issued later:

The Secretary-General is saddened by the loss of life and incidents of violence that marred yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, which were characterised by polarization and low participation.  He regrets that the parties did not reach the kind of agreements which could have produced a peaceful, all-inclusive election outcome.

He calls on all sides to exercise restraint and ensure first and foremost a peaceful and conducive environment, where people can maintain their right to assembly and expression.  Violence and attacks on people and property can never be acceptable.

The Secretary-General calls on the political parties to resume meaningful dialogue and to urgently address the expectations of the people of Bangladesh for an inclusive political process.  The UN will continue to support the country’s democratic processes in accordance with the principles of inclusiveness, non-violence, reconciliation and dialogue.]

Question:  Farhan, did the Secretary-General take any vacation during the holiday recess, and where did he spend the holiday?

Spokesperson:  He was around this area.  As you may know, even on days when he was trying to take vacation, he had to make quite a few calls to different world leaders.  The week around Christmas, he appeared before the press, in fact, twice to discuss the situation in South Sudan and was in touch with his key officials on that.  He’s tried to take a little bit of time here and there, but whether you would call that a vacation… I wouldn’t.

And I guess that’s it for me.  In just a few minutes from now, you’ll have Prince Zeid talk to you about the Security Council programme of work for January.

* *** *

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