|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.
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on an attack in Mogadishu in Somalia.
The Secretary-General condemns the attack on a convoy of UN vehicles that occurred today near the international airport in Mogadishu. The Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the families of the Somali citizens that have been killed as a result of this attack and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General remains determined to support the Somali Government in preventing such attacks and holding the perpetrators accountable. He expresses his appreciation to United Nations staff in Somalia for their continued dedication under difficult circumstances. The Secretary-General reaffirms the undeterred resolve of the United Nations to support the people and Federal Government of Somalia.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that more than 1,370 people have so far been evacuated from the Old City of Homs in Syria since last Friday. Food, medical supplies and essential household and hygiene items have been delivered for 2,500 people in total, with enough food for one month.
Aid was also delivered to Bloudan in rural Damascus with food and medicines for 5,000 people, including for people with chronic diseases, in the last two days. Bloudan is only 45 kilometres from Damascus, but it is in a hard-to-reach area because of insecurity. The humanitarian team reported that it took four hours to travel the last 15 kilometres, and more than 20 checkpoints had to be negotiated.
Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, is expected to brief the Security Council this afternoon on the situation in Syria at 3 p.m. and is expected to speak at the stakeout afterwards; and so, simply to reiterate that the Security Council is indeed meeting this afternoon.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reports that it has sent a team to the northern entrance into Yarmouk Camp in Syria, following an agreement between the parties to the conflict that indicated that food distribution could be permitted to start again this morning.
Although the atmosphere remained positive and peaceful throughout the day, the team from the Relief and Works Agency was requested by parties to the agreement to delay distribution until critical negotiations could be completed. It became clear over the course of the day that distribution would not restart. No food parcels were distributed.
The Agency remains encouraged by the agreement between the parties to the conflict in Yarmouk and has received assurances from Syrian authorities that distributions of urgently needed humanitarian assistance will resume in coming days. The Agency encourages all parties to complete negotiations at the earliest opportunity and permit full humanitarian access to the civilian population remaining in Yarmouk.
** Central African Republic
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, has allocated an additional $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support the most critical life-saving aid operations in the Central African Republic.
This is the second $10 million allocation from the Fund to the Central African Republic in a short period. The same amount was allocated on 9 December.
Ms. Amos says that the Central African Republic has plunged into chaos and deadly violence following months of political crisis and lawlessness and that people across the country are living in fear.
She adds that needs in the country are tremendous, and humanitarian partners are being forced to prioritize the delivery of assistance. Ms. Amos also says that security and stability must be urgently restored, and more must be done to address the root causes of conflict and prevent the escalation of violence.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the violence in the Central African Republic has displaced an estimated 714,000 people across the country. Nearly 300,000 of them are in the capital, Bangui, seeking refuge in 69 displacement sites.
In the northwest of the country, anti-Balaka and Seleka groups continue to commit atrocities against communities. Entire villages have been looted and burned, forcing communities to flee to the bush or towards neighbouring countries, such as Chad and Cameroon.
A total of $207 million in humanitarian funding to the Central African Republic was pledged by 24 donors at the meeting in Brussels on 20 January. As of this week, 28 per cent of the pledges have been committed or disbursed, amounting to $57.5 million.
Meanwhile, the Strategic Response Plan, which is for a total of $551 million, is just 13 per cent funded.
And I can tell you that the Secretary-General has just spoken with the President of France, President [François] Hollande. That was just a few moments ago. And I would hope that we would have more details on that conversation a little bit later, but simply to say that it was, of course, with regard to the crisis in the Central African Republic.
This morning, the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Office in Burundi until 31 December of this year.
It also extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts on Sudan for 13 months.
As I mentioned a moment ago, at 3 o’clock, the Council will meet in closed consultations on Syria, where it is scheduled to be briefed by Valerie Amos.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Mr. Ali Al-Za’tari, has welcomed the renewed direct talks between the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) in Addis Ababa.
He said he hoped the talks would deliver positive results as swiftly as possible.
He urged both parties to ensure that the welfare of civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States is an absolute priority during these talks. He also urged them to declare an immediate cessation of hostilities, allowing humanitarian teams to provide much-needed support to these areas. His statement is available online.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, is concerned about reports it has received of several gross human rights violations, including a summary execution of more than 70 men and women committed in the Nyamaboko villages I and II in Masisi territory in the North Kivu province.
The reports received by the Mission suggest that the summary executions were allegedly committed mainly by armed groups to spread terror among the population. A team from the Mission is on the ground to verify the allegations.
The head of the Mission, Martin Kobler, said that any person involved in such acts should face justice, and the Mission says it will spare no efforts to neutralize all the armed groups responsible for such acts.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow at 12:30 a.m., Afaf Konja, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to speak about the President’s first thematic debate of the year, which will be about Water, Sanitation & Sustainable Energy in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
And, while the United Nations Headquarters complex in New York is remaining open today, and you’ve just heard that the Security Council is meeting, because of the inclement weather and subject to exigencies of service, there is early release for staff.
That early release was scheduled to begin around now, just as the briefing did. So, here I am. I’m not released, yet. And I’m ready to answer questions, please. Yes, please?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hi, Martin. During the phone call between the Secretary-General and the Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino, yesterday, she said that the issue of the two Italian Marines held in India is not a bilateral issue but concerns the rule of law. I would like to know the position of the UN and the position of the Secretary-General, and if he still thinks it is a bilateral issue or he changed his position. And sorry, second, Ms. Bonino said that the Secretary-General assured her he will intervene in the matter, so can you confirm that, and if the Secretary-General will start talks with India or explore a solution on the matter? Thank you.
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is concerned that this longstanding matter between Italy and India remains unresolved and is prompting tensions between two friendly and important Member States of the Organization. The Secretary-General feels it is important that both sides seek to come to a reasonable and mutually acceptable resolution. He is concerned that the matter may have implications for wider common efforts and collaboration around matters of international peace and security, including anti-piracy operations.
And yes, I can confirm that the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with the Italian Foreign Minister, yesterday. I’m not in a position to provide more details about their conversation, and I certainly don’t have any comment on the Minister’s reported remarks. It’s not usual diplomatic custom to disclose the interlocutor’s comments in a diplomatic conversation. Right, so, any other comments — questions, I should say? No comments, just questions.
Question: Thank you, Martin. I noticed that several Governments are asking for the immediate release of the men who have been evacuated from Homs and arrested by the Syrian authorities. Are you also asking for their immediate release, because it’s not very clear from your previous statement whether you’re just concerned about their welfare or wanting the Syrian Government to release them immediately.
Spokesperson: Well, of the 1,370 evacuees from Old Homs, 430 men between the ages of 15 and 55 were being processed and so far 181 have been released from the transit centre: 111 yesterday and a further 70 today. Valerie Amos said yesterday that UN staff are on the ground at the transit centre, keeping track of what is happening as people are being processed.
We have had no official communication regarding reports of an extension of the ceasefire, by the way, but our teams continue to stay on the ground to negotiate; and that’s, as we said yesterday, to see if this can become a sustained aid operation. So, simply to say also that we believe that there are around 2,000 people who remain in Homs Old City, so we’re keeping track of what’s happening as people are being processed. That is how I would put it. Yes, yes?
Question: Just to follow up on that, so the UN is not actively going to ask for the release? They are just simply monitoring the situation for now.
Spokesperson: Well, I wouldn’t say “simply monitoring”. I think that’s a very important function and, as you’ve seen, a number of people have already been processed and released. We said yesterday that more figures would be provided and I’ve just done that; and I’m sure there will be further figures as we go along that the UN protection staff, and as I’ve mentioned, they’re from a number of different UN agencies, are there to ensure the welfare of those being processed at the moment. And we do remain concerned for their welfare.
Question: My apologies.
Spokesperson: No need for apologies. Yes please, Matthew?
Question: Thanks, Martin. On Syria — the Syrian Mission has put in a letter yesterday, giving, I guess, their side of the story, their account of events in Yarmouk and Homs. But, I wanted to ask you just a factual thing — they say, they named places — Nabul, Zara, Adjrah — and they say that these have been under siege by quote, “terrorist armed groups”, and have not received any humanitarian assistance or access for several months. And I wanted to know, is that the case? Are there places where there is zero access?
Spokesperson: We’ve said consistently that there are places that are besieged, not just by Syrian Government forces, but by others too. And that access is required to all of them. And I would certainly expect that you would hear something along these lines from Valerie Amos this afternoon at the stakeout.
Question: Thanks a lot. I just wanted to ask…
Spokesperson: Just to say, we’ve consistently said that it’s not just the Syrian Government authorities that are besieging certain areas. This is something that goes way beyond that and involves rebel groups too, and the humanitarian community is seeking access to all of those areas.
Question: What I wanted to know…Valerie Amos has said several times that OCHA doesn’t name opposition armed groups that they communicate with. And I wanted to know, there was an UNRWA briefing where they said, as to Yarmouk, that they had talked to the Government and the Government, in turn, tries to talk to the armed opposition groups to get into that camp. I guess I wondered: is anyone speaking about these places that I named? Is the UN actually speaking with the groups that are in charge of it or are they relying on the Government? I just wondered, is there any light at the end of the tunnel and the effect of not naming the groups…
Spokesperson: Just take a look at the operation to gain access to Old Homs City. This was done through a series of negotiations, not just over a period of days, but over weeks and indeed months, and that involved speaking to not just Government interlocutors, but others too, because you need to get to the location. Yes, Nizar?
Question: On the same subject, of course, Nabul, Zaraare the longest siege in the history of this conflict are blocked by al-Nusra, which also is available in Homs, and obviously you have done negotiations with Jabhat al-Nusra in Homs. Are you conducting such negotiations with them regarding Nabuland Zara, where you have 70,000 under siege?
Spokesperson: Nizar, we’re not going to publicly speak about our negotiating tactics — who we’re speaking with and when we’re speaking with them. Simply to say that our team on the ground has done an incredible job in very dangerous circumstances to gain access to Old Homs City and to help to bring people out and to get aid in. This is a microcosm of a much, much bigger problem that involves places along the lines of the one that you just mentioned. Humanitarian access is needed for all of these places, and yes it does require careful negotiation. I’m not going to stand here and give you a blow-by-blow account of how that is done. Yes?
Question: After the telephone call between the SG and the Italian Foreign Minister, has the SG contacted any representative of the Indian Government or is he planning to do that?
Spokesperson: I’ve told you, I have no comment on that, on the Minister’s reported remarks. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: I just want to get straight what you said: there’s no pause for humanitarian supplies today to get in, or yesterday? That’s been, that’s on hold? And secondly, the Governor of Homs, who is the Syrian Government, not al-Nusra, has said that 80 per cent of the men would be released. So, is anybody worried about the other 20 per cent, considering massacres and prisons?
Spokesperson: On the latter point, that’s precisely why UN protection staff are at the location: because we remain concerned for the welfare of those who are still being processed and effectively detained at the moment. What I said was that we have had no official communication regarding an extension of the ceasefire, but our teams continue to stay on the ground to negotiate. And as Ms. Amos has said yesterday, the team on the ground are very clear that, as long as the truce or the humanitarian pause lasts and as long as there are people who need our help and support, they will be there to give it. And Ms. Amos is likely to make that point and many more quite forcefully in the Council, and I’m sure that she will do so likewise when she speaks to you at the stakeout afterwards. And other questions, please? Yes, Nizar?
Question: Well, today or tomorrow is the third anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain. Many people remain in jail after that and it seems that Bahrain has gone into oblivion for the past year or so. What happened to the [Cherif] Bassiouni investigation? Is there any follow-up on that investigation and implementation on that? All human rights organizations are criticizing the United Nations for a lack of coming forward regarding Bahrain.
Spokesperson: Well, I think a lot has been done, including by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and I’ll try to get an update from my colleagues in Geneva to see what they can give by way of an update for you. Yes, thanks.
[Later, the Spokesperson provided the following additional information: The Secretary-General closely follows the situation in Bahrain. He is concerned about reports of clashes between demonstrators and security forces today that have reportedly led to injuries. He regrets that three years after the eruption of protests in Bahrain, tensions have persisted.
The Secretary-General has called consistently on all sides in Bahrain to exercise restraint and refrain from violent acts. He has urged the authorities to act in strict accordance with their international human rights obligations. He has unequivocally condemned attacks against Bahraini security personnel.
The Secretary-General believes that all Bahrainis should work towards creating a conducive atmosphere for a genuine dialogue in the interest of peace, stability, reform and prosperity for all Bahrainis. He notes in this regard the readiness of political actors in Bahrain to lay the foundation for a new round of dialogue.
The Secretary-General believes that a successful dialogue needs to be well prepared with clear ground rules and time frames. All political constituencies and actors will need to participate freely in the dialogue for it to produce meaningful outcomes that respond to the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.]
Question: I wanted to ask about Haiti and Afghanistan. In Haiti, this human rights defender, Daniel Dorsainvil, has recently been murdered and a number of parties have commented on it and called for accountability. And I just wondered, with the Mission there, is the UN aware of this? Is the UN going to play any role in an investigation? Or what’s their statement on it?
Spokesperson: I’d need to look into that. I don’t have anything on that for you, but I will certainly look into it.
Question: Also, just on Haiti, I wanted [to] ask this — whether, and I understand the position of not commenting on the cholera litigation, but just maybe you can ask OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] or maybe you know, whether the UN has actually accepted service or process of the papers. I wanted to know, there were some earlier problems, and I’ve heard from them that they actually managed to serve two individuals and I just, if it’s possible, I’m just asking you, just a yes or no answer whether papers were received.
Spokesperson: Well, I can’t give either because I will need to check.
Question: And just on Afghanistan, maybe…
Spokesperson: Wait. Let’s move around the room, or around the front room.
Question: I wondered what’s the policy of the United Nations with countries or a country providing an inverted flag, which has been risen at the United Nations along with other flags for many months, maybe years now? What is the policy regarding that? I wonder: how come the United Nations is not aware that this is an erroneous flag?
Spokesperson: I know you’ve been speaking to Farhan [Haq] about this and even showing him video footage, I don’t have anything for you on this at this point, and I’ll see if I can find out something from my colleagues in Protocol. Or you may wish to address the Member State concerned. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, thanks a lot. I didn’t mean to bolt forward. I didn’t know. But I wanted to ask you on Afghanistan — there’s been a release of what are described as 65 alleged Taliban fighters by the Government and the reason I’m asking, you know, NATO has commented, the US has commented, saying that the timing is sort of a thumbing of the nose or deeply regrettable, was the US comment. But since all of these comments talk about rule of law and that it seems to be one of the roles of the UN, UNAMA Mission [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] there. Have they taken note of this release, and do they have any comment on it?
Spokesperson: I think you can be certain that they’re aware of the release, and I have not seen a statement from them. Should there be a statement, we’ll make sure that you have it. But you can be certain that they’re aware of it. [He later added: the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan understands that there is a bilateral agreement between the Government of Afghanistan and the United States of America on this issue. The Mission hopes both the countries will quickly resolve this matter.]
Question: But I guess… I’m just wondering, because I saw that they hadn’t commented. That’s why I was trying to ask — and it’s to second-guess the Mission, but is the decision to comment on something like this made at the Mission level, is it made in conjunction with DPA [Department of Political Affairs] and Headquarters? How is that made, if you don’t mind?
Spokesperson: I don’t mind in the least, Matthew. I don’t think that you can generalize. Just take as one example: there was a statement already this morning, very quick and very specific, about the bombing in Mogadishu, which was issued by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Nicholas Kay, and that was done on his initiative. And, of course, what we saw subsequently was a statement attributable to me, so a Secretary-General statement, and that is done in concert with the Mission and with the Somalia team in the Department of Political Affairs and the same could apply in this case, but not necessarily. It could be that the SRSG, Ján Kubiš, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, is analysing and would decide what to say. I would note that we did also just lose our Chief Political Officer in the attack on that restaurant recently. Is there anything else? Yes, please?
Question: Thank you, Martin. There is a media report, I think from Korea, I think that Mr. Sin Son-ho, the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Ambassador, is going to be replaced. So, I was wondering if there [is] any way to confirm that for me.
Spokesperson: The way to confirm that is for you to speak to the DPRK Mission. Good luck. Good afternoon.
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