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

16 February 2017

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, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General has arrived in Germany where, in Bonn, he took part in a G-20 session on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Before heading to Germany, the Secretary-General met with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit.  They talked about increased cooperation between the two organizations, as well as pressing regional issues.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council on the Middle East and told Council members that we must never allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to drift into the abyss of the extremism and radicalism sweeping the region.  He said that Palestinians, Israelis and the international community have a duty to act responsibly, avoid escalating tensions, refrain from unilateral actions and work together to uphold peace.  Sadly, today, unilateral actions are returning the parties to a high-stakes collision course.

He noted that on 6 February, the Israeli Parliament adopted the so-called “Regularisation Law” which enables the use of privately-owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank without the owners’ consent.  If the law stays in place, he warned, it will have far-reaching consequences for Israel, while seriously undermining prospects for the two-State solution and for Arab-Israeli peace.

He added that he continues to be concerned by the daily violence.  So-called “lone wolf” attacks against Israeli civilians, though greatly reduced as compared to 2016, continue.

Mr. Mladenov asserted that the two-State solution remains the only way to achieve the legitimate national aspirations of both peoples, as the Quartet and Security Council have recognized.   His remarks are available in our office.

**Syria

The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met in Moscow today with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.

They discussed the ongoing meeting in Astana and how best it can contribute to the preparations for the Geneva round of negotiations scheduled for next week.  Meetings were useful and productive.  Other issues, such as humanitarian access and UN-Russia cooperation, were also discussed.

As for the talks that began in Astana, I can confirm that a five-member UN delegation is in Astana to lend its expertise in discussions on the consolidation of the ceasefire regime and related issues.

**Iraq

Following the temporary suspension of UN missions into eastern Mosul earlier this week for security reasons, a new security risk assessment was undertaken and the suspension has now been lifted.  Missions can resume again on Sunday.

Despite the temporary suspension of UN missions, aid operations were not suspended, and many partners continued to deliver humanitarian programmes and assistance in eastern Mosul.

Meanwhile, humanitarian partners in health are responding to an acute shortage of medical supplies in the newly accessible areas of Mosul by delivering medicines and other medical supplies to 16 primary health centres, one hospital and the Directorate of Health of Ninewa Governorate.  These supplies will support treatment of patients with infectious diseases, chronic conditions, diarrheal diseases and trauma cases.

**South Sudan

The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, today sounded the alarm over the lack of information on the situation of some 20,000 internally displaced people on the west bank of the Nile in the north of the country.  The UN Mission believes that the 20,000 people have fled Wau Shilluk to Kodok.  Fighting between Government and opposition forces has expanded geographically across the west bank over the past week and shows no signs of abating, forcing more people to flee their homes.

Today UN peacekeepers attempted to carry out a foot patrol to Wau Shilluk but were prevented from doing so by Government soldiers, which Mr. Shearer has described as “very frustrating”.  He said the UN wants to find out what has happened to those people and provide them with assistance if needed.

**Central African Republic

And in response to questions I was asked yesterday, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tells us that its intervention on 11 February against the heavily-armed column of the FPRC (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique), consisting of approximately 300 combatants and pick-up trucks, took place in an uninhabited area according to rules of engagement.

As we’ve said before, the aim of this operation was to prevent the group from crossing a "line" that had previously been communicated to the belligerents to prevent a major conflict in Bambari that could have had dramatic consequences for civilians.

The UN mission reports that its attack helicopter destroyed at least four pick-up trucks.  Because the FPRC took care of their casualties after the attack, the Mission is not in a position to ascertain the exact number of casualties.

Following the attack, the UN Mission has been in touch with the FPRC at all levels to encourage them to stop fighting, stressing the mission’s impartiality and its determination to impose the measures communicated earlier to prevent a confrontation in Bambari.  The Mission reiterates its resolve to use force to protect civilians in accordance with its mandate and calls on the armed groups to immediately cease hostilities and to resolve any dispute through dialogue.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

You will have seen the joint statement that we issued this morning by the African Union (AU), the UN, the European Union (EU) and the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF) on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The four partner Organizations say that they are increasingly concerned by the continuing impasse in the dialogue related to the implementation modalities of the 31 December political agreement.

They call on all parties in the DRC, including the presidential majority and the opposition, to redouble in good faith their efforts towards a speedy conclusion of the ongoing talks.  The full statement has been shared with you in English and in French.

**Ukraine

A new report from the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine shows that survivors of sexual violence committed in the context of the country’s armed conflict are often denied justice and left without adequate care and counselling.

The report notes that the country’s justice system lacks the laws, capacity and professional experience to effectively investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual violence, resulting in widespread impunity for perpetrators.

The majority of the documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence happened when people, both men and women, were detained by either Government forces or armed groups.

**Honour Roll

And today, the Honour Roll has climbed to 39, thanks to full payments to the regular budget from China and Slovenia.  Our thanks go to both nations.

**Questions and Answers

That is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  First, just on the… on the… you know, you gave the readout of a meeting, I guess, in Bonn [sic] by Mr. de Mistura.  Seeing that Mis… that the… the Yemen envoy had also been there and had a meeting with a number of leaders, so I wanted to ask, do you have any similar readout on that?  And, yesterday, I'd asked you about this now more… more broadly reported double‑tap airstrike in Sana’a by the Saudi‑led Coalition.  So I wanted to know, is the UN now acknowledging that that occurred?  And was this raised by the envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in his meetings in Bonn, including with the Saudi Foreign Minister?

Deputy Spokesman:  We actually expect, hopefully, in the coming minutes — it wasn't ready just in time for noon — to have a statement by the humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, concerning this attack in Yemen and his concerns.  I'm waiting for the language, and hopefully if it's ready while this is ongoing, I'll be able to read that.  I don't have anything right now concerning the Special Envoy's dialogues.  If we get any updates from his team, I'll let you know.

Question:  But I… just… just, I guess, to understand, is it up to each envoy and his team to sort of report back to Headquarters?  Because I've seen a readout by other participants in the meeting that the envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was there.  So is it up to him to tell headquarters or… why this difference between Syria and Yemen…?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, Staffan de Mistura's meeting is not in Bonn.  It's in Moscow, as I've just read.  They're in completely different cities doing completely different things.

Question:  Okay.  Sure, but why is one reported and the other one not reported?  If he met with Rex Tillerson and others about Yemen, then why is there no readout from here?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, each envoy does provide periodic readouts when they believe it is best to do so.  Once we get it from them, we'll share it with you.  Yes?

Question:  During the meeting between the Secretary‑General and the Secretary‑General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, what issues they discuss together?  Did the issue of the siege of Gaza… was it discussed?  They talk about the two‑State solution and how it is in danger now, or what other issues they discussed?

Deputy Spokesman:  What my colleague who was travelling there in Cairo had… Stéphane [Dujarric] has said is that they talked about pressing issues in the region.  You can make of that what you will.  Any others?  Then back to you.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask about… couple questions on Burundi.  One, I'd asked… you know, and thanks for what your office e-mailed yesterday.  Since then, it's… you know, the Government itself has said it's not going to participate.  So I wanted to know if you have any kind of update to what you said yesterday.  And, also, a Burundian minister has visited refugees in Uganda.  This has given rise to protests, because there's a sense that… that, by visiting people that fled the country in fear of their lives, there's essentially a threat to them to be repatriated or refouled back to Burundi.  I wanted to know if the UN has a view on that.   And, finally, I'd asked some weeks ago about a guy called Budigi, a mil… a Burundian military figure that was involved in the burning down of Radio Publique Africaine.  And it's, again, reported by Radio Publique Africaine that he is… this Nicolas Budigi is part of UN CAR so… I mean, the UN Mission in Central African Republic.   And so Stéphane had said he'd look into it.  I wanted to know, have you found out that this… whether or not… can you confirm that the guy is there?  And, if not, what does it say about the vetting that's being conducted by DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations)?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, our peacekeeping colleagues have been looking into this matter.  I think they're trying to gather details on this now.  Once we have that, we'll let you know.  Regarding the participation by the parties in the Arusha talks, we do regret the decision by any invited participant to decline attendance of the consultations to be held in Arusha under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.  We urge the parties to demonstrate the necessary flexibility to make a negotiated solution possible, and the UN will continue to support the process led by the EAC.  Yes?

Question:  Will there be any statement on the attack of the shrine in Pakistan?  There's a huge attack.  Seventy people were killed.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're certainly very concerned about this attack, and we offer our condolences to the Government and the people of Pakistan for those who have been killed.  Of course, we'll let you know if there is a statement, you'll receive that.  Yes?

Question:  The Cyprus talks, it's reported that the Turkish Cypriot leader walked out.  It's also reported that he's asked António Guterres personally to get involved on this historical issue about commemorating this 1950 vote for union with Greece.  And so I wanted to know, is António Guterres going to get involved in that?  And, two, and what is the UN's… what's the status of the talks?  And what's being done to bring them back together?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we're aware that the meeting today between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders ended abruptly.  The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide, is meeting with both leaders today to discuss the situation and the way forward.

Question:  Okay.  And I… this is a kind of an in… I just wanted to… to ask this.  I'd seen… I didn't see it announced anywhere else, but there was an event yesterday evening, I believe in the Delegates Dining Room, in which a… an airline has said that it has formed a cooperation agreement with the UN.  Under‑Secretary‑General of DPI (Department of Public Information) was there praising them, but I wanted to know, one, what is this agreement about?  Can this agreement… if, in fact, it is a UN cooperation agreement with a private company, can it be disclosed?  And what explains the kind of non‑otherwise‑announced status of the meeting if, in fact, it was a UN event?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you need to get me further details so that I can look into this.  I'm not aware of any.

Question:  It's in Xinhua.  It's reported in Xinhua so you can just… just Google "Gallach" and "airline" and you can get it.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, send me the story, and I'll see what we can do with that.  [He later added:  DPI establishes partnership with media outlets and other private sector entities to help disseminate information about the UN.  This includes with airlines who broadcast UN programmes in-flight and disseminate UN information through in-flight magazines and other means.  Xiamen Airlines of China is the latest to join such a partnership, including undertaking to help promote awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals by painting its aircraft with SDGs livery.]

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.