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Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING
BY FARHAN HAQ, ACTING DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON

FRIDAY, 20 DECEMBER 2013

 

SOUTH SUDAN: TWO U.N. PEACEKEEPERS KILLED DURING ATTACK ON MISSION BASE

  • The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmund Mulet, has briefed the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan.
  • The Security Council’s President issued a press statement afterward.
  • And as you know, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has confirmed this morning that two UN peacekeepers from the Indian Battalion died Thursday during an attack on a Mission’s base in Akobo by 2,000 armed youth. Another member of the battalion was wounded.
  • The UN Mission also estimates that at least 20 of the civilians who sought refuge inside the base were killed during the attack.
  • The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, said that those responsible for this criminal act must be held accountable. And she said that such attacks will not deter the Mission from discharging its mandate.
  • The United Nations is also very concerned about the situation elsewhere in Jonglei State, including in Bor town. And the security situation is worsening in a number of areas – of particular concern are the situations in Juba, Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile and lakes States.
  • The UN Mission is engaged in protecting civilians sheltering in its bases and extracting people in vulnerable spots. Between 35,000 and 40,000 civilians are seeking refuge in UN bases across the country. In Juba, the Mission has strengthened troop presence, including with patrolling. 
  • The UN Mission’s leadership continues to engage intensely with the government and political actors from all sides, as well as with civil society and religious leaders to press for a return to calm and urgent political dialogue to resolve this crisis.
  • Hilde Johnson and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Haile Menkerios are working with the delegation of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), counterparts from the African Union and all concerned to move the crisis from violence to dialogue.
  • And in a statement issued Thursday night, the Secretary-General said that the Mission is doing everything it can, within its means and in a very fluid situation, to protect civilians, as well as United Nations and international personnel on the ground.
  • He also appealed to the principal leaders concerned to live up to their individual responsibilities to the people of South Sudan. The future of this young nation requires its current leadership to do everything possible to prevent South Sudan from descending into the chaos that would be such a betrayal of the ideals behind its long struggle for independence.
  • Asked about the temporary base in Akobo, the Spokesperson confirmed that UN personnel had now left it. All UN personnel who remained overnight in Akobo have been airlifted to Malakal this morning in four UNMISS helicopters, along with seven South Sudanese civilians and a dozen staff members of non-governmental organizations.
  • He noted that the difficulties in defending the base, with 43 UN peacekeepers confronted by some 2,000 armed youth.
  • At this stage, he said, the UN Mission was trying to redeploy people from lower-risk areas to high-risk areas and concentrating its troops so that they can be effective at protecting civilians in need.
  • But ultimately, he added, all the civilians who need protection cannot receive it if the fighting continues to expand, which is why all efforts are needed to focus on a political solution and a halt to the fighting.
  • Asked about the departure of UN personnel from Yuai, Haq said that was another area where a small number of peacekeepers were facing a challenge from hundreds of armed youth, which necessitated their removal to another location.
  • Asked about the information the United Nations received on the death of the peacekeepers at Akobo, Haq said that the United Nations followed its standard protocols involving information to the Government and the families concerned.
  • Asked about the difference with Rwanda, the Spokesperson noted that the United Nations has been trying to ensure that the world is aware of the problems on the ground and the dangers that the situation might spin out of control. Now it is up to all concerned nations to do what they can to press for a political solution so that matters do not continue to deteriorate.
  • Haq said, in response to further questions, that there can be no military solution. He said that South Sudan was the 193rd and most recent UN Member State and that the fighting of recent days was not what the people of South Sudan had wanted to see.

SOUTH SUDAN: U.N. CARRIES OUT HUMANITARIAN NEEDS ASSESSMENTS

  • On the humanitarian front, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that aid organizations have conducted needs assessments in 11 affected areas in Juba and found that displaced people urgently need emergency food, nutrition, health care, clean water and hygiene support. They continue to give life-saving supplies to people in areas that are accessible, including at the UN bases.
  • The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has started to deliver emergency supplies to those displaced in compounds and elsewhere. The World Food Programme (WFP) has moved food to an UNMISS facility for the people sheltering in UN compounds in Juba, and is working with humanitarian partners as well as the peacekeepers to organize distribution of that food in the coming days, prioritizing vulnerable women and children.
  • The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, arrived in Jonglei on Friday to lead the UN humanitarian response on the ground. He described the situation in Bor as "very delicate", adding that "different communities are recounting tales of destruction and looting." 

C.A.R.: U.N. RIGHTS CHIEF WARNS SITUATION REMAINS HIGHLY VOLATILE

  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned on Friday that the situation in the Central African Republic remains highly volatile, with ongoing violence, intimidation and a governance vacuum.
  • Ms. Pillay said that the reported involvement of armed combatants from neighbouring countries heightens the risk of a crisis that, if left unchecked, may become dangerously difficult to control.
  • The High Commissioner warned that religious differences were being manipulated by political leaders, with deadly consequences, but she stressed the laudable efforts of some religious leaders in defusing tensions. She urged leaders at both national and local levels to stop stoking violence on the basis of religion. She also urged all sides to come together and resolve the situation in the country through dialogue.
  • The High Commissioner said that the international community needs to prioritise the disarmament of all sides and accountability for perpetrators of serious human rights violations. She said that the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry should send a strong message to perpetrators of violations that the international community is committed to holding them accountable.
  • And the Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Taye-Brook Zerihoun is in the Central African Republic on Friday. He participated Thursday in the handover ceremony to MISCA forces and he held meetings with government officials and international partners.
  • On Friday, Mr. Zerihoun met with UN staff and with religious leaders and civil society representatives. On Saturday, he will travel to N'djamena, in Chad, to participate in a ministerial meeting of the UN Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions on Central Africa, which will be looking at issues including the crisis in the Central African Republic.

OPERATIONS IN C.A.R. CHALLENGING, SAYS U.N. FOOD OFFICE

  • The World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday that it is distributing food wherever it can in the Central African Republic, including hospitals, orphanages, churches and mosques.
  • In total, the World Food Programme and its partners have distributed so far in December nearly 506 tons of food including rice, split peas and oil to more than 118,000 people in the capital Bangui. 
  • And the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the hospitals continue to be targeted by unidentified armed groups in the country. A hospital in Begua situated on the outskirts of Bangui has been looted by unknown militias during the night of 17 to 18 December. The World Health Organization also said that there is an increase in the number of cases of malaria.

SECRETARY-GENERAL TO VISIT TACLOBAN

  • The Secretary-General has arrived in the Philippines.
  • On Saturday, he will visit Manila and Tacloban, and the Spokesperson’s office will provide you with transcripts of his various press encounters, including in Tacloban.

SYRIA: INVITEES FOR CONFERENCE AGREED, SAYS BRAHIMI

  • Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, briefed the press in Geneva following his meetings there, first with the United States and Russia and then with a wider group of countries.
  • He said that a list of invitees has been agreed to for the 22 January 2014 International Conference for Syria, except for Iran.
  • The invitees, he said, would include the United Nations, the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and 26 other countries.
  • Asked about humanitarian access, the Spokesperson noted that UN humanitarian workers were continuing to push for better access, as the Security Council had called for in September. He added that the onus is on the parties on the ground to provide the necessary access to all those in need.

20,000 REMAINING PALESTINIANS TRAPPED INSIDE YARMOUK, SAYS U.N. RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY

  • Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) noted that on Friday marks one year since Yarmouk, the vast suburb of Damascus that was home to the largest Palestine refugee community in Syria, was engulfed by fighting. 
  • He said that 20,000 remaining Palestinians have been trapped inside Yarmouk, and although very alarming reports of hardship and hunger have continued to multiply, since September 2013, the Relief and Works Agency has been unable to enter the area to deliver desperately needed relief supplies.
  • Mr. Grandi said that if this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children. He urgently asked all parties to immediately heed their legal obligations and facilitate the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to Yarmouk and other Palestinian refugee camps where fighting impedes the delivery of such assistance.

EGYPT: U.N. RIGHTS OFFICE OBSERVES WORRYING ESCALATION IN HARRASSMENT OF CIVIL SOCIETY

  • The office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday that the raiding of a human rights NGO and the arrest of six of its members in Cairo on Wednesday night marks a worrying escalation in the harassment and intimidation of civil society in Egypt.
  • The High Commissioner’s office calls on Egyptian authorities to immediately release all individuals who have been detained in relation to their work as human rights defenders. It adds that the intimidation of political opponents, activists and human rights defenders must be halted.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • In response to a question, the Spokesperson said that the United Nations has received notification to register Ms. Devyani Khobragade as a member of the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.  The United Nations is processing this request per its standard procedures.
  • The Spokesperson confirmed, in response to a question, that the Secretary-General had spoken by telephone with the President of Cyprus earlier this week.
  • There will be no noon briefings next week, because of the holiday season, but we will update the Spokesperson’s web page daily, around noon. We may also schedule press briefings as needed next week. The noon briefing will resume on Monday, 30 December.