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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 MARTIN NESIRKY,
SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON

MONDAY, 25 MARCH 2013

SOME U.N INTERNATIONAL STAFF ARE BEING TEMPORARILY RELOCATED OUTSIDE SYRIA

  • On Sunday and Monday, a number of mortar shells fell in close proximity to, and on the grounds of, the hotel in Damascus housing UN staff.  The mortar fire caused some damage to the building and some cars, including one UN vehicle. United Nations Security Management Team has assessed the situation and decided to temporarily reduce the presence of international staff in Damascus due to security conditions.
  • The United Nations attaches great importance to the safety of all its staff - national and international. With this in mind, we are temporarily relocating some of the UN international staff in Syria out of the country.
  • As part of that effort, most of the Damascus-based staff of the Office of the Joint Special Representative for Syria are being temporarily relocated to Beirut and the Joint Special Representative's main office in Cairo.
  • All of the national staff of that Office have been asked to work from home, until further notice. These measures are being undertaken solely for security reasons. The United Nations remains active and committed to helping the Syrian sides in their search for a political solution.
  • UN agencies and their partners also remain committed to providing assistance to millions of people in need across Syria. United Nations will maintain inside Syria the number of staff and capacity required to continue running its critical humanitarian programs and deliver assistance to civilians in need. This is a priority for the United Nations.
  • Asked about the staff relocations, the Spokesperson added that not everyone will be leaving Syria. About half will be relocated, he said, but the United Nations will continue to perform major functions, including humanitarian deliveries.
  • He said the United Nations has approximately 100 international and 800 national staff in Damascus working with the offices of the Joint Special Representative, the Resident Coordinator, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian  Affairs, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), UNICEF and other UN agencies and programmes.
  • While some staff would temporarily leave Syria, others would relocate to other locations within the country bearing in mind the critical lifesaving programmes they deliver.  They will endeavour to keep humanitarian programmes operational. 
  • The presence of each staff member - national and international - is carefully assessed against what is expected of her or him, and the risk she or he would be exposed to. All of the national staff has been asked to work from home until the situation improves. Obviously, Nesirky said, the UN’s priority is also to ensure that we maintain enough staff and capacity to continue running critical humanitarian programs and deliver assistance to millions of Syrians across the country.
  • He noted the role of national UN staff and added that while overall UN staffing has declined, a number of the humanitarian UN agencies had increased their staff numbers. The number of staff also takes into consideration the security conditions in the country. 
  • Asked whether Mokhtar Lamani, the head of the Joint Special Representative’s Damascus Office, was staying in the country, Nesirky said he was not there at present.

SYRIA: SECRETARY-GENERAL INFORMS SECURITY COUNCIL OF DECISION TO LOOK INTO CHEMICAL WEAPONS ALLEGATIONS

  • Over the weekend, the Spokesperson issued a note concerning the letter the Secretary-General sent to the President of the Security Council on Friday evening informing him of his decision to conduct an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
  • Asked whether the technical team should include experts from China and Russia, the Spokesperson said that this is the Secretary-General’s Mechanism and is a technical mission. The composition is based on advice from experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • In response to further questions, the Spokesperson said that any Member State can request the Secretary-General to conduct an investigation.
  • He added that the initial focus of the investigation will be an incident involving the alleged use of chemical weapons in Kfar Dael region in Khan Al-Asal area in Aleppo governorate.

SECRETARY-GENERAL CONDEMNS UNCONSTITUTIONAL SEIZURE OF POWER IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

  • In a statement issued on Sunday, the Secretary-General condemned the unconstitutional seizure of power that took place in the Central African Republic (CAR) and called for the swift restoration of constitutional order.
  • The Secretary-General reiterates that the Libreville Agreements, negotiated by the Heads of States and Government of the Economic Community of Central African States, remain the most viable framework to ensure durable peace and stability in the country.
  • The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about reports of serious violations of human rights. He underscores that those who are responsible for committing such violations will be held accountable.
  • The Secretary-General appeals for calm and for the respect of the rule of law in the Central African Republic. He is concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in the country and the reports of ongoing looting in the capital, Bangui, including of United Nations property.
  • The United Nations is taking all precautions to protect its staff and reminds the authorities of their obligations to ensure the safety of all United Nations personnel and premises. Through the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic, the United Nations will continue to work closely with its partners, including the Economic Community of Central African States and the African Union in joint efforts to help resolve the crisis in the Central African Republic.
  • Over the weekend, the Secretary-General had telephone conversations with several leaders on the latest developments in the Central African Republic, including François Hollande, the President of France, Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, and Idriss Deby, the President of Chad.
  • In response to questions, the Spokesperson said that the situation in the Central African Republic remains volatile.  The assessment by UN staff is that there is still some gunfire and looting in Bangui.  Several United Nations offices and residences of staff members have been looted.

U.N. COORDINATOR FOR MIDDLE EAST REPORTS SETBACK IN GAZA

  • Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council on Monday morning on the situation in the region. He noted the visit last week by US President Barack Obama and the restoration of normal relations between Israel and Turkey, which the Secretary-General has welcomed.
  • Serry said that recent weeks have seen a setback in Gaza, from where rockets were fired into Israel. He said that rocket fire was completely unacceptable and also called on Israel to show restraint.
  • He also discussed recent developments in Syria and once more asked for the Security Council’s united support for the efforts of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. He noted that the fighting in Syria has also affected the area of operations of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), where there was a worrying firing incident on Sunday.

U.N. MISSION IN COTE D’IVOIRE CONDEMNS ATTACK BY UNIDENTIFIED ARMED ELEMENTS IN WESTERN REGION

  • The United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI) condemns the attack by unidentified armed elements in Petit Guiglo, in the country's western region, on Saturday, 23 March, at around 4.30 am.
  • At least two civilians and three assailants were killed during the attack. Three people were injured, including two soldiers of Côte d'Ivoire’s national army (FRCI) and one traditional hunter. Numerous houses were also burned down by the assailants.
  • The assailants reportedly first targeted an army's position in Petit Guiglo, before moving to the village itself. 
  • A well-known local militia leader named Oulai Tako is among the three assailants killed during the attack, according to official sources
  • UNOCI peacekeepers have been deployed in Petit Guiglo. Peacekeepers’ ground and air patrols have been reinforced in the area, in support of Ivorian forces and to protect civilians.
  • The Mission is liaising with the UN Mission in neighbouring Liberia. UNMIL has also reinforced its patrols of the border.

U.N. MISSION IN DARFUR CONDEMNS ARREST OF INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS BY ARMED GROUP

  • The African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) condemned on Monday the arrest of 31 internally displaced persons, or IDPs, by an unidentified armed group in the border area between Central Darfur State and South Darfur State.
  • The incident took place on Sunday evening, when the armed group, wearing military uniforms, stopped a convoy of three buses escorted by the mission’s peacekeepers and forced the IDPs to an unknown location.
  • Those arrested were being escorted by the mission to attend a conference of IDPs and refugees in the city of Nyala.

U.N. RELIEF ORGANIZATION ESTIMATES MORE THAN 12,000 PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DISPLACED FOLLOWING VIOLENCE IN MEIKTILLA

  • The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, says that the Government of Myanmar estimates that more than 12,000 people have been displaced after violence erupted last week in Meiktila in Mandalay. The number of casualties is yet to be confirmed.
  • Authorities are distributing food and water to the uprooted. A team, including OCHA, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), is assessing immediate needs in the area.

U.N. REFUGEE AGENCY DEEPLY SADDENED BY FIRE IN CAMP IN NORTHWESTERN THAILAND

  • The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said over the weekend that it was deeply saddened by a fire in a camp in northwestern Thailand that claimed the lives of more than 30 refugees from Myanmar.
  • The fire destroyed hundreds of thatched huts in two sectors of the camp, resulting in some 2,300 refugees having lost their homes and possessions.
  • Teams from the Refugee Agency have provided plastic sheets, blankets, bed mats and other items to provide temporary emergency shelter before the homes can be rebuilt.

U.N. REPRESENTATIVE FOR SOMALIA SADDENED BY KILLING OF JOURNALIST

  • The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia said he was shocked and saddened by Sunday’s killing of Rahma Abdulkadir, a radio journalist, in the capital, Mogadishu.
  • Eighteen journalists were killed in direct or indirect attacks in 2012, while Abdulkadir is the first woman and third media professional to be killed this year.
  • Augustine Mahiga said that the Somali media community has proved its courage and resilience throughout the years.
  • He added that Somalia has moved to a new era where freedom of expression is guaranteed in the provisional constitution and the Government has committed to safeguarding human rights, and, in particular, the protection of vulnerable groups, including journalists.

SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS WE MUST NEVER FORGET VICTIMS OF SLAVERY

  • Today, the UN marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
  • In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that we must never forget the torture, rape and killing of innocent men, women and children. He adds that these degradations cannot be buried by time; they must be examined, understood and addressed.
  • The General Assembly will hold a special commemorative meeting on Monday afternoon. The Secretary-General will make remarks and Professor Ali Mazrui will deliver the keynote address. The meeting will also feature a performance by the National Ballet of Cameroon.

NEW HEAD OF U.N. DEPARTMENT FOR GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND CONFERENCE MANAGEMENT APPOINTED

  • The Secretary-General has appointed Tegegnework Gettu of Ethiopia as Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management.  Mr. Gettu will replace Jean-Jacques Graisse of Belgium.
  • Since 2009, Mr. Gettu has been serving as Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Bureau Director for Africa in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).