HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING
BY FARHAN HAQ,
ASSOCIATE SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON
TUESDAY, 27 AUGUST 2013
SECRETARY-GENERAL ARRIVES IN NETHERLANDS, CONTINUES MONITORING SYRIA DEVELOPMENTS
- The Secretary-General arrived today in the Netherlands, where he will be meet King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima in The Hague.
- Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet the Dutch Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and take part in the official commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Peace Palace. He is also scheduled to give a major speech at Leiden University.
- From the Netherlands, the Secretary-General will fly to Austria. He is due back in New York this weekend.
- Before leaving Seoul for the Netherlands earlier today, the Secretary-General met with a range of South Korean officials and dignitaries. He also continued to monitor developments in Syria extremely closely.
SYRIA: INVESTIGATION BY U.N. CHEMICAL WEAPONS TEAM POSTPONED
- The Chemical Weapons Team led by Professor Ake Sellstrom had intended to continue their investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in a different site today. Following yesterday's attack on the UN convoy, a comprehensive assessment determined that the visit should be postponed by one day in order to improve preparedness and safety for the team. Considering the complexities of the site, confirmation of access has not been obtained but is expected later today.
- The Secretary-General again urges all sides in the conflict to give safe passage and access to the Team. It is in the interest of all sides to bring factual evidence and clarity to a situation which has brought great suffering to the people of Syria. The United Nations is there to assist, but it needs the cooperation of all in order to fulfil the mandate given by the Member States.
- Meanwhile, a chartered flight has arrived in Erbil carrying urgent relief items for the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in Syria and crossing into northern Iraq.
- More than 44,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq since 15 August; most of them are women and children sheltered in camps or collective facilities.
- Asked which side was blocking the team’s access, the Spokesperson said it was necessary to gain agreement from all the relevant parties on the ground before proceeding to the site on Wednesday. He added that it was expected that the team would be able to go about its work on that date.
- Asked about the Monday shooting incident, the Spokesperson said the assailants have not been identified so far.
- Asked when the United Nations had requested access to the Ghouta attack sites, Haq recalled that on 22 August, the day after the attack, in a statement, the Secretary-General called for the Mission to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident which occurred on the morning of 21 August 2013. The statement added that a formal request was being sent by the United Nations to the Government of Syria in this regard.
- The Spokesperson added that High Representative for Disarmament Angela Kane arrived in Damascus on Saturday to discuss the matter further with Syrian Government officials.
- He noted that Ms. Kane continues to engage, as necessary, with the Government of Syria on behalf of the Secretary-General.
- Asked whether there could still be useful evidence five days following the attack, Haq said that it is rare that an internal investigation would be able to commence within such a short time, as the investigation into the 21 August incident has. With hundreds of human fatalities, the passage of such few days does not affect the opportunities to collect valuable samples and to perform witness interviews.
- For example, he said, Sarin can be detected in biomedical samples up to months following its use. Additionally, in such a short time after the incident, reliable witness statements can be gathered as supportive evidence.
- Asked about the team’s mandate, the Spokesperson said that the mandate of the Mission remains unchanged. Its objective is to collect as many facts as possible and to assess the nature and extent of any attack using chemical weapons and its consequences.
- Haq declined to comment on speculation that a military action may be pursued by some States in Syria. He said that the UN’s focus remains on the work of the chemical weapons inspection team and on reaching a diplomatic solution, including by efforts to convene a Geneva II conference.
U.N. POLITICAL CHIEF WRAPS UP VISIT TO IRAN
- The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, has completed a visit to Iran today. During his visit, Mr. Feltman had consultations with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Deputy Foreign Ministers Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh and Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and other Iranian and diplomatic officials.
- In emphasizing the UN's rejection of a military approach to the Syria crisis, Mr. Feltman briefed the Iranian officials on the United Nations' preparation for a Conference on Syria to be held in Geneva and to focus on the implementation of the 30 June 2012 Geneva communiqué. Mr. Feltman shared the United Nations' position that Iran, given its influence and leadership in the region, has an important role to play and a responsibility in helping to bring the Syrian parties to the negotiating table on the basis of the Geneva communiqué. He expressed appreciation for the statements from Iranian officials that Iran is committed to facilitate a political solution to end the Syrian tragedy. He also discussed with Iranian officials the worsening situation on the ground in Syria, including the UN'S grave concerns about the potential use of chemical weapons, and how the UN can work together with Iran and other states to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people as soon as possible.
- While the primary purpose of his visit was to discuss a political solution for Syria, Mr. Feltman, at the request of his hosts, also shared UN perspectives on several additional regional and international issues. In concluding his visit, Mr. Feltman expressed hope for continued constructive engagement with Iran on a number of issues of concern to the United Nations.
U.N. RIGHTS OFFICE CONCERNED BY FORCED EVICTION, TRANSFER OF PALESTINIANS IN WEST BANK
- The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern today about the forced eviction and forcible transfer of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as a result of a series of demolitions carried out by Israeli authorities in at least six different locations since 19 August 2013.
- The High Commissioner’s Office also expressed concern about the possible excessive use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinian civilians, during recent search and arrest operations in refugee camps in the West Bank. Since 18 August, at least 4 Palestinian civilians have been killed in such operations, and at least 19 have also been injured.
- The Government of Israel has the obligation to investigate in a timely, independent, impartial and thorough manner all cases of use of force by its security forces resulting in death or injury and to hold accountable any persons responsible of violations. The High Commissioner’s Office urged the Israeli authorities to make public any findings.
DARFUR: FOUR BLUE HELMETS MISSING FOLLOWING HEAVY RAINS
- On 25 August, six peacekeepers with the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were swept away by powerful currents while escorting World Food Programme (WFP) trucks to Masteri, west Darfur.
- The incident occurred when the peacekeepers attempted to pull out their truck which was stuck in the mud of a river valley, near Nioro village approximately 30 kilometers southwest of El Geneina. A rescue team from El Geneina, west Darfur, found two peacekeepers alive while the search is ongoing to locate the other four. World Food Programme staff members are safe.
- The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that according to the Sudanese Government, some half a million people have been affected by floods in 16 states.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the Ministry of Health to monitor and report on communicable diseases.
U.N. MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN SPEAKS OUT AGAINST ABDUCTION, KILLINGS IN HEART PROVINCE
- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) strongly condemns the recent abduction and killing of six civilians in Herat province, including employees of the International Rescue Committee. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killings.
- The UN Mission says that attacks against civilians are prohibited at all times and may amount to war crimes.
SECRETARY-GENERAL APPOINTS INDONESIAN AS NEW FORCE COMMANDER FOR WESTERN SAHARA MISSION
- The Secretary-General has appointed Major General Imam Edy Mulyono of Indonesia as Force Commander of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Major General Mulyono will succeed Major General Abdul Hafiz of Bangladesh, whose tour of duty ended on 23 July 2013.
- Major General Mulyono is currently Special Assistant to the Indonesian Army Chief of Staff in charge of Peacekeeping Operations.
- In response to questions, the Spokesperson said that the situation in Kibati, north of Goma, remains tense. Sporadic exchanges of small arms fire continued today between the M23 group and the Congolese Armed Forces in Kibati. The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is closely monitoring the situation and stands ready to use all necessary means to defend civilians.
- Asked about a security incident that took place on Monday, Haq said that a young individual scaled the fence outside the United Nations Headquarters that day and was able to get into the building. He gained access to the UN Tower before Security apprehended him and then handed him over to the New York Police Department. His parents were present during that transfer.