7 May 2013
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that over the last few months, the number of displaced people in Syria has more than doubled, from an estimated 2 million in December of last year to 4.25 million people today.  Large numbers of displaced people are concentrated in Aleppo and Rural Damascus.

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), almost half of the Palestinian refugee community in Syria have been displaced by the ongoing conflict.  About 42,000 of them have fled to Lebanon and Jordan.  Recent violence in Aleppo has led to the displacement of the entire population of Palestinian refugees in the area.  The Relief and Works Agency has provided emergency food and cash assistance to about 3,000 of them.

An estimated 6.8 million Syrians, or almost one third of the entire population, require urgent humanitarian assistance.  Nearly half of them are children.  From January to April, UN-led relief convoys reached three quarters of a million people in hard-to-access areas.  Half of the ten convoys sent during that period crossed conflict lines, reaching people in need in opposition-controlled areas.


We can confirm that four peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained today by an unidentified armed group while they were patrolling in the Area of Separation close to Position 86, near Al Jamla.  The four are from the Philippine battalion.  Efforts are under way to secure their release.


The Deputy Secretary-General is in the United Kingdom today, where he attended the Second London Conference on Somalia.  He noted that, at the first London Conference last year, the focus was on political transition that had for long seemed disappointingly distant.

The Deputy Secretary-General said today’s conference was to support the Federal Government of Somalia and its agenda of peace, unity and state-building, and to help take the country to a new beginning.  He said that while Somalia is building peace, it is still in the midst of conflict.

The Deputy Secretary-General said that the United Nations is committed to assist and welcomes the Security Council’s decision last week to establish a new Assistance Mission for Somalia, which is to be deployed next month.  His full remarks are available online and in my office.


I’d been asked recently about reports of Israeli overflights over Lebanon.  The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that, in the course of the past week, it has observed a higher number of Israeli air violations over Lebanese airspace.  Israeli overflights are in violation of Lebanese sovereignty and of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  We are aware of the concerns raised by the Lebanese Government in this regard.  The UN Interim Force has lodged firm protests with the Israeli Defense Forces on this matter, asking them to cease the overflights.

**Counter-Terrorism Briefing

There will be a briefing on counter-terrorism tomorrow, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in Conference Room 3 of the North Lawn Building, here at United Nations Headquarters.  The presentation will be chaired by Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Chairman of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) Advisory Board.

So, that’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, the same rebel group who held the 21 peacekeepers captive in March says they are holding these four peacekeepers who were detained today.  I wonder if you have any comment on that.  Also on whether anybody has spoken to the peacekeepers and what kind of condition they are in, and does the Secretary-General have anything to say about this second incident in two months?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first point, yes, we can confirm that the group that has taken responsibility calls itself the Brigades of Yarmouk.  This is the same group responsible for the last incident of this nature.  We have limited details at this stage, and of course, in the interest of the safety of the peacekeepers above all, I think we have to limit what we are saying publicly at the moment.  But we have confirmed that the four peacekeepers are from the Philippines.  And with regard to what the Secretary-General thinks about this, I would anticipate that we will have something further to say on that shortly.  Other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  Martin, I was wondering, does the Secretary-General have any comments about reports by American officials indicating that Musudan missiles have been moved away from the test site in North Korea?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are obviously aware of the reports; that’s certainly the case.  And if the reports about the removal of ballistic missiles from their launch pads are correct, we would welcome that as a step in the right direction.  The Secretary-General has been consistent in urging the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to refrain from threats and other provocative actions and re-engage in dialogue with the parties concerned.  So, just to reiterate, if the reports are correct, we would welcome that as a step in the right direction.

**Secretary-General Statement on UNDOF

I said I was expecting something shortly, and I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the detention of UNDOF peacekeepers.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the detention of four UNDOF peacekeepers by armed elements in the vicinity of Al Jamla, in the area of limitation, and calls for their immediate release.

The Secretary-General reminds all actors in Syria that UNDOF is mandated to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria.  The Secretary-General calls on all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and safety and security.

So, other questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, on the same subject, how didn’t you deal… I mean, with the previous kidnappers, those who were evicted to Jordan at the time, have been they… are they being brought to justice for kidnapping international peacekeepers like these?  And if no action was taken, then isn’t that an encouragement for them to do it again this time?

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, that is beyond the remit of the United Nations.  That’s for Member States in the area to look at.  Certainly, our primary concern is for the safety and security of peacekeepers.  So it is obvious that that is what the focus is on at the moment:  in securing the release of those four peacekeepers who have been held.  And that’s why the Secretary-General is calling for their immediate release.

Question:  But these people were evicted to Jordan at the time, the kidnappers themselves.  Did the Jordanians take any action against them; bring them to justice, for example?

Spokesperson:  I am not a spokesperson for the Jordanian authorities.  Yes?

Question:  It’s a matter of concern to the United Nations, not just to Jordan.

Spokesperson:  Nizar, it is a matter of considerable concern, a matter of considerable concern to the United Nations; that’s why we are calling for their immediate release.  Yes?

Question:  I don’t know, maybe I came late and you did already the statement.  On the overflight over Leba… on overflight… Israeli overflight on the Lebanon… the south Lebanon and also the Bekaa Valley, how… what is the… the reaction of the United Nations and the secu… I mean the… the Secretary-General on this matter?  And also how much the Secretary-General is concerned about the… the bombing of… Israeli bombing in… on Syria?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first question, I did indeed have something to say from UNIFIL.  So I’d be happy to share that with you afterwards, rather than repeating it now.  And on the question of the Secretary-General’s views on the reported airstrikes by the Israeli air force in recent days, we issued a statement on that, and I don’t have anything really to add to that at this point.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  And then Iftikhar?

Question:  Is it accept… is it… it’s unacceptable to… this is unacceptable matter between Israel and… pounding Israel… the pounding of Israel on Syria; is it acceptable or unacceptable?

Spokesperson:  As I said, we issued a very clearly worded statement just the other day, so I don’t think I need to repeat that at this point.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Are there any recent development regarding the efforts aimed at getting the… this process resumed between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and is the Quartet contemplating, any time soon, meeting?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any plans at the moment for such a meeting, Mr. Abbadi.  Obviously, the Secretary-General and others are watching very carefully what is happening in the Middle East peace process at the moment, and obviously encourages any efforts or any measures that help to make talks more… the likelihood of resumption of talks more… well, let’s start again.  For the… the Secretary-General looks at the recent developments in the Middle East peace process and he is watching that very closely.  And if there are any developments that would be seen to be conducive to that process of restarting peace talks for the Middle East peace process, then that would obviously be something that he would welcome and encourage.  So we watch it very carefully.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  I have a question regarding the meeting of Mr. Ban Ki-moon with the… Mr. [Nabil] ElAraby in London.  Has this meeting taken place?  Did… what the… they discussed it has?

Spokesperson:  The meeting, Nizar, was between the Deputy Secretary-General and the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, and I don’t have a readout of that meeting at this point.  I will try to get one for you.  Yes?  Yes, Iftikhar?

[The Spokesperson later said the meeting wastête á tête.]

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the escalating border clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan?  Has the Mission over there conducted any inquiries as to what is happening?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of anything related to the [United Nations Assistance] Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on this matter, Iftikhar.  If we have anything further on this, I’d let you know.  Obviously, we are fully aware of the tensions that there are inside Pakistan in the run-up to the elections.  And as I have already mentioned to you, we will see if we have anything further to say.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I… I wanted to ask you about the… the… the death of the peacekeeper in… in… in Abyei.  I had sent you some questions, but I need to ask them because I… one, did… did UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei] seek or give notification of its travel?  Two, how large was the protection element?  There have been some complaints now by South Sudan that it wasn’t large enough.  And what were the casualties to the UN’s knowledge on… on… on the Misseriya side?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve already answered that question, Matthew…

Question:  How?

Spokesperson:  The last part:  that we are not aware of the casualties suffered amongst the assailants, those who attacked that particular group.  I don’t have anything further beyond what we have already given to you both in this room and subsequently by e-mail.  If that changes, I will certainly update you.

Question:  It seems like the permission question…

Spokesperson:  I said if I have anything further, I will certainly update.  Do you have some other question, Matthew?

Question:  I do, I do.  I wanted to ask you about… about this Somalia conference.  You’d… you’d said it seems clear that Somali… Somaliland was not representa… there’s an… an op-ed by the president of Somaliland in the Guardian saying why he did not attend, saying that the conference didn’t sufficiently recognize the historical independence of Somaliland.  So I wonder, since the UN obviously has some role in this, does DSG [Jan] Eliasson or the incoming or outgoing UN envoy to Somalia think… what’s the… what’s the plan for… for dealing with the two regions of the country that didn’t attend and… and in the case of Somaliland explained clearly that they used to be independent, that they should be treated as such; does the UN have… what’s the UN’s response, I guess, to… to… to… to… to the criticism of this conference?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the question of whether an entity is a Member State of the United Nations is for the Member States to determine.  On the broader discussions that have been going on, there are references in the Secretary-General’s report on Somalia, including in the most recent one.  As for the attendance at that conference in London, it was co-hosted by the Governments of Somalia and the United Kingdom, and so you need to ask them about the attendance list, not me. 

Question:  No, no, no, I know they didn’t attend…

Spokesperson:  What’s the next question?

Question:  Okay, I’ll ask you another one. I wanted to ask you, I… I… I did receive and I… and thank you for a response yesterday evening about Mr. [Åke] Sellström and Ms.… and Carla [Del Ponte]…

Spokesperson:  I am not sure you actually read the response, Matthew.

Correspondent:  I did read it.

Spokesperson:  No, you didn’t, and let me explain why.  Because your blog, if I may quote from it?

Correspondent:  I am looking at it right now.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, well good.  Good.  You say that “but it sure doesn’t say that Sellström will consider the evidence his fellow UN system prober Del Ponte has and cited to, and that last week I told you that Sellström would be willing to look at video footage collected by Russian state TV reporter Anastasia Popova.  Why consider that and not information from another UN system body?”  You didn’t read what I sent, Matthew…

Correspondent:  I am looking at it.

Spokesperson:  …because, it says very clearly that Mr. Sellström is making an analysis of all information which is made available to him.  So quite simply, quite simply, Matthew, if there is information from the Commission of Inquiry… let me finish…

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  …if there is information from the Commission of Inquiry that they wish to make available to Mr. Sellström, they can do so, and any, all information which is made available to him will be analysed.  So I don’t quite understand…

Question:  Have… have they made any… and how… they’ve been… Ms.… Ms. Del Ponte went public with her statement that there was enough evidence for her to go public and say that chemical weapons had been used by the rebels.  So just factually…

Spokesperson:  Well, again, you obviously haven’t read… Well, just factually, you obviously also know that the press release was issued by the Commission of Inquiry…

Correspondent:  I understand that.

Spokesperson:  …after that, by Mr. [Paulo Sérgio] Pinheiro, who made clear that there is no conclusive evidence and that they continue to work on their findings.

Question:  So just the factual question, Martin, did… has that panel ha… in… in Geneva provided any information to Mr. Sellström’s team?

Spokesperson:  As I have said, all information which is made available…

Correspondent:  That’s not…

Spokesperson:  No.  All information which is made available will be analysed.  Mr. Sellström is in the process of collecting information.  If he receives information from the Commission of Inquiry, I am sure that that would be looked at.

Question:  But I am just asking, has it been provided?  That’s all.  Yes or no?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Sellström is in the middle of an investigation, and he is not going to provide information to you or anyone else on where he has received it.  He is happy to receive it, but he is not going to divulge what he has received and how he is dealing with it, except to say that we are analysing it.  I think that’s fairly straightforward.

Question:  But that’s the last… at some point will he say, we got the information from Geneva or not?

Spokesperson:  Once the Secretary-General receives a report from Mr. Sellström, he will report to all Member States, and I mentioned that to you in the e-mail that was sent yesterday.

Question:  Sure, but will he say that he got the information from Geneva?  That’s all, I’m just trying to understand how it works between two bodies.

Spokesperson:  Listen, it’s quite straightforward.  We’ve said that all information that is made available to him will be analysed; there will be a report subsequently.  It’s the nature of an investigation that you don’t divulge the contents in the middle of an investigation.  Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record