28 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that its aid deliveries have focused over the past week on people affected by the recent fighting in the Al Wa’er suburb of Homs.  The fighting has displaced around 5,000 people.  UNHCR has already distributed blankets, mattresses and other household items to 200 displaced families.  Yesterday, a UNHCR truck carrying humanitarian relief items for 10,000 persons also arrived in Al Wa’er itself.

UNHCR also says that during the fighting in Al Wa’er at least five buildings hosting hundreds of internally displaced persons have been seriously damaged.  The agency once again calls on all parties to safeguard the safety and security of the civilian population affected by the conflict.  It also reiterates its call for all parties to the conflict to guarantee unhindered access for all humanitarian actors.

The UN refugee agency also says that it continues to be concerned about reported impediments for people seeking to cross borders as refugees.  The number of people crossing into Jordan is significantly lower than it was two weeks ago and recent problems with crossings have been reported along the Syria-Iraq border.  The agency is not in a position to determine the full reasons but says it stresses that it’s essential that civilians seeking to flee insecurity have passage to areas that were outside of harm’s way.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, began a four-day mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday.  She has held meetings with representatives from the Government and humanitarian partners.  In her meetings with Government officials, she raised the importance of supporting the work of the humanitarian community.

Today, Ms. Kang travelled to Goma in North Kivu to see for herself the impact of the humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC.  She visited the Sotraki camp for displaced people, where an additional 3,000 people have sought refuge following last week’s fighting.

Fighting in North and South Kivu in eastern DRC has led to the displacement of some 140,000 people in 2013.  Providing relief and protection to civilians is a priority for the humanitarian community, but the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that insecurity and poor infrastructure makes it challenging to reach affected communities.

** Mali

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says there are severe humanitarian needs in Gao, in eastern Mali, where the amount of drinking water available to people has declined by 60 per cent over the past weeks.  Some neighbourhoods in Gao do not have water at all due to dysfunctional pumps and lack of electricity.  Outside the city, the Niger River is the only source of water and there are concerns about cholera outbreaks. 

Between 8 and 22 May, 22 cases of cholera were reported in Ansongo District, south-east of Gao, including two deaths.  Although no new cases have been reported in the past five days, the risk of cholera remains high.  Humanitarian organizations are carrying out prevention and treatment programmes.

** Iraq

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, strongly condemns yesterday’s wave of bomb attacks that killed and injured dozens of people in Baghdad.  He reiterates his call to all Iraqi leaders to do everything possible to protect Iraqi civilians.

Mr. Kobler says that it is the leaders’ responsibility to stop the bloodshed now and to engage in dialogue to resolve the political impasse.  He reminds the leaders of Iraq that the country will slide into a dangerous unknown if they do not take immediate action.

The United Nations is deeply concerned at the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq and has consistently called upon the Iraqi Government to do its utmost to protect its people and bring the perpetrators to justice.


In a joint study released today with a non-governmental organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says that the situation of Bedouin communities relocated by Israel in 1997 has become unsustainable.  The study highlights the deterioration of the social and economic conditions of the Bedouin refugees transferred to Al Jabal village.  

The UN agency says that the Israeli authorities are currently considering plans to create a second centralized Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank, but the stark conclusions of this report may lead to a reassessment of this policy.  The Agency says it remains concerned that more than six decades after they were first displaced from their homes, Palestine refugees continue to face the threat of displacement and loss of livelihood.  There are more details in a press release available online.

** Great Lakes

I was asked on Friday about the location of the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region.  That Office is in Nairobi.  Special Envoy Mary Robinson is on a when-actually-employed contract, meaning that while her office will be in Nairobi, she will be based in Dublin, with regular visits to the region.  Regarding the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel, the General Assembly is currently considering the Secretary-General's report and the report by the ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions).

**Press Conferences

This afternoon at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press briefing here on preparations for the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, as part of the ongoing session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  Speakers will include Mirna Cunningham Kain, member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and Ambassador Luis-Alfonso de Alba, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations.

And tomorrow, Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Ameerah Haq, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, will be the guests at the noon briefing, to brief on the occasion of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.

Questions, please?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On this Syrian [inaudible], I have seen that it has been taken over by the United States and Russia.  And what does our reluctant negotiator, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, doing about it?  Is he doing anything or is he just sitting around watching what is happening?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Brahimi is working very actively with the Russians and the Americans in the organization of this conference, and he continues his discussions with people all around the region, trying to find the solution to the Syrian conflict.  Lou?

Question:  I wondered if you could look into the fact that EZTV isn’t working in most parts of the upstairs area where we have our offices.  And we have raised it with MALU (Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit), but haven’t heard anything back.  And also, we’re, you know, most of us want to be able to split the connections and we are still waiting for a response to that, but TV options for people are hopelessly inadequate at this point.  So if you could do that.  And then, on a topic of the day, Austria has said that for now it is planning to remain in UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force).  I wonder if the UN has received communications from any of the other countries regarding concern about the European Union move to lift the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t, but we will check and see and get back to you.  With respect to the situation in the journalists’ quarters, I suggest you take it up with DPI (Department of Public Information).  We will let DPI know of your concerns.  Nizar?

Question:  Yes, regarding this decision by European… the European Union to arm the opposition in Syria, how does the Secretary-General view such a decision?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it is not a decision by the European Union to arm the opposition in Syria.  It is a decision by the European Union to lift that particular sanction, leaving it to individual European countries to decide what they are going to do.  The position of the United Nations has been principled and clear, and consistent throughout the conflict.  We believe that a military solution is not the answer to the conflict in Syria.

Question:  So do you ask for… to refrain from doing that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations took note of the passing of a decision and the explicit reference to consult the Secretary-General, and that nothing will be delivered prior to the United States-Russia initiative.  That’s what they said.

Question:  I have another question regarding this attack today on the Lebanese Arsal and killing three Lebanese soldiers.  Also the continued rocket shelling from Syrian territory into Lebanese… against Lebanese towns, do you have anything in this regard?  How does it affect the all-over…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Plumbly, the Special Representative last week commented on the dangers of the overflow of the Syrian conflict into neighbouring States, and we continue to be very concerned.  The Secretary-General has been underlining his concerns for the past few years on the dangers that the Syrian situation posed for the region, and he has called for all sides to refrain from violence and come to a political solution.  A political solution is the only thing that can salvage the situation in Syria right now.  And it is in the interest of the Syrian people to have the violence stop, as well as in the interest of the neighbouring countries to have the violence stop.  Edie?

Question:  I would like to first echo what Louis said, you know, we are now totally reliant on EZTV, and if EZTV isn’t working, then we have very limited options in terms of watching what is going on at the UN, and it was working last week and I don’t know why it isn’t working today.  But my… my two questions are, is there any indication that Mr. Brahimi will be coming back to New York at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no indications of that, no.

Question:  And… and is the Secretary-General going to be doing a press conference in the upcoming weeks, since we are…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  When we have something to announce, we’ll let you know.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Eduardo, I’m going to reverse the order.  I… I’ll have an in-house question, but I wanted to ask you first, there is a… there are reports that the Chadian army has passed through Darfur and is now pursuing a JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) column in Southern Kordofan.  Since there is a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, I am wondering, do they have… do they deny this, do they have any knowledge of this?  And the in-house question is just, you’d said that you’ll tell DPI of these concerns, and I… I… I would echo those, but I would again reiterate this concern about the draft media access guidelines which would limit media workspace in front of the Security Council, the posting of flyers that are substantive in the area and keep all but [inaudible] correspondents out of the Delegates Lounge.  I’d like you to convey that to them and also to ask when those guidelines… it hasn’t been explained to me when they would actually go into force and… and therefore whether there is an opportunity to really get the Secretary-General to speak whether he stands behind them.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that question is up to you and DPI to handle.  I have already answered that.  As much as I have answered last week…

Question:  You are party to the agreement.  Is that…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  …you’ve got the answer we have given.  If you want any more information, you are in contact with DPI; do it with DPI.  With respect to reports on Darfur, we have, UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur) visited the area and there have been no indications of any armed forces presence in that sector.

Question:  In Southern Kordofan… they visited Southern Kordofan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, they haven’t visited Southern Kordofan, but we’ll have to check on that.  But so far their analysis is that there is no foreign presence there.  Masood?

Question:  I just… I want to [inaudible] that… that I don’t even have an access to EZTV because there is no blue cable coming in… in my room.  I have the smallest room that is there, and I can’t act… anybody… nobody can enter that room.  So I am just letting me on record that I don’t even have access.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll raise it with DPI.  As you know, it’s not the Office of the Spokesperson who can go and cable it for you.  So we’ll have to check with DPI.

Question:  Another question I wanted to ask you was about this situation that is obtaining in Iraq, where, yesterday, 60 people were killed in a terrorist attack.  Has there been a reaction from the United Nations Special Representative over there…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I just read it.

Question:  Yeah?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Correspondent:  Oh.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read it.

Question:  At the top of the… at the top of the briefing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I just read it.  It will be near the end of the transcript.

Question:  Just now, the Syrian Ambassador asked the United Nations to investigate the role of Qatar in the recent [inaudible] in Golan Heights [inaudible].  Has the United Nations started any investigation on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To whom did he make that request?

Correspondent:  Particularly at the… before the vote for the Syria resolution; it was about two weeks ago.

Deputy Spokesperson:  But to whom did he make the request?  To the Secretary-General, or to the Security Council or to the General Assembly?

Correspondent:  According to himself, he asked… he sent a request to all high-ranking officials of the United Nations, including Hervé Ladsous.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I have got no information about that.  If we get something, we will let you know.  Nizar?

Correspondent:  He made it in public, in the General Assembly, in his… in his…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, he could have made it public, but you know, I don’t have any information that the Secretary-General has received any such request, and when we do have it, we will let you know.

Correspondent:  I understand that he visited Mr. Hervé Ladsous and that he has asked him to investigate…

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, if I get the information, I will let you know, but I don’t have any information on that right now.

Question:  [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Ladsous will be here tomorrow.

Question:  If I could just follow up on that, because I think on Friday I had asked you about a 22 May letter from the Syrian Mission to DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), what… whether they would say what the contents were.  Were you able to ask DPKO that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We do not divulge the contents of letters from missions to us or to them.

Correspondent:  But you are just saying that you have… you are not aware of any requests to the Secretariat, so I am…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any requests to the Secretariat for an investigation to Qatar, no.

Question:  So there… but does that… does that include that that’s not what the 22 May letter is?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on the questions this gentleman has raised.

Question:  Right.  But you see how it…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If we get any information…

Question:  …it came from the Syrian Mission?

Deputy Spokesperson:  …and we can release it, we will; I will give it.

Question:  Another issue with the… over the weekend, the oppo… the Syrian opposition gloated about killing a… a… a TV reporter in… near [inaudible] when she was going back with her crew to Damascus.  Did you issue any statement condemning such an action or anything like that?  I did not see anything.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there is a lot of violence in Syria, as you know, and unfortunately, hundreds of people are being killed every week.  As you know, we have… our figures are over 70,000; some people put it over 100,000, so unfortunately we cannot issue statements every time someone is killed.  What we do say ‑ and that the Secretary-General has always insisted on ‑ is that journalists must have the right to carry out their craft free of threat from any quarter.  He has also called on the violence in Syria to end.  This is just another example of what wanton violence results in.

Correspondent:  But they targeted… targeted… killing two TV crew.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, targeted, all… you know, all killings are targeted in one way or another.  People are launching shells from one side to the other with the aim of killing civilians.  That in the Secretary-General’s opinion is wrong, and must end.  Matthew?

Question:  Mya… Mya… Myanmar and… and DRC.  On… on… in Myanmar, there are these talks between the Government and the Kachin rebels, but then it is said that Vijay Nambiar was part of it.  I wanted to know, but it wasn’t clear what his role was.  There are some… some report that the… the UN and Yangon wouldn’t say it.  What is his role, and also, does the UN have any comment on the… they announced that two-child policy in Rakhine State for Rohingya Muslims?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve seen the reports of the announcement of two or two-child policy in Rakhine State.  When we have something for you, we will get it to you.  And Vijay Nambiar travelled to the country over the weekend, we will update you on what he is doing as soon as we get that information.

Question:  And… and on the DRC, there are… there are reports that the intervention brigade is actually being de… being delayed, that so far only 500 from South Africa and [the United Republic of] Tanzania have arrived, and there are credible reports that South Africa is dissatisfied with the leadership of the brigade being given to [the United Republic of] Tanzania, of MONUSCO’s (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) force commander being from Brazil, and may in fact not deploy.  Do you have any response to that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on that, Matthew.  Nizar, last question?

Question:  Yeah, yeah, it is regarding the civilians trapped in [inaudible].  Do you have any assessment how many people are trapped there in the fighting in… in that town, and is… if any negotiations are being made in order to let these trapped civilians leave the fighting zone?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on how many may be trapped in the town, and I have no information on any negotiations that may be ongoing.  You may want to discuss this with… you may want to call the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to see what they have on that.

Thank you vey much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record