Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

20 December 2013

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

20 December 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**South Sudan

I guess we’ll get started now and people can come in as needed.  As you will have just heard, the President of the Security Council mentioned at the press stakeout just now, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, has briefed the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan.

The Security Council President issued a press statement on this just now which is available in our office.

And as you know, the UN Mission in South Sudan has confirmed this morning that two UN peacekeepers from the Indian Battalion died yesterday 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 Spokesperson later said that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan had amended the number of casualties to “at least 11 civilians”.]

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.  We also expect a statement from the Secretary-General about this later.

[The following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was later issued:

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the attack on the UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) base in Akobo, Jonglei State, on 19 December by armed elements.  As the base was overrun by approximately 2,000 armed elements, two Indian peacekeepers were killed, and another was injured while protecting civilians.  A number of South Sudanese civilians, who were seeking refuge in the UNMISS base, are reported to have been killed by the armed elements.

The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the families of the fallen peacekeepers and the Government of India.  He also sends condolences to the families of the Southern Sudanese killed yesterday.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call for all parties to exercise restraint, and to cease hostilities.  He also strongly calls on the top leaders of the SPLM to demonstrate compromise and leadership on behalf of the Southern Sudanese people and to resolve their personal differences through dialogue immediately.]

We are 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.  Right now, 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 last 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.

That full statement is online.

**South Sudan — Humanitarian

And 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 today 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.”

** Central African Republic

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned today 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 elements 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.

A press release, in English and French, is available online.

And the Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, is in the Central African Republic today.  He participated yesterday in the handover ceremony to forces of the African Union Mission, MISCA [African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic], and he held meetings with Government officials and international partners.

**Central African Republic — Humanitarian

The World Food Programme said today 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 Travel

The Secretary-General has arrived in the Philippines.  Tomorrow, he will visit Manila and Tacloban, and our office will provide you with transcripts of his various press encounters, including in Tacloban.

** Syria

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.


Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), noted that today 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

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that the raiding of a human rights NGO [non-governmental organization] 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.

**Noon Briefings

And last, 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.  Also, there is no “Week Ahead” feature today.  Have a happy holiday season and a great time next week.  Are there any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just a further point of clarity on the Akobo timeline.  I’m sure I am not the only one who will be seeking that.  You said yesterday that UNMISS would attempt to extract all unarmed personnel from the base and that 60 additional peacekeepers would be sent there.  And then we heard today in their release from the Mission, that all UN personnel had been pulled out.  Does this mean that a decision was made not to reinforce the base?  And, if that is the case, what does that mean for civilians in the area, who as we saw, depend on these facilities as the only way to avoid being killed?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  At this stage, first of all, this was a temporary base that we had in Akobo.  That base has now been emptied.  You’re quite right, all the UN personnel who remained overnight in Akobo have been airlifted to Malakal this morning in four helicopters belonging to the UN Mission in South Sudan, along with seven South Sudanese civilians and a dozen staff members of non-governmental organizations.  So, the base is now emptied.  It was a temporary base to begin with.  But, at this stage it is cleared.  That is simply due to the nature of the fighting.  The base, as you know, was overrun.  And again, I’d like to stress what Ambassador Araudpointed out to you just now — that this was a base attacked by 2,000 armed militia, armed youth.  And for 43 people, 43 Indian peacekeepers, to be able to defend that against so large an onslaught was simply not possible.  Yes Stefano?

Question:  Thank you.  And the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Araud, we asked if then maybe it was necessary to send more peacekeepers, if the situation is that 2,000 are against 20.  And I think he answered that no, because is only a matter of moving… so there is the right time and right place, if I understood well.  I would like to know if, what the, you know, what the UN, the Secretary-General thinks to prevent the situation like happening in Rwanda or in former Yugoslavia, where civilians are thinking that the UN can protect them and this is not the case.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Within the constraints of our numbers on the ground we’re doing as much as we can to protect civilians.  As you know, there are tens of thousands of civilians, at various different camps in Bor, in locations in Juba.  And we’re trying both to protect them from armed attack and also to do as much as we can to provide them with their humanitarian needs, their basic supplies and adequate sanitation and health facilities.  The basic point is, if the fighting continues to expand to many locations, there is only so many peacekeepers we have in place that can go to so many areas.  At this stage, the UN Mission in South Sudan is trying to redeploy people from places where there is lower risk to places where there is higher risk.  In other words, where people’s protection needs are the greatest, we’re trying to be there in as great numbers as we can be.  But ultimately, that is not the solution.  That cannot prevent further violence if there is so many armed groups, so many different peoples of different ethnic origin trying to attack each other.  Ultimately, what has to happen is the fighting has to stop.  There has to be a political solution.  This is, as you know, the United Nations youngest Member State, the 193rd State.  We witnessed them becoming a Member State just a few years back.  And, this is not the country that the people of South Sudan dreamed of.  This is not the country that they fought for.  We are trying to get them to come back to a political solution, to get them to halt this fighting before it spins out of control irrevocably.  And that is what needs to happen.  But, in so far as we can stretch out our forces and protect as many people as we can, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Question:  Follow-up on that?  This idea of moving forces to where they’re most needed, the update that you sent out said that operations are under way to evacuate 40 UNMISS peacekeepers from the Jonglei town of Yuai.  And Mr. Araud just now at the stakeout said that, in fact, helicopters trying to evacuate them were fired on.  Obviously it’s a dangerous situation, but I wanted to know what’s the UN thinking in terms of protection of civilians in that town, if peacekeepers themselves or helicopters are under fire, aren’t civilians at risk, and what’s the plan to provide the protection that you’ve been describing?

Spokesperson:  Civilians are at risk everywhere, but putting a small number of peacekeepers against a larger number of attackers will not do anything, as the events of yesterday, I think, have shown us.  The 43 Indian peacekeepers did what they could, but, they were not enough to repel 2,000 armed attackers.  We need to be able to concentrate forces in order to help protect people, and in some cases what they will mean is moving people out of areas where they’re vastly outnumbered.  In this case, by the way, in the case of Yuai, we’re not aware of any civilians who have sought shelter at a UN compound, so that’s not an issue.

Question:  Is the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] going in there?  I mean, is the South Sudanese Army… in places where you pull peacekeepers out, is there an attempt…

Spokesperson:  I don’t speak for the SPLA.  This is a place that seems to be under attack from a group of Lou Nuer, but there is clearly a need for protection there and it’s clearly something that a small number of peacekeepers could not handle on their own.  There are operational needs to make sure that we can defend as many places as we can.  So, we’re trying to protect civilians, we’re trying to go to high risk areas, but ultimately what that means is doing that in a way that our composition on the ground will be effective at actually protecting them.

Question:  On the camps you’re talking about, where the humanitarian aid is being [inaudible], can you describe them?  I mean, is UNICEF going to any of these camps?  Are they tents?  Are they ad hoc places and are… is there any kind of security around them?

Spokesperson:  Like I said, the UN Children’s Fund has started to deliver emergency supplies to those displaced in the compounds defended by the UN, as well as elsewhere, so they are spreading out.  There’s an assessment that’s being done and as the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs said, aid organizations have conducted needs assessments in 11 affected areas in Juba already.  So, we’re trying to do as many assessments as we can and find out what the needs are. 

Question:  Sorry, just as a follow-up, there are 11 camps actually? 

Spokesperson:  No, 11 affected areas.  There’s a couple of large UN compounds where, I believe in two different places, there’s more than 10,000 people each that have been seeking shelter.  Yes, Nizar.

Question:  When the UN considering the risks here about a civil war, do you think that such a civil war could really involve other countries in the neighbourhood, in the region?  Also, what are the risks of this going out of control that it can evolve like something like Rwanda or Syria or anything like that?  How big is the risk?

Spokesperson:  Regarding that, we’ve made it very clear about the risks of what this war could entail.  The Secretary-General has appealed to the principle leaders concerned to live up to their individual liberties to the people of South Sudan and to work together to find a political solution so that the situation does not spin out of control irrevocably.  The different between this and Rwanda is that the whole world is watching right now, today.  No one can say that we haven’t been warned.  No one can say that we at the United Nations also have not been speaking out about this right at the start.  But, what’s needed is for enough pressure from all, from parties in South Sudan, but also from all concerned countries in the region and elsewhere to get the leaders to halt the fighting.  We do not think that this can be resolved any way than through a political solution and so this is what we’re continuing to encourage.  There’s clearly no way that there can be a victor from this kind of a fight that pits community against community.

Question:  But suppose, I mean, these conciliatory messages do not work with the politicians.  Are there any contingency plans that will involve regional powers or regional countries to come to the rescue and prevent such civil war from evolving?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations always makes contingency plans across a wide range of circumstances, but in addition, the Security Council was just briefed on this matter.  They have been discussing it.  There’s a meeting, I think happening even right now, of troop-contributing countries, and so there are further discussions going on and we’ll see in the days to come what kind of scenarios they envision and what kind of plans they think is the best plans that need to be put in place.  What we are urging is for everyone to take it seriously, the need to do everything they can right now before everything spins out of control.

Question:  Could you just update us about the situation in the capital, Juba?  In Juba.

Spokesperson:  There’s certainly concerns about Juba, however, like I said at the outset, in Juba, the UN Mission in South Sudan has strengthened its troop presence, including with patrolling.  But, of course we do have our concerns about Juba as elsewhere.  And, as you know, there’s tens of thousands of people who are scared to leave the UN compounds and we’re doing our best to protect them there.  Yes Michael?

Question:  Yes, I have a question on Cyprus.  Two days ago the President of Cyprus called the Secretary-General and they discussed obviously, Cyprus.  Can you give us a readout of this conversation?

Spokesperson:  No, I can confirm that they called.  Obviously they talked about the situation in Cyprus, but I don’t have any details to give.

Question:  Why not?  You give readouts for everything at this briefing.  Why not for this?

Spokesperson:  No, not everything.  Not everything.  We try, but the nature of diplomacy — I believe, as one former Secretary-General once said, if this Office gave you detailed readouts of everything, then soon world leaders would only come around to talk about the weather.

Question:  Can you tell us if the President of Cyprus asked for the removal of Mr. Downer?

Spokesperson:  I don’t speak for the Government of Cyprus, so I wouldn’t be able to comment on that.  That’s their position to comment on.  Yes?

Question:  Also, still on South Sudan.  I wanted to know, yesterday afternoon, the Indian Permanent Representative said that he knew at that time, that two peacekeepers had been killed and one injured in Akobo and I wondered, since the UN didn’t… said that they basically confirmed it through aerial observation, was there some kind of communication issue?  Because the Indian Government was able to know that as of yesterday afternoon and I’ve seen it said that DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] couldn’t confirm it, didn’t know.  When did DPKO know about the death of the peacekeepers in Akobo?

Spokesperson:  No, it’s not a question of communication.  There are certain protocols that we follow in order to handle these situations responsibly, including the proper sharing of information with the Governments involved, and by the way, for people who have died, the proper sharing of information with their families so they don’t just hear it from a news report before they hear it a different way.  So, we have our protocols to follow before we can confirm things.  We were not able to officially confirm it.  By the way, the information you, some of the people reported on yesterday was not, in fact, correct.  There were not three dead Indian peacekeepers; there are two.

Correspondent:  He said critical, one critical.

Spokesperson:  Yes, you?

Question:  Has there been any statement or position from the Secretary-General in regard to the attacks in Aleppo that killed and injured dozens of civilians.  And just yesterday, Russia blocked a statement from the Security Council in this issue.

Spokesperson:  Regarding that, you’re aware of our concerns about the fighting in Aleppo as indeed we have concerns about the fighting throughout Syria.  This is why we’re continuing to seek for a political solution and why Mr. Brahimi has been continuing with his work, including the meetings he has held today trying to pave the way for the 22 January conference.  Yes.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Follow-up on the same subject.  Mr. Ban Ki-moon has called Mr. Zarifrecently.  Was it to tell him that probably about the participation in Geneva?  Are there any further contacts or endeavours in order to make Iran take part in that conference after Brahimi’s statement?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi has actually made some comments about this.  We’ll try to share with you his press remarks that he’s made in Geneva once the transcript is available, but he did comment about this.  The question of Iran’s participation is not decided at this point.  I don’t have anything for him to say about this one way or another.  And yes, you’re right, the Secretary-General did speak with Foreign Minister Javad Zarifand that one was actually a phone call that we did put a readout of, so I’ll just refer you to that readout.  Sorry, there’s so many of you raising your hands simultaneously.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I just wanted to ask you two questions now that I have your attention.  Number one is about Syria.  In Syria all the aid organizations, including the United Nations have been saying again and again that they’re not being given access to all the people affected by the conflict.  They’ve been especially, Valerie Amos has been saying that vigorously.  Has [inaudible] a way forward to somehow meet this challenge and bring the aid to the affected people?  I mean, appealing, it seems, has not worked.  So, is there another solution to this wherein some force could be used?

Spokesperson:  Are you really suggesting the use of force in Syria?

Question:  I’m just suggesting… to help the people affected who are dying in numbers.

Spokesperson:  We’re continuing to work on the ground with the Government, with the parties on the ground.  The Security Council, as you know, in September called for improved humanitarian access and we’re continuing to report back to the Security Council about the situation and see whether they can put any further pressure on.  We’re doing what we can to put pressure on the parties for access, but ultimately, the onus is on the authorities in Syria, the Government and the opposition to actually create the conditions that would allow us to provide the desperately needed humanitarian assistance.

Question:  [inaudible] This question about… there were 5,000 American intellectuals, writers, have signed a document and said that they would boycott Israel intellectually and Israeli institutions because of the continued occupation of the Occupied Territories of Palestine and also for not allowing the Palestinian intellectuals to participate and so forth.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of this?  It’s not a small thing, it’s a big resolution of the [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  We are aware of this, but have no comment.

Question:  It’s not the news of the day, but should have been two days ago, and I think the day dedicated to the migrants in the world and the Secretary-General did also have a speech on that.  And exactly two days ago in Italy, the TV had a video that shows Lampedusa, the island of Lampedusa, the refugee there, the immigrants treated in a way that’s been called like in a Nazi [inaudible].  The people are kept naked, outside and then hosed with water, children, women and men all together.  I would like to know if the Secretary-General saw the video and if he has a comment about it?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware whether he saw it.  We don’t have any comment for now, but we’ll check with our colleagues dealing with human rights, whether they have anything to say about this.

Question:  One more on South Sudan and then I would like to ask about UNRWA, if I could.  There’s a quote from a UN spokesman, I guess of UNMISS, Joe Contreras, saying that 27 solider loyal to Salva Kiir sought refuge at a UN base in Rubkona; it’s across from Bentiu.  And I wanted to know what is the UN’s position on providing shelter to soldiers and how does this relate to making itself a target.  I mean, is that normally done?  And can you confirm that this Rubkona base has taken in SPLA soldiers?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have a confirmation on that.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  With the announcement of Russia today of $2 million donated to the UN Trust Fund on destruction of chemical weapons, can you give us information on how many countries pledged to give money on this cause and how many money does the UN have right now?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an overall figure for you right now, but those figures are being compiled by our colleagues in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and I believe they are updating their website, so I would just refer you over to their website.  But yes, we appreciate any of the contributions, including from Russia and all those other countries who have been helping both to provide not just cash, but in-kind facilities that we’ve been able to use for these tasks.

Question:  One follow-up, it’s a UN trust fund, right?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe there’s two — one from the UN Trust Fund, the Joint Mission, which is the one headed by Sigrid Kaag and one by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  I believe their respective websites have the relevant figures for each.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Has the Indian Mission notified the United Nations about the appointment of this diplomat who is caught in a raging dispute between India and United States?

Spokesperson:  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. Yes, Pam?

Question:  Actually, it was a question along the same lines as Iftikhar.  Has the UN been asked to weigh in?  The Deputy Secretary-General said yesterday he was meeting with Indian officials.  Have they been asked to weigh in under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties or Consular Relations on the treatment, her treatment by United States authorities?

Spokesperson:  Like I said, we received notification to register her as a member of the Permanent Mission of Indian to the United Nations and that request is being processed as per our standard procedures. 

Question:  But that’s an accreditation question.  Have they been asked to weigh in…

Spokesperson:  That’s all I have to say on that for now.

Question:  UNRWA and then something on the budget, which is coming to a head.  On UNRWA, there’s reports that up to 96 Palestinian engineers have been told that they will no longer be paid, due to the cancellation of construction projects in Gaza due to, you know, blockage of supplies coming is.  Is that true?  And is there… they say that they have a contract, they can’t just be laid off without notice.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  We’ve mentioned the problems with funding for different projects and so we continue to implore for funding for regular projects.  Beyond that, you would need to check with UNRWA about any specifics regarding their projects on the ground.

Question:  On this United Nations report, which was issued this morning on the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] all over the world, which says basically that several… it was one of the worst years for IDPs — 2013.  And, Pakistan has been named as the biggest… what do you call… I mean… hosting about 2.6 million refugees a year.  It’s been going on forever.  My question is simply this: is there, at any point in time, United Nations thinks that it can repatriate the refugees back into Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, some refugees have gone back to Afghanistan, a smaller number from Pakistan, but also some from Iran and other countries.  Our hope, of course, will always be that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan continues to improve.  That’s why we continue to work with the Government through the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and as conditions on the ground improve, we hope that people will willingly go back.  But, of course, we don’t repatriate or advocate the repatriation of people unless they believe it’s safe for them to return.  And so, that decision has to come from them.

Question:  [inaudible] refugees [inaudible] Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Ultimately, the hope is that Afghanistan will stabilize to a state that they return back on their own.

Question:  In terms of the budget, there are two things.  One is that there’s a proposal by the Secretary-General to convert the members of the administrative committee… the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions to direct UN employees and to pay them out of UN funds, as opposed to now, where some are paid by Missions.  And, I wanted to know, some people have raised, given that there are other cutbacks, including posts being eliminated at the DSS [Department of Safety and Security] guards who stand to be laid off on 1 January, can you say why the Secretariat thinks it’s a good thing to spend money to turn to pay UN funds to people currently not paid with UN funds, while others stand to be laid off.  And, number two, on the staff union election that just took place, given that it’s budget crunch time, who know, according to the Secretariat, who is its interlocutor?  Who is the head of the staff union, the previous incumbent or the team that was announced as the winner on iSeek?

Spokesperson:  First of all, on the question on the budget, I wouldn’t have any comment on this.  As you know, the budget is being discussed right now and we’ll leave that discussion in the hands of the Member States on the Fifth Committee, that’s up to them.  Regarding the staff representatives, it’s ultimately up to them members of the staff to determine who their leadership is.  It would not, you know, I don’t think it’s appropriate for this Office to intervene in their affairs.

[The Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General had expressed the view that the General Assembly may wish to give consideration to the service of the members of the Advisory Committee becoming available full time.  Given the volume and complexity of the issues before it, consideration could be given as to whether the present working arrangements of the Advisory Committee are any longer optimal to enable the Committee to maximize its utilization of the expertise of its members in support of the requirements of the General Assembly and other governing bodies.  However, the decision is a matter for the General Assembly.]

Question:  So, who do you speak to now?  I wonder, if you had to talk to the staff union, would you call… which of the two would you call?

Spokesperson:  They will have, like I said, they’ll have to resolve it.  I’m not going to say anything prejudicial to their process, nor do I think that they would appreciate that.  Thanks very much.  Oh yeah, last question.

Question:  On the 22 January meeting on Syria, there’s been some speculation that that might be delayed again.  Do you have any sense that it’s moving forward?

Spokesperson:  There’s quite a sense that it’s moving forward.  The invitations are going to go out.  Mr. Brahimi announced that, and we’ll have his remarks available for you later in the day.  Have a great holiday season.

[Mr. Brahimi’s press remarks were later made available online at the following URL:  http://www.un.org/sg/offthecuff/index.asp?nid=3211]

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.