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

30 December 2013

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

30 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, are briefing the Security Council in consultations right now.

Once those consultations have ended, we expect the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Gérard Araud of France, to come to the stakeout.  And Mr. Ladsous will also speak to reporters at the stakeout.

And you will have seen the note to correspondents we issued last night on the latest developments in South Sudan.  Just to give you a few highlights — and I will be able to give you further updates based on your questions shortly:

Up to 180,000 people are estimated to have been displaced since 15 December.  And of those, up to 75,000 people have sought refuge in the bases of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The UN Mission, UNMISS, conducted aerial reconnaissance yesterday and reported that it has identified some armed groups north-east of Bor.  It cannot, however, independently confirm the size or precise location of these groupings.  You will have seen that the Mission issued a press release yesterday on this.

On the humanitarian front, aid agencies have reached an estimated 106,000 displaced people so far with assistance, including food, water and sanitation and health care, both inside and outside the UN peacekeeping bases.

And they have delivered high-energy biscuits to children and are working on establishing malnutrition screening and treatment centres in Juba.  Thousands of children under 15 years of age will receive measles and polio vaccines at the peacekeeping base in Tomping, in Juba.

And aid organizations have appealed for a total of $209 million to provide immediate assistance to families affected by the current crisis over the next three months.  And they have received $43 million of the funding so far and still require $166 million.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And as you are, of course, also aware, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there have been clashes which have opposed Government forces and unidentified armed elements in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kindu.

The UN Mission in the country, MONUSCO, has taken measures to ensure the safety and security of its staff and placed troops in these locations on alert.

A national staff member of the UN Mission was injured during the exchange of fire at the airport in Kinshasa, but he is in stable condition.

The Mission reports that calm has also now been restored in Lubumbashi and in Kindu, where MONUSCO troops stationed at the airport engaged the armed assailants.  The identity and motivation of the assailants remains unclear at this stage. 

** Mali

The UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has discovered and destroyed 5.7 tonnes of explosives, including ammonium nitrate and grenades, in the north of the country, 150 kilometres south-west of Tessalit.

The Mission, along with the French Serval Force, discovered the two arms caches over the weekend.  The Mission says it is the second largest quantity of explosives found this year in Mali.

And there is more in a press release on that.

** Lebanon

Investigators from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), accompanied by the Lebanese Armed Forces, have inspected four launch sites that were found yesterday by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), east of El Khiam.  It is believed that those launch sites were involved in the incident yesterday morning, in which rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel.  The UN Force also inspected one site, near Sarda in southern Lebanon, where one of the rockets had hit after apparently falling short of its intended range, as well as an impact site for Israeli artillery shelling close to the rocket launch area.

As you know, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the rocket attacks in a statement yesterday.  The Secretary-General urged all actors to exercise maximum restraint and prevent further incidents with destabilizing and escalatory potential in the region.

The UN Force’s investigations are continuing in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces to unravel all the facts and circumstances relating to this grave violation of resolution 1701.  The UN Force has also intensified its patrols across its area of operations to prevent any further incidents.

** Syria

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that it is distributing emergency winter aid, which was airlifted to north-east Syria in the past two weeks, to more than 50,000 vulnerable people in isolated areas.

The UNHCR airlift from Erbil, Iraq, of some 300 tonnes of aid began on December 17 and was completed on Sunday, when the twelfth and final flight landed at Qamishly International Airport.  The chartered flights were carrying items such as thermal blankets, plastic tarpaulins, kitchen sets, sleeping mats, jerry cans and hygiene supplies.  The World Food Programme and the UN Children’[s Fund (UNICEF) also flew in vital aid from Erbil.

It was the first time the UN had used Iraq as a hub to deliver relief items into Syria.  Road convoys to eastern Syria have been perilous since May because of the continuing conflict.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Philippe Lazzarini of Switzerland as his Deputy Special Representative, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia.

Mr. Lazzarini has served in Somalia since March this year as the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] Resident Representative.

And we have more on that appointment in my Office.  I am happy to take questions if my voice holds out.  Evelyn?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Did you say 106 displaced people?  Did you miss some zeroes in your…

Spokesperson:  One hundred and six thousand.

Question:  Oh, I missed the “thousand”.

Spokesperson:  I hope I said; but that is what I should have said.

Question:  No, I think I missed that.  Just… can we have timetables on other arrivals of troops?  I’ve seen the arrival from Bangladesh.

Spokesperson:  Well, formed police units comprising 73 specially trained police from Bangladesh, who have been serving in MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], they arrived in Juba late last week; 24 are going to Malakal today, 37 are going into Bor, and the remainder are staying in Juba.  More of these formed police units, they will be personnel from Nepal, serving in UNMIL [United Nations Mission in Liberia], are expected later this week.  Yes, Pamela?  I forgot to ask you to use the microphone.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On the attacks in Russia, the Secretary-General made a statement yesterday about the train attack.  I didn’t see, maybe there was on the trolley attacks today, is there anything else?  Has the Secretary-General been in touch with the Russian authorities?  Is there anything the UN thinks he might be able to assist with on the terrorist attacks — I am also losing my voice — in Russia?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you the Secretary-General is equally appalled by today’s attack in Russia.  And as you have rightly pointed out, he condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist bombing at the train station.  So he is equally appalled and condemns in the same terms the attack that took place today.  And he extends his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims as well as to the Government and people of the Russian Federation.  And he stands in solidarity with the Russian Federation in the face of terrorism.  And you will have also seen that the Security Council put out a statement yesterday.  If I have any further updates on the Secretary-General’s interactions with regard to this incident, I would let you know.

[The Spokesperson later provided the following information:  The Secretary-General spoke to President Vladimir Putin today and expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the attacks in Volgograd as well as to the Russian people.  The Secretary-General stressed the importance of strong international cooperation to fight terrorism and he noted that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  President Putin expressed his gratitude to the Secretary-General for his personal condolences, which were greatly appreciated by the Russian people.  He noted that the international community must work together in the fight against terrorism and commended the United Nations for its important role in coordinating efforts to fight organized crime and terrorism.  He assured the Secretary-General that Russia would work within the bounds of international law to bring the perpetrators to justice.  The Secretary-General and President Putin also discussed various developments related to Syria.  President Putin confirmed Russia’s strong support for the International Conference on Syria, to take place in Switzerland in January, and for the second humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, to be held in Kuwait on 15 January.]

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Other questions, please.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin. Wenjia from CCTV.  Last week the Japanese minister visited the Yasukuni shrine that made the international community condemn with one voice.  China expressed strong protest and condemn; Korea indignation and the United States disappointment, Russia regret.  So what is UN’s position on this?  And any updated comments from the Secretary-General?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, you will have seen that we issued something late last week, and I don’t have anything to add to that, okay.

Question:  Anything updated?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  No?

Spokesperson:  As I have just said, we issued something last week; it speaks for itself and I don’t have anything to add.  [The note issued by the Spokesperson on 28 December said:  The Secretary-General is aware of the visit by the Prime Minister of Japan to the Yasukuni shrine, as well as of a strong reaction to it by China and the Republic of Korea.  The Secretary-General has consistently stated that the countries in North-East Asia are important partners for the United Nations whose contribution is significant in shaping our future.  It is highly regrettable that tensions from the past are still plaguing the region.  The Secretary-General has been consistent in urging the countries in the region to come to a common view and understanding of their shared history.  He stresses the need to be sensitive to the feelings of others, especially memory of victims, and focus on building mutual trust and stronger partnership.  Leaders bear special responsibility in that regard, as the region should strive to be forward-looking and harmonious.]

Okay, anything further?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  On South Sudan, I wanted to ask you, there are, there are, President [Yoweri] Museveni of Uganda has been quoted as saying if Riek Machar doesn’t stand down by tomorrow, I guess, that the IGAD [Intergovernmental Association on Development] countries or Uganda will, you know, put an end to the rebellion by force; and I wanted to know is that something that, what is the UN position on… on… on… on that statement?  Is that… and… and how does the UN view IGAD or Uganda in particular as a… as a mediator between the sides or as an ultimatum giver?  Can they confirm, finally, on the same topic, can they confirm Ugandan troops being in Juba guarding the bridge over, over the Nile River?

Spokesperson:  Well, on that latter point, this may be something that either President of the Council Araud or Mr. Ladsous would be able to address when they speak to reporters after the consultations.  With regard to the other parts of your question, Matthew, please remind me, the first part.

Question:  Sure, okay, I wanted to know the… the… President Museveni of Uganda has said publicly that he will use force…

Spokesperson:  Right, okay, right, right, thank you, Museveni, thank you.  Here is the thing:  we put out a statement in support of IGAD and the work that they have been doing.  And so I would refer you to that.  And the Secretary-General has consistently called for dialogue as the way to end this crisis.  And so that’s where I would leave it at this point.

Question:  And also in South Sudan, is there any, I know that in the past there has been fuel, for example, provided by the UN to the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army].  I wanted to know, in this conflict in the last few weeks, has there been any support provided by the UN to the SPLA that is subject to the human rights due diligence policy?  And if so, you know, to which units and what, given the reports that have come out, what, what type of the review are taking place?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on that; I don’t know the answer to that, Matthew.  I can give you some further details, certainly:  Juba at this point remains tense but quiet for the eleventh consecutive day.

With regard to human rights, UNMISS remains extremely concerned about mounting evidence of gross violations of international human rights laws that have occurred in various parts of South Sudan and are continuing to occur.

With regard to Bentiu, the assessment of the Mission is that it remains in the hands of Machar-led opposition forces, heavy fighting occurred in town of Mayom in the western area of Unity State — Bentiu is of course the capital of Unity State — and the town of Mayom is still in hands of pro-Machar opposition forces, and there are fears that fighting could spill over into the neighbouring Warrap State.

I can also tell you that in Malakal, heavy fighting reignited in the late afternoon on Sunday and went on until around 21:00 local time last night.  The Government of President Salva Kiir has stated that it retains control of Malakal Town.  Our Mission’s assessment is that there has been significant battle damage in the city and widespread looting; and I can also tell you that there are 22,000 civilians in the UNMISS compound in Malakal.

With regard to Bor, the town remains under overall control of Government troops loyal to President Salva Kiir.  And as we have mentioned earlier, there are indications that to the north of Bor are concentrated large groupings of armed youths and SPLA regular troops who have defected to Machar.  The number of civilians in the Bor compound has dropped sharply from 16-17,000 last week to about 7-8,000 at the moment, and thousands of civilians have been seen heading south on the road to Juba during the course of today, motivated, one assumes, primarily by fears of an assault on Bor by these groups that I have just referred to.

Our Mission did carry out an air reconnaissance flight over south-western Jonglei State on Sunday, and large groupings of armed youths were sighted during an overflight about 50 kilometres away from Bor.

So that’s some of the details that I can give you at this point.

Also, what I wanted to tell you is that Secretary-General did speak to President Salva Kiir earlier this morning.  And in that conversation, the Secretary-General welcomed the President’s commitment to a cessation of hostilities and readiness to engage opposition leaders in dialogue and encouraged him to consider the early release of political prisoners.

The Secretary-General reiterated the full support of the United Nations for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation process and called for the full cooperation of all parties in finding a peaceful solution to the current crisis.  He also underscored the need to hold accountable those responsible for attacks on civilians. The Secretary-General and the President also discussed plans to urgently strengthen the Mission, UNMISS, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2132 of 24 December.  And that readout will be made available shortly, I believe.

So, other questions, please?  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  In the statement UN issued last week regarding the visit to the Yasukuni shrine, it didn’t mention Japan or Japanese leader specifically at all.  I am just wondering:  does UN agree that this visit challenges the international order established after World War II?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  As I said, the statement we put out last week or the language that we put out last week still stands, and I don’t have anything to add to that.  Tim?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Has the Secretary-General sent any invitations to the Syria peace conference for 22 January yet?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge at this point, but I will check in case my knowledge is lacking.  Yes, Ann, and then I’ll come back to you, Matthew?

Question:  During 2013, the Secretary-General took his first trip to the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, during the same year that Lithuania holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union.  Now that Lithuania will hold a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council starting in January 2014, what expectations does the Secretary-General have about this country, which became a member of the UN just 22 years ago, following 50 years of Soviet occupation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would refer you to a lot of the remarks that the Secretary-General made, for example, when he gave lectures while he was in the Baltic States and specifically in Kaunas.  That was important.  And I would also refer you to the remarks that the Secretary-General made during his press conference with the President of Lithuania.  Of course, what you have seen is, in all three of the Baltic States, a dramatic transformation and a real increase in their diplomatic engagement from that early starting point of membership to great activity, including now a Security Council membership.  So the Secretary-General has certainly expectations that Lithuania will continue to contribute in the way that it has so far, and certainly he has a great deal of respect for the Permanent Representative of Lithuania.  Okay.  Yes?  Sorry, Matthew; and then I’m coming to you.  I did say and then I would come back to you.  Yes, please Matthew.

Question:  If I can, I wanted to ask about Central African Republic (CAR), Egypt and Bangladesh, so if you want to go… I’ll ask CAR now.  There were these reports during the last week of peacekeepers of MISCA [International Support Mission in the Central African Republic] actually fighting each other.  There was a report on RFI of Chadians throwing a grenade at Burundian, Burundians shooting back, the Chadians pulling to the north and now a lot of Chadian nationals leaving the country, sort of on an emergency basis.  And I wanted to know, what is the UN system, both on the peacekeeping side and on what seems to be either ethnic or religious cleansing, like large population movements out of the Central African Republic, what does the UN think of it?  What steps are being taken and how can the peacekeeping mission be normalized so that there’s not reported fighting between contingents?

Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations doesn’t have a peacekeeping mission there, at the moment, as you know.  And so therefore the United Nations role in that is limited.  It would be for the Member States involved to deal with any difficulties that there might be and there self-evidently have been difficulties.  And I’m awaiting a further update, indeed, on what’s been happening in the Central African Republic, including in Bangui today; and if and when I get that, I’ll make sure it’s circulated for everybody to be able to see.  We remain, of course, extremely concerned, not least for the precarious plight of the people of the Central African Republic and we’ve heard loud and clear the voices of leading clerics about their fears for their country.  And so we continue to monitor this very carefully through the presence of our own political mission there and as I say, should I get an update on the political side and indeed on the humanitarian side, then I would let you know.  Please?

Question:  Thank you.  I would like ask you to about South Sudan again.  Do you have any information or at least some indication:  who are these armed groups approaching the city of Bor?  Can we say that these are the supporters of the former Vice President from the Nuer tribe? 

Spokesperson:  Well, these are indications as provided by the Mission in South Sudan.  At this point it is very difficult to ascertain, one, the precise numbers; and two, precisely who they are.  There are certainly large groupings of armed youths and there are also some SPLA regular troops who have defected to Machar, as I mentioned earlier.  But as for the precise affiliations of the armed youths, that’s something that has yet to be determined, or at least I’m not in a position to determine that right here and now.  I’m going to Evelyn and then I will come back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Yes, sorry, I was going to ask the same thing.  Who are these armed youths?  Do we have any idea who they are?  And how they fit into the overall scheme?

Spokesperson:  Well, the only way they fit into the scheme is that they are extremely unhelpful and it’s an extremely worrying development.  But I think that the Mission is obviously monitoring this extremely closely, including through aerial reconnaissance; that’s how they can get a fix on where these groupings are.  But the last thing that we want is to see is something that has already become a very dangerous situation, worsened and become a crisis involving armed youth that would pitch communities against communities.  That’s something that we really do want to see avoided.  And certainly the Mission is calling on all those who can exercise influence over these armed youths to convince them to halt their advance and then return to their towns and villages and cattle camps.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask on Egypt, there have been, among many developments in the last week, recently, there’s been this arrest of journalists and they’ve been accused of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood because they have reported on events there.  It’s also been a kind of outlawing of the party and arrest, or threatened arrest, to a lot of people.  What’s the UN’s position on this?

Spokesperson:  Just with specific regard to the journalists.  Journalists need to be able to carry out their work without fear of harassment or arrest on the assumption that they are working within the appropriate regulations, and certainly we watch that extremely closely.  If I have anything further to say about the broader, then I would get back to you.  But I don’t at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  What kind of steps can the UN employ to help deter such terrorist attacks that happened in Russia or elsewhere?  Specifically, what the UN within its capacity in terms of working with authorities?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think this is very much a matter of national security that’s being dealt with by the Russian authorities that you will have seen President [Vladimir] Putin has spoken out.  He sent the head of the FSB [Federal Security Service] to Volgograd.  They very much are in control of this in a national security capacity.  Of course, the United Nations has a counter-terrorism strategy and works with Member States, but I don’t think that this is a matter where the United Nations would be involved in the way that you’re suggesting.  The way that we are involved is in expressing our solidarity with the people of the Russian Federation and expressing our condolences for those who’ve lost their lives and for the families of the victims.  Yes, please?

Question:  Hi, Alexandra Olson from AP.  Do you have any indication that these armed youths have been returning home?  Yesterday, the Sudanese officials were saying that they… or South Sudanese officials saying they thought the youths were starting to return home and that very few of them were continuing to advance.  Has the UN been able to confirm that?

Spokesperson:  No.  No; that’s, to my knowledge, that is not the case.

Question:  So… they’re still in the same numbers, still continuing to advance?

Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.  We do not have a precise fix on the numbers, but as far as I know, judging from the information provided by the Mission, these people are still on the move.  Now, it may be that you can get more details from Mr. Ladsous and Ambassador Araud when they speak at the stakeout.  Perhaps they have even more up-to-date information, but I should tell you that I received this information directly from the Mission at 11:49, just before coming in here, and so that’s why I was even more hesitant in reading it out than usual.  Okay.  I’m looking for… yes, please?

Question:  Can you give us more detail on when more peacekeepers are expected to arrive in South Sudan?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point.  No.  I think you will have heard Hilde Johnson say that there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make this happen and, therefore, it would not be appropriate to say too much about it at this point.  Again, it may be that Mr. Ladsous will be able to provide some details when he emerges from the consultations, probably quite shortly, and indeed with President Araud of the Council.

Question:  Just as a follow-up:  I know that these things normally take a good deal of time, but given that, you know, you’ve got these armed groups advancing on a base, are we talking about weeks or months or days?  And…

Spokesperson:  Well, you would have already seen that… you will have seen that the formed police unit arrived and that more are expected from Nepal, in other words being transferred from UNMIL, and they’re expected later this week.  So there is movement.  Everybody understands the need for swift movement, but let’s also remember that the Government of South Sudan has the primary responsibility for the security of its citizens and the role of UNMISS is indeed to protect civilians and many of those civilians, as we said, 75,000 of them in 13 of our bases, are in need of protection.  And just one other point:  of those 75,000, about 4,500 are foreign nationals, in other words, not South Sudanese nationals, but are equally in need of protection as civilians.

Question:  Sorry, again, just as a follow-up.  Do you know how many Nepalese are on their way?  How many more police units?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information to hand.

Question:  And is it coincidence that there was these attacks in Kinshasa and then on the Darfuri… I’m just wondering if the UN is worried, because as you’re talking about taking peacekeepers from other Missions in the region, there seems to be this escalation of violence in other places.

Spokesperson:  I would not subscribe to that kind of conspiracy theory.  No.  Yes, and then this will be the last question.  Okay.  What?  You have a question?

Question:  I have a question that I’ve already asked.

Spokesperson:  Fine, I’m going here.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin, just a quick follow-up to my previous question:  So has the Secretary-General speak to any of the related countries on these regarding Japanese Prime Minister’s visit?  Since it may…

Spokesperson:  You can ask the question as many ways as you like; the answer is the same.  We issued language last week.  I have nothing to add.  Okay?

Question:  A very quick question:  Has the Secretary-General issued anything on Hans Haekkerup, the UN Envoy to Kosovo who died today?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  Typically a letter would almost certainly be sent.  But let me check.  Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask you, in Bangladesh, I know that there’s been this UN involvement in the run-up to the elections, but it seems that the main opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, has been… is under house arrest and various parties are not going to send observers.  I just wondered… what is… is the UN… is there some follow-up on this?  What’s the UN think of this house arrest and of the upcoming election, in what’s being called a crackdown in advance of that?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve said quite a lot in the lead-up to this and the need for dialogue and, as you know, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco was there in a role to try to bring sides together, and I will see if I can get an update on where we are with that.  But certainly, we would in general terms be expecting there to be restraint and calm on all sides.  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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