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19 January 2015

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, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Hello, good afternoon, everyone.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General spoke at this morning’s Security Council meeting on inclusive development, which was chaired by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.  The Secretary-General said that 2015 is a year of action on sustainable development.  He noted the efforts to complete the work of the Millennium Development Goals, to launch a new post-2015 sustainable development agenda and reach agreement on climate change.

He said that he is encouraged to note that in their deliberations so far, Member States have paid considerable attention to peace and security and to human rights.  The Secretary-General said that there is a growing consensus that the high levels of inequality we have seen in recent decades are socially, politically and environmentally damaging. Development that excludes part of the population can be socially corrosive. It can contribute to crime and create a sense of hopelessness and alienation - conditions that can breed extremism.  The Secretary-General added that the United Nations system stands ready to increase its support for countries in promoting inclusive development.  We have his remarks online.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will depart New York on the evening of Wednesday, 21 January, to travel to Davos, Switzerland, where he will attend the World Economic Forum.  He will meet leaders, both from the public and private sector, and will participate in World Economic Forum sessions on tackling climate change, development and growth, and as well as on global food security.  While in Davos, he will also take part in events to address vulnerability and other issues.

The Secretary-General will return to New York on Saturday, 24 January.  The Deputy Secretary-General will join the Secretary-General in Davos and will hold meetings there on sustainable development, climate change and violent extremism, among other topics.

**Ukraine

As you will have seen in a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General is alarmed by the severe escalation of fighting for control of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine, which has already caused numerous casualties and threatened to completely unravel a hard-won September 2014 ceasefire.  He implores all sides to make good on their commitments under the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, with the first step being an immediate and full cessation of hostilities.  The Secretary-General stresses that further deterioration of a situation that has led to heavy loss of life and civilian suffering must be avoided at all costs.  The United Nations stands ready to support all efforts towards de-escalation and the resumption of a genuine peace process to restore Ukraine’s stability and territorial integrity.

**Ebola

The UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, highlighted encouraging statistics that have emerged from Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare that 12 of the country’s 15 counties have had no new cases within the past seven days.  The three counties that are still reporting new cases in Liberia include Grand Cape Mount, Margibi and Montserrado.

Meanwhile, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone all reported their lowest weekly number of cases in months, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Guinea reported its lowest weekly total of new cases since 17 August 2014. Liberia has had no confirmed cases nationally for the final two days of the week ending the 11 January.  Sierra Leone has recorded its lowest weekly total of new cases since 31 August 2014.  UNMEER said this is very good progress, but cautions all involved in the fight against the virus to remain on high alert and continue the high intensity of response efforts.  Meanwhile, over the weekend, the World Health Organization  declared Mali free from active Ebola transmission.

**Mali

On Mali, a high-level delegation of the UN Mission in that country visited Kidal today to show their support and solidarity with MINUSMA [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali] personnel.  This follows the attack on the Mission’s camp in Kidal, on Saturday, in which one peacekeeper was killed and four others wounded.  The Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack in a statement we issued Saturday.  And he said that this only highlights the urgency of reaching a political settlement to end the conflict and enable the full restoration of State authority across the entire Malian territory.  His full statement is online.

**Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, on Saturday, 17 January, peacekeepers from the UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in the country, MINUSCA, arrested the anti-Balaka leader Ngaibona Rodrigue, known as "General Andilo", in Bouca, Ouham Province, following an arrest warrant issued by the Public Prosecutor of the Central African Republic.  Later on, “Andilo” was transferred to Bossangoa, where he was handed over to the authorities, and he was then transferred to Bangui.  This is the first high-profile arrest that MINUSCA has executed under the Temporary Urgent Measures mandate in 2015.  The Mission has, since September 2014, arrested over 200 individuals in its support to the Central African authorities to maintain the rule of law in the country.

**Libya

Over the weekend, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) issued statements welcoming the ceasefire declaration made by parties in Libya, as well as an announcement in Tripoli by Spokesman Omar Humeidan to join the second round of talks.  The ceasefire will also allow humanitarian access to people in need in affected areas and encourage international organizations to resume full operations in the country.  UNSMIL, the UN [Support] Mission in Libya, says that the announcements broaden the base of support for the process aimed at restoring security and stability to Libya.  The Mission also took note of the proposal to hold the next round of talks in Libya.  It’s consulting with Libyan stakeholders to identify an acceptable venue that also provides maximum security to the participants.

**Appointment

I have an appointment today.  The Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Major General Purna Chandra Thapa of Nepal as the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  Major General Thapa succeeds Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha of India.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Lieutenant General Singha for his dedicated leadership during a particularly difficult period in the mission's history.  Major General Thapa brings to his new position extensive command experience and knowledge of peacekeeping attained through service at the national and international levels.  There is a full biographical note in our office.

And that's it for me.  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, the intelligence today about the attack by Israel against some members of Hizbullah and other Iranians inside Syria was unnoticed.  I mean, United Nations kept quiet about that.  How do you view that?  Does it really help the stability of the region or how do you view it?

Deputy Spokesman:  We wouldn't have a comment on this reported incident.  We've seen the reports but the details concerning that are murky and we would need to get more of the facts.  But, certainly, anything that hurts the stability of the region is a cause for concern, and we would implore all sides to do what they can to exercise restraint and to make sure that the problems that are already present in the region, the tensions that are already there, are not exacerbated.

Question:  But, the helicopter, of course, which has been reported, shot against the… and I'm sure was noticed by the UNDOF.  Did they report anything to you?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say on that is that, on 18 January — that is to say, yesterday — the UN Disengagement Observer Force observed two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying from the Alpha side and crossing the ceasefire line.  The mission saw the UAVs moving towards the general direction of UN Position 30, following which they lost sight of the UAVs.  An hour later, smoke was observed coming from the general direction of Position 30; however, the origin of the smoke could not be identified by the mission.  Subsequently, UNDOF observed UAVs flying from the general area of Position 30 and over Jabbata, crossing the ceasefire line.  This incident is a violation of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I have some other questions but you mentioned Kidal and this visit to northern Mali.  Just now at the stakeout, the Chadian Permanent Representative said pretty clearly that he's been asking DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to relocate the Chadian troops out.  He said they're the ones forward deployed there since January 2013 and it's unfair and essentially puts them at risk.  So, I wanted to know… he said one other thing that I want you to comment on, which is that, you know, Chad has sent its troops to Cameroon to combat Boko Haram.  And I wanted to know whether… is there any UN either planning or political role in this multinational move in that region?  So, it's two things that he said there.  What's the response by the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on the question of international action against Boko Haram, I believe this is an issue that the Security Council intends to take up, possibly this afternoon.  So, you might get to hear from the Security Council on that.  Regarding rotations, there's always a timetable by which troops are rotated in and out of countries.  And it depends essentially on actions taken by troop-contributing countries, but our Department of Peacekeeping Operations tries to arrange with the relevant troop‑contributing countries so that there's an agreement on how troops can be rotated in and out.

Question:  But, what he said is… I mean, that would now be two years that they've been the ones deployed in dangerous, and he said, abysmal conditions in Kidal; and he said there's been promises of deployment of others but it hasn't taken place.  So, I guess I'm wondering… DPKO, like, can somebody, whether the Under-Secretary‑General or someone else, respond to a major troop‑contributing country, saying, basically, they're being left unprotected in northern Mali?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is in contact with all of the troop‑contributing countries and tries to make sure that troop contributors have arrangements that work for those nations.  Ultimately, it depends on the willingness of other countries to do their own part, and of course, we keep encouraging countries to do their part so that all of the areas in which we need to be deployed have a good rotation of troops.  But, we'll keep in touch with all the relevant countries on that.  Yes, Yoshita?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  There are reports saying a Security Council team will visit Pakistan next week to see the action taken against banned outfits, and there are concerns as to why some banned outfits are still on Pakistani soil.  Do you have any further information on this or confirmation?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't.  I'd have to check.  But, you may also need to check with the Security Council on that.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, yesterday, as well, in Aita al-Shaab area, the Israelis attacked and injured three Lebanese soldiers with smoke gas, and they got poisoned because of that.  What's the position of the United Nations regarding this attack?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] is aware of the incident and is trying to make its concerns known and is in touch with the parties on this.

Question:  Why was it a violation in the Golan?  Don't you have any position, like criticizing it, condemning it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Of course, we criticize all violations of the agreements.  I just mentioned, of course, the violation of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement and that holds true for all of the various agreements in that region.

Question:  I have another question on Bahrain.  Sheikh Ali Salman, Al-Wefag Secretary General, is facing trial, as we reported, for incitement, as the authorities say.  What is your position on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You've heard what we've had to say about the situation of Sheikh Ali Salman, as we said a few weeks ago from this podium.  I don't have anything new to say.  Of course, if there is a trial process, we would expect that due process is followed.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are protests against moves to extend the election scheduled for 2016, basically, to order a census before, which would put the election off, and the Government has used tear gas and live fire.  Since this has taken place in Kinshasa, where the community… Mr. [Martin] Kobler and the Mission is based, what is the comment and action by MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] on the firing on protestors by the Government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, is concerned about reported violent protests in Kinsasha and Goma following the debate in the National Assembly and Senate regarding the review of the draft electoral law.  The Mission calls for restraint and continues to underline the need for a credible, peaceful, timely and inclusive electoral process, in accordance with the tenets of the Constitution.

Question:  By timely, that should be understood as 2016?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said what I have to say.  The word "timely" can only mean in the appropriate amount of time.  Yes.  Yes, please?

Correspondent:  Sorry.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  No problem.

Question:  Regarding the ICC [International Criminal Court] launching this preliminary examination on the situation in Palestine, as you know, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has rejected any cooperation with the Court.  Do you have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do not have a comment on the activities of the Court.  As you know, the International Criminal Court is an independent body of… it operates independently of the United Nations, and we wouldn't have a comment on their preliminary investigative work; other than to note that it… that they themselves have called this a preliminary step.  Beyond that, of course, we do trust all countries to abide by the treaties to which they've signed and the statutes to which they've signed, but I wouldn't have anything to say about these particular comments.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, this is sort of on freedom of expression or censorship.  Turkey has ordered a variety of large social media companies — Google, Facebook and Twitter — to block the account and remove the posts of a newspaper called BirGun for reporting on some cross‑border activity into Syria.  And what I wanted to know is, I know there's a general position, but this is now something where the Government of Turkey has threatened to ban all of Twitter, unless they remove this newspaper from being able to be seen in the country.  So, is there some… is it possible to know what the Secretary‑General believes of major countries trying to, you know, remove individual publications from the internet?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's clear that our general principle still holds — that we want there to be freedom of expression and freedom of circulation of the media.  Beyond that, of course, I wouldn't speculate on what happens with Twitter in the country, but it's important to know that in every country, people are able to circulate their ideas and opinions freely.

Question:  Right.  Do you have anything on Yemen with all this fighting taking place in the capital?  I heard… sorry.  I heard Mr. [Jamal] Benomar is on his way.  Is that true?  And also, what's the position of the UN on what should take place?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say is that we are following with deep concern the recent developments in Sana'a.  Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Yemen, is in the region and assessing the situation on the ground.  We hope to have more for you later.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.