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

12 May 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Yemen

Our colleague Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Special Envoy for Yemen, has arrived in the capital, Sana’a.  While in Sana'a, he hopes to meet with various Yemeni parties, including Houthi representatives.  Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, and other senior humanitarian staff also came into Sana'a today.  In fact, they arrived together.  They will continue to lead the aid response where they can and are preparing with our partners to scale up even further in anticipation of the announced humanitarian pause. 

Airstrikes, shelling and clashes reportedly continued in Sa’ada Governorate over the past 24 hours, with 13 casualties reported.  It has not been possible to verify the information on displacement and damages as telecommunications have been cut off.  Widespread violence, displacement and lack of basic services have also continued in Aden Governorate, following the deterioration of the humanitarian situation reported there since 6 May. 

A bit of a humanitarian roundup:  our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] say that shipment of aid has arrived by sea in the Yemen port of Hodeida, carrying blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen utensils for 60,000 people.  The agency is also preparing to significantly increase assistance if a proposed ceasefire comes into effect later today. 

UNHCR is preparing for a possible huge airlift of humanitarian aid into Sana'a to take place over the next days if the pause comes into effect and holds. Obviously, there also needs to be a check of the airport and its capacity to handle large planes.  The plan would involve an airlift from Dubai that would bring 300 tons of sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting — as part of a larger aid mobilization under way for a quarter of a million people. 

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is ready to provide emergency food rations to more than 750,000 people in conflict-hit areas of the country during the five-day humanitarian pause that is due to take place today.  WFP will also pre-position specialized products to fight malnutrition among children.

A WFP-chartered vessel arrived in Hodeida on Saturday with some 300,000 litres of fuel and supplies for other humanitarian organizations.  Another vessel is in international waters, ready to dock, with an additional 120,000 litres of fuel.  But, together this is only 15 per cent of the monthly fuel requirement for all humanitarian operations.  WFP has reached more than 1 million people in Yemen in the past month.  The conflict has increased the number of hungry people and it is now estimated that 12 million people in Yemen are struggling to find food. 

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is working with all relevant partners, both internal and external, and they will be setting up a coordination and aid distribution centre out of Djibouti. 

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning heard a briefing from Valentin Inzko, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, on progress made in that country in the last 20 years that have passed since the Dayton Peace Accords.  The open debate on Bosnia is continuing as we speak.  This afternoon, the Council has scheduled a meeting on Libya, followed by closed consultations on South Sudan. 

**Nepal

From Nepal, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report that according to Government estimates, 24 people have been killed and 543 have been injured following today’s earthquake in Nepal.  New damage to housing and infrastructure has also been reported.  Buildings damaged by the 25 April quake have collapsed in Gorkha District and Chautara, where humanitarian hubs have just been set up to support affected communities.  Many people have fled and remain in open spaces. 

National search-and-rescue teams have been deployed.  International search and rescue teams, which are already in the country, have been asked to support in the response to this new tremor.  The Kathmandu Airport is open, according to our colleagues.  The UN family and humanitarian partners stand ready to further support the authorities in Nepal as they face this additional challenge.  OCHA says that the Flash Appeal launched after the first quake is seriously underfunded at 13 per cent.  It warns that the needs are likely to increase while the time to provide urgent relief is short with the monsoon season due to begin in the next few weeks. 

**Central African Republic

Yesterday, you will have seen we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General congratulated the people of the Central African Republic for the adoption of the Republican Pact for Peace, National Reconciliation and Reconstruction at the conclusion of the Bangui National Forum.  The Pact’s recommendations reflect the aspirations of the people of the Central African Republic to put conflict behind them once and for all and to build a more peaceful and democratic country.  That statement is in my office and online. 

**South Sudan

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) today strongly condemned the fighting that erupted among internally displaced persons last weekend at its sites in Juba, resulting in the death of one person and the wounded of 60.  The violence also triggered the departure of an estimated 3,500 people from the protection sites.  The UN military and police peacekeepers intervened and managed to contain the violence.  The Mission is engaging with community leaders to try to defuse the tensions. 

And further update to yesterday’s fighting in Unity State:  the UN Mission in South Sudan reports that an additional 550 displaced civilians arrived at its site in Bentiu.  This brings the total number of people sheltering within UN sites in Bentiu to more than 53,000.  Overall 120,000 people in South Sudan are being sheltered in UN protected sites across the country. 

**Darfur

From Darfur, the Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Sudan, Geert Cappalaere, expressed his concern about reports of an outbreak of inter-communal violence in East Darfur.  In August 2013, an estimated 120,000 civilians in the Abu Karinka and Adila localities in East Darfur were displaced by inter-communal fighting.  The majority have remained there since then.

**South-East Asia

Lastly, from Geneva, our colleagues at the UN refugee agency appealed today to Governments in South-East Asia to step up search-and-rescue efforts and to keep their borders open, amid reports that thousands of people are stranded on smugglers boats between the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.  A partner NGO [non-governmental organization], the Arakan Project, estimates that several thousand people — believed to be mostly Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals — could be adrift at sea as smugglers abandon them to avoid arrest in the wake of recent crackdowns in Malaysia and Thailand. 

UNHCR welcomes the rescue of hundreds of people off the coast of Indonesia and Malaysia in recent days. It has been alerted that there could be many more such boats that need to be located and assisted.  UNHCR staff has spoken to survivors and is distributing relief items and providing counselling.  The UN refugee agency stresses that the first priority is humanitarian relief, followed by the identification of those in need of international protection.  UNHCR urges against indefinite detention of those rescued, and it stands ready to help address the root causes of the outflow, including the resolution of longstanding issues in Myanmar. 

**Syria

Newsflash, this just in:  just an update from our colleagues in Geneva on the talks, the consultations.  The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, continued his meetings today.  He met with Louay Hussain, Chairman of the Building the Syrian State political party.  Mr. Hussain shared his perspectives for a political solution.  They also discussed the dire situation in Syria.  In his meeting with Hassan Abdel Azim, Chairman of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), Mr. de Mistura heard further views and perspectives on ways to resolve the ongoing conflict in Syria. 

Mr. de Mistura held an in-depth discussion with a Turkish delegation headed by the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Can Dizdar. Mr. Dizdar also shared his Government's perspectives on the implementation of the Geneva Communiqué and the overall situation in Syria.  Furthermore, Mr. de Mistura met with a French delegation headed by Mr. Nicolas de Rivière, Director-General of Political Affairs at the Foreign Ministry in Paris.  They discussed his Government's views on the need for an urgent political solution in Syria.  They also touched upon developments in and around Syria, which could affect prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. 

At the conclusion of today's consultations, Mr. de Mistura said that it is critical to reach out to Syrian political actors.  No one more than the Syrians themselves recognize the urgency of bringing the conflict to an end.  Edie.  Welcome back.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Yemen, since the Envoy is now back in Sana’a, are there any prospects for political talks?  And on Nepal, could you give us the figures of actually how much money the appeal has gotten and how much it still needs?

Spokesman:  The appeal is if I'm not mistaken 13 per cent funded.  We have about 55 million in the bank, and somebody with better math than I will figure out that 55 million is 13 per cent of about $454 million, but I will stand corrected and I will check the math after the briefing.  On Yemen, this is part of an initial round of discussions that Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is having.  He was in Riyadh, as you know.  He's now in Sana’a, will be meeting with Houthi representatives and if he meets with others, we will also advise.  He will likely have other meetings in the region.  We've been announcing them as they happen.  Obviously, the travel challenges in that part of the world right now are slightly daunting, but we did manage to get him into Sana’a and as we have further updates we will let you know.  Obviously we're not ready to announce date for talks, but that remains the goal and the target remains a political dialogue with all Yemeni parties.  Carole and then Matthew.

Question:  Are you any closer though to convening an international conference? 

Spokesman:  You know, I don't want to prognosticate.  I would say that I very much hope we're not farther away from the goal.  But, I think the fact that he got into Sana’a and is meeting with Houthis today is a sign in the right direction.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I heard you talk about the conclusion of this Bangui National Forum.  And I saw the Secretary‑General's statement.  I wanted to ask you, because there are different reports… speaking of the conclusion of the… of that forum, there were reports that there were protests at the end, that the peacekeepers used tear gas and other methods.  There seems to be some armed protesters, but also some unarmed protesters calling for the resignation of the President.  So, I wanted to know, one, what can you say about the peacekeepers distinction between armed and unarmed protesters and I wanted to also ask whether the Secretary‑General has made, himself, any phone calls whatsoever about this sexual abuse situation, for example to the Central African Republic or to any other party, given this letter from 21 [non-governmental organizations] calling his response deeply unsatisfactory.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  My understanding is that there were some disturbances around the Forum.  Obviously, the peacekeepers working with the national authorities of Central African Republic are very careful in calibrating the response.  But, these were not major demonstrations.  I think there were people… some people, as you say, unarmed expressing their position, which is… peaceful demonstrations are to be supported.  There were apparently some armed group elements, but I don't think any of this can be decried as major.  On your second part, I think the Secretary‑General and many senior officials, I think, have expressed… I think we've all said that this investigation into these horrendous abuses… alleged abuses of minors and children in the Central African Republic by Sangaris soldiers is to be condemned and is abhorrent.  I think we are working fully with the French authorities who are investigating the conduct of their troops.  We're supporting that investigation.  And we hope that those responsible are, indeed, brought to justice.  I think we all wish, you know, this had gone a different way, that the proper channels had been followed and that the investigation following its proper course, which would have probably made the whole issue go much quicker than it… than it did.  And I have nothing to add on the contacts.

Correspondent:  Can I just… just one thing I wanted… I tried to get it yesterday, but I'm going to try again.  Since, number one, that [non-governmental organization] letter calls for an independent, transparent and effective investigation.  And the US Permanent Representative at the stakeout last week was speaking as if the investigation…

Spokesman:  I think…

Correspondent:  It seems like… it just seems from the way people are talking about it, it's more than the existing OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation.

Spokesman:  I understand.  I think… and I think I did… I answered that question a few moments after [United States] Ambassador [Samantha] Power spoke is that I think at some point we may need to look at a review of how this whole issue was handled.  Our focus right now is on obviously working with the relevant investigation, criminal investigations at hand, so that those who committed these crimes are punished.  Mr. Klein.  We'll go to the second row, then we'll go to the third row, then the fourth row.

Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the stated plans by the EU [European Union] to potentially intervene militarily related to the smuggling operations and possibly without going to the Security Council first?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General as well as Mr. Sutherland yesterday very eloquently expressed the Secretary‑General's views.  We believe that the response to the current humanitarian crisis, heart‑wrenching crisis we're seeing in the Mediterranean and also, frankly, in South-East Asia, as I mentioned, that response should be humanitarian, should be focused at first on saving lives, and then addressing the root causes.  Yes, madam.

Question:  Given your updates from Special Envoy León on Libya and considering what Ms. Mogherini said yesterday about her meetings in Tunis, what steps…?

Spokesman:  I wish I did.  I wish I had.  But, I don't.  Let's move to the gentleman in the third row.

Question:  On Houthi… on these attacks by Saudis in Yemen, the saturation bombing that is taking place, has the Secretary‑General or anybody else in the United Nations talked to the Saudis to take it easy on the civilian population?

Spokesman:  I think… and the message was not so much take it easy.  The message was for a cessation of the fighting.  The Secretary‑General…

 

Correspondent:  They are not listening.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's had various conversations with Saudi officials, other conversations at different levels and different people in this organization, and that has been the clear message since the beginning.  We are very… very hopeful… we very much hope that the pause will take effect this evening so we can start… we can go on with the business of delivering aid.  I think I gave you a fairly exhaustive list of the supplies and things that are ready to be deployed, and we want the security conditions on the ground to be such that we can go ahead with that deployment.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General think that this is a violation of international law as deemed by one of the United Nations…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General expressed his viewpoint at the beginning of this crisis.  Our focus currently is on ensuring a halt to the violence.

Question:  Steph, any updates on Said Djinnit?  Where is he?  Does he continue to facilitate dialogue in Burundi and are there any outcomes from the dialogue that he has facilitated today?

Spokesman:  No update that I have.  They've been very good to supply us with updates when we have something.  So, I'll check again, but we've not received anything today.  Fourth row, Mr. Abbadi.  I will check.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the situation in Yemen still, if the pause takes place later today and lasts for the five days and things go well, would the Secretary‑General consider appealing to the Saudi coalition to extend the pause?

Spokesman:  Of course.  Our calls had been for an unlimited halt to the bombings and to the violence that we've seen in Yemen.  I think in these situations, you know, first of all, let's get… let's get to tonight.  Let's hope it gets under way.  Five days is a window of opportunity, and we hope that that window will remain propped open once it is open.  Abdel Hamid.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane, and I apologize for arriving late.  So, if I missed what I'm going to be asking about, correct me, please.

Spokesman:  You probably didn't.

Question:  I want to ask you if the Secretary‑General had a chance to call Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and express his concern about the intention of the Israeli Government to build 900 units in Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem.  That is one question.

Spokesman:  There have been no phone calls between the Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister since the Secretary‑General spoke to him after his election, and we put out that readout.  And again, on our response to the formation of the Government, we did issue a statement on the increase… we spoke out on the… this latest round of illegal settlement building, which remains our position and contacts are also held on the ground.

Question:  And my second question, IRNA, the Iranian news agency said that the Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, would be contacting the Iranian and maybe considering a visit to Iran.  Do you confirm that he has a plan to talk to the Iranians?

Spokesman:  No, as I said, we're confirming his plans on a day‑to‑day basis as they shift, but it is clear that a regional consultation is critical to moving the process forward, that Iran does have a role to play, we would hope a positive role to play, in finding a political solution to the current crisis in Yemen.  Mr. Lee and then we will stop.

Question:  All right.  Well, I got a few.  I wanted to ask you… one, I wanted to ask, I was waiting to see if you had any comment on this assassination or killing of now a third blogger in Bangladesh.  I know that in the… you've spoken on two, and this one seems to now be…

Spokesman:  I have not seen that report.

Question:  Okay.  And the other one I wanted to ask was about the Rohingya.  There has been a statement by Malaysia that they will return back all boats that arrived in their waters unless they're sinking, which seems to actually give kind of an incentive to sink your own boat.  But, I just wondered, it seemed like kind of an extreme statement.  And Myanmar has meanwhile rejected calls for a regional talks on these… those fleeing.  What is the UN’s role?  What does Mr. Nambiar say?  Does the UN think it can play a role in trying to solve the problem?

Spokesman:  There are two issues here, or a number of issues.  One is obviously finding a political solution to the tensions that exist within Myanmar and dealing with the issues of citizenship which is what Mr. Nambiar is working on and continues to work on.  There's also a more urgent humanitarian issue.  Every Member State has clear duties when it comes to refugees, to people who are at immediate danger of dying at sea.  You know, a lot of attention is focused on the Mediterranean, but we're seeing huge risks and death in… possible deaths, as well in the waters of South-East Asia.  And we would hope that all concerned Member States do the right thing and focus on saving lives.

Question:  I wanted to ask one follow‑up on Burundi.  There's been a decision or announcement by a number of European countries to not actually pay funds they were going to pay for the upcoming elections.  Since there's a UN electoral mission there, is that… what does the mission think?

Spokesman:  I'll get a… I have not gotten anything from them.  Okay.  Mr. Abbadi, okay.  You will really be the last.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  When would the Secretary‑General come to this room to give a press conference?

Spokesman:  You know, as always… He listens to you more than he listens to me.  So, I'm sure we can arrange something.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.