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

7 March 2016

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 and Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has arrived in Baden-Baden, in Germany, where a little later today he will receive the German Media Award and we will have his remarks available for you.  Before that, over the weekend he was in Algeria and Western Sahara.  And we are about to hear, hopefully very soon, from Stephane Dujarric, the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, who was on that trip. And that will happen any minute now.  Stéphane… Steph, is that you?

Spokesman:  Yeah, it is.

Deputy Spokesman:  Excellent.  You have got a room full of people waiting on you.  They are looking at your older photo, your pre-bearded photo. And we are ready to hear from you about the Secretary-General’s trip.

[Stephane Dujarric’s comments by telephone from Paris]

Spokesman:  Great.  Well, good… good afternoon.  I just wanted to give all of you an update and brief you on the Secretary‑General's programme, especially over the weekend.  And when I'm done, we'll take a few questions, and then I'll hand it back over to Farhan and then try to make my way back home to New York.  As you know, the Secretary‑General was in Tindouf on Saturday.  And basically as part of the visit that we had… we had announced four main objectives as the Secretary‑General has said.  He… first he wanted to assess for himself the general situation on the ground and, obviously, report back to the Security Council.

He also wanted to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis of the Sahrawi people, a very much forgotten humanitarian crisis that has been going on for 40 years.  He also wanted to pay a visit to MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] and meet with his Special Representative [Kim Bolduc] and the Force Commander [Major General Muhammad Tayyab Azam] on the ground and get a briefing from them.  And lastly, also more broadly, analyse the security situation in the region in light of increased criminal activities and even the possibility of infiltration into the region by extremist groups into the area.

So, just to go back a bit to Saturday, he was able to see Sahrawi refugee camp, the Smara camp, which is one of the five camps that are in the area of Tindouf and Rabouni.  Following that, in Rabouni, he met with the Polisario [Front] leadership, including the Secretary‑General of the Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, and he also had a separate meeting where he was able to hear from a group of Sahrawi youth and have an exchange… a dialogue with them.

From Rabouni, we then flew by helicopter south to Bir Lehlou, a MINURSO outpost in Western Sahara east of the berm.  The Secretary‑General there was briefed on the situation in the area and by the UN observers who are stationed in the outpost, the UN military observers.  He was briefed on the sort of… the patrols they do, the humanitarian work they do, and he also received a de‑mining… de‑mining demonstration by local de‑miners.  As you know, the berm is one of the heaviest… the most mined areas in the world, and the de‑mining programme is managed by our colleagues at the UN Mine Action Service.  We then helicoptered back to Tindouf and then flew on to Algiers.

Obviously, the Secretary‑General and his delegation were all very moved by what we saw in the camp.  The Secretary‑General later, both speaking in Rabouni and in Algiers yesterday, said he very much understood the anger shown by some of the refugees, people who… who, for more than 40 years have lived in the harshest conditions and who feel their plight has been ignored and their cause has been forgotten by the world, are understandably angry, he said.

It was clear that the humanitarian conditions in the camps are very difficult.  As the Secretary‑General noted, there is little hope, especially when it comes to the youth, and the humanitarian appeal for the Sahrawi camps is severely underfunded.  The Secretary‑General said he would be calling for a donors' conference in… to take place in Geneva to ensure that there is funding for life‑saving assistance in the camps. UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights], UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund], WFP [World Food Programme], and others are in… are involved in the camps in various… in various activities.  We expect the donors' conference to take place before June, before the summer.

On the diplomatic front, as the Secretary‑General noted a number of times during the visit, the parties to the conflict have not made any real progress in the negotiations, and he announced yesterday from Algiers that he had asked Christopher Ross, his personal envoy, who has been with us on the trip, to re‑engage in shuttle diplomacy and to try provide an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of negotiations between the parties.  Mr. Ross told me this morning that he'd accepted the invitation… an invitation to visit Rabat in late March to meet with the Moroccan authorities.  And then after that, he… he expects to travel and meet with the other parties afterwards.

In Algiers, obviously, the Secretary‑General had quite a packed programme.  He had a number of bilateral meetings, including with the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. Obviously, there was a lot of discussion over Western Sahara, but they also discussed the broader situation in the Sahel and in the Middle East.  The Secretary‑General also noted Algiers' helpful role in both the Libyan and the Malian situation.

And he also carried with him a message on the importance for Algeria to invest in its youth.  The Secretary‑General, as you will have seen, spoke to university students yesterday, and this morning, he stopped by an elementary school to speak to some of the students there.  That's where I want to stop.  I think we've put out the… we've put out all the speeches and public engagements the Secretary‑General gave, so you have his words.  But, I want to stop there and take… take some questions.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Great.  We'll take some questions from the press.  Please, since he can't actually see you, identify yourselves.  Yes, Edie.

**Questions & Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  It's Edie Lederer.  Two questions.  First, what do you expect the Secretary‑General to brief to the Security Council any specific recommendations that he might be making specifically to possibly move forward on the issue of a referendum, and secondly, what was his analysis on the state of security and the possibility of infiltration?

 

Spokesman:  On the… on your second part, that was an issue that was discussed with the… with the Algerians in his… in his various… in his various meetings.  Obviously, it's something that's of concern to him due to the instability in the… in the broader… in the broader region.  So, they had sort of bilateral discussions on that.  On your first question, obviously, as you know, he will… he is due to have a… a report to the Security Council in early April, if I'm not mistaken.  So, I think his observations will be included in that report. It is, of course, the first time that he will… he will be able to report on what he has actually seen as well as opposed to what his personal representatives and the Special Representative of MINURSO had seen, so I think he… you know, and, again, I think, as we've said, this is the first part of a two‑legged trip.  He also does expect to travel to Rabat at some point, and dates are being discussed.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman: Nabil?

Question: Stéphane, back to the security issue, does the SG believe or see that the influence of the terrorist organizations is… is growing in the refugee camps and…?

Spokesman:  No, I don't want to give that impression. I think his reason for discussing it is the broader instability in the... in the region, whether it's… it's Libya, whether it's Northern Mali, and other parts of the area where we've seen an increase in terrorist activities.  He feels that is a potential.  There is… I repeat he did not make any personal observations of a terrorist infiltration in the camps. I don't want to give that… I do not want to give that impression.  I think this was an issue he was raising as part of the broader stability in the region.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Lou.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Lou from Reuters here.  Did the SG raise any specific human rights concerns during the visit?  I mean, there had been talk about some women who have Spanish residency and, in one case, citizenship who may or may not be prevented from returning to Spain.

Spokesman: Yeah, I don't want to go into that level of granularity.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General is aware of that… of that case.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  Matthew Lee, Inner City Press.  I wanted to ask if you could say as clearly as you could whether the Secretary‑General wanted to and sought to visit the headquarters of MINURSO at El Aaiún during this trip.  And when you talked about the second leg, you've mentioned Rabat.  Is it… will he insist to… on his right to visit El Aaiún?  And, finally, on this quote that he gave, he said that MINURSO “Ils sont prêts à aider à organiser un référendum s’il y a un accord entre les parties.”  Does this mean that the UN will actually only move towards a referendum if Morocco doesn't block it?  Does Morocco essentially have a veto right over the very referendum that's in the name of mission?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I mean, obviously, on your… going backwards, on your last part, as you mentioned, referendum is part of the Mission's name.  There is a mandate. There are relevant Security Council resolutions.  The… the role of the personal envoy is to return to shuttle diplomacy to try to create an atmosphere where there can be face‑to‑face negotiations to try to get an acceptable political solution.  I think the Secretary‑General, as I said, was very moved by what he heard and by what he saw. And, clearly, for him this is one of the greatest forgotten crises… humanitarian crises in the world.  I think, as he said, he said he felt guilty for not having gone earlier and try to… and see for himself what was… what was going on.  As we mentioned, there is a second leg of the visit.  When we're ready to announce it, we will.  As we've also said, it is the Secretary‑General's right to visit any peacekeeping mission that he wants to.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is Masood.  I just wanted to know, the Secretary‑General, in his speeches, has expressed great concern about Libya.  Does he intend to…?

Spokesman:  Masood, Masood, Masood, you need to put the microphone closer to your mouth. Thank you.  Over to you.

Question:  Okay. The reason… yeah.  I said the Secretary‑General, in his speeches, expressed concern about Libya again and again.  Does he intend to visit Libya?  And what is it that he intends to do?  Because the situation of course is very serious… ISIS has taken over most of the… what do you call… facilities over there.

Spokesman:  I think, as you know, he was in Libya, if I'm not mistaken, less than a year and a half ago. His message to the Libyan parties could not have been clearer, to the Libyan leaders, is… he asked them to move beyond their narrow political and personal interests and to think of Libya and the Libyan people.  The longer… the longer the… this political instability goes on, the longer the violence that we've seen goes on, the more difficult it is for us to deliver the humanitarian need and to meet the needs of the Libyan people.  He's encouraging all the parties involved in the Libyan conflict to work and to support and to coordinate with his Special Envoy, Martin Kobler, and to that end, he was very grateful for the Algerians and their hosting of a number of discussions on the issue.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman:  One more from Nabil.

Question:  Stéphane, this is Nabil again.  So, could you please repeat, when would Mr. [Christopher] Ross visit Morocco?  And would he also address or take the observations of the SG in his visit to the authorities in Morocco?

 

Spokesman:  Yeah, of course. I mean, he is his… his mandate is to be the Secretary‑General's personal envoy.  So, obviously, Mr. Ross has been with us for the last 48 hours.  In fact, he was with us even in Mauritania.  He will… he is very much in tune with the Secretary‑General's thinking and the sort of messages he wants to bring across.  I talked to Chris just before getting on the plane.  He said he was planning and had accepted a visit to go to Rabat in late March.  As soon as we have more details, we'll share them with you.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  Another question.  Matthew Lee, Inner City Press.  I wanted to know… I mean, as the Secretary‑General knows, there's a group of friends on the Western Sahara in the Security Council that writes the resolutions every year that would either move things towards a referendum or not.  Is the Secretary‑General going to use the power of this podium in his last year to actually meet with the members of this… of this group of friends, including France, which is described as having a… a… an unused or secret veto on this matter to try to break the logjam?

Spokesman:  I'm… on… I don't know about the secret veto or… that's your analysis.  But, on… the Secretary‑General very much plans to deliver a message to… to the Security Council and I think and share what he's seen for himself.  He's very much aware of the influence of… of countries, of members of the Council on the situation.  He… I think if you look at what he said at the press conference we had yesterday in Algiers, he also said, you know, that he felt the anger he saw in the camp was, you know, out of frustration, out of the… the sentiment of having been and, frankly, probably the reality of having been forgotten for 40 years and their anger towards the UN, but also towards members of the Security Council and Member States that have an influence on the conflict.  Over to you.

Deputy Spokesman:  All right.  I think that's it for the questions from this end.  Anything else you want to say?

 

Spokesman:  Not really.  I will… I guess I'm somewhat looking forward to seeing all of you tomorrow.

Deputy Spokesman:  We are somewhat looking forward to you, as well.  Have a good, safe trip back.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Thanks.  Bye, guys.

Deputy Spokesman:  Bye.  And we'll move to the second phase, which is the slightly less interesting amount of notes that I have to read.  Starting with Syria… 

[By Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General]

**Syria

Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, sent a message today in advance of the International Day for Women, saying that he has met many Syrian women and seen how they have been affected by the country’s five-year war.  He said that mothers and grandmothers have continued with courage and determination to keep the households going on, in spite of all the violence.  He said that they have refused to give up hope.

Mr. de Mistura said that Syria’s women have, and must have, the right to be part of the political process and the negotiations that the UN is organizing.  He said that the delegations coming both from the opposition and from the Syrian Government need to include women and allow them to speak. The women of Syria deserve to have their voices heard.  And last Friday, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy reached Saqba, Ein Terma and Hazzeh in the Kafr Batna sub-district of Eastern Ghouta with food, nutrition and health assistance for 20,000 beneficiaries.

Today, deliveries are underway to the remaining three areas in Kafr Batna - Beit Sawa, Jisreen and Hamoryah — with supplies for more than 16,000 people.  The humanitarian agencies observe that there has been relative calm for almost two weeks under the Cessation of Hostilities agreement, which has offered hope to the 6.5 million people displaced inside Syria and more than 4.5 million people who fled the country.

**Iraq

Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the terrorist bombing yesterday near the City of Hilla in the Governorate of Babylon in southern Iraq, which caused scores of casualties, including women and children. He deeply deplores the continuing loss of life and property in yet another terrorist bombing and calls on Iraqis not to be cowed by the terrorists’ murderous campaign.  He said that the horrifying attack adds to the terrorists’ long record of brutality that UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq] and all Iraqis of different affiliations strongly condemn and totally reject.

Mr. Kubiš reiterates his appeal to Iraqis not to fall into the trap of the terrorists who seek to undermine the country’s unity and fuel sectarian strife. In this connection, he applauded the restraint shown by the relatives of the victims and their communities of a similar terrorist outrage that took place on 29 February at a funeral ceremony in Muqdadiya.  He calls on the Government of Iraq to make sure that the perpetrators of these crimes and those behind them are swiftly brought to justice.

**Boko Haram

Hunger and malnutrition are on the rise in areas of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger affected by the Boko Haram crisis, where more than 5.6 million people do not have enough to eat.  The prevalence of stunting among the displaced runs as high as 49 per cent in Niger and 47 per cent in Chad — the highest rates in West and Central Africa — while recent rapid evaluations in the Lake Chad region of Chad showed wasting rates as high as 30 per cent.  The World Food Programme (WFP) aims to scale up its assistance from 600,000 people assisted last year to nearly 750,000, and needs urgent support to be able to do so.

**Ethiopia

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that timely agricultural assistance for the upcoming rainy season is essential to help the drought-affected people of Ethiopia, as one of the strongest El Niño events on record continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and herders.  Humanitarian needs in Ethiopia have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought has led to successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths.  As a result, there are alarming food insecurity and malnutrition rates in the Horn of Africa country, with some 10.2 million people now food insecure.  One quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis.  More information is available on FAO’s website.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

And today, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s thirty-third Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific kicked off in Malaysia.  The five-day conference is expected to focus on a broad-range of food and agriculture-related issues, including the present state of food production across the region, and ways to boost nutrition and end child stunting while curbing the growing rates of obesity.  Despite a high food production rate and low food costs, the region remains home to 490 million undernourished people — some 62 per cent of the world's total.  And more information is available on FAO’s website.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

Speaking to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Directors in Vienna today, Director General Yukiya Amano said that as the world this week marks the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in Japan, we must do everything humanly possible to ensure that no such accident ever happens again.

Mr. Amano encouraged Member States to contribute to increased global nuclear safety and security by adhering to the relevant international conventions.  Later this year, the agency will hold its high-level International Conference on Nuclear Security which the Director General called “a very important event which will help to set the agenda for our work in the next few years, underlining the agency’s role as the global platform for improving nuclear security.”  His full remarks are available on IAEA’s website.  That's it for me.  Any questions?  Yes.

**Questions & Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Recent reports coming from Syria speak about 200 ISIS fighters [inaudible] to the Syrian army or defected from ISIS.  Are you following about that?  And what does that mean to the peace process if ISIS are falling apart?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we've made clear that all countries, all parties on the ground, need to unite forces against Da’esh given the sort of reign of terror that they've created in the areas they control.  So, any reverses for them would be a positive accomplishment.  Of course, we need to make sure, including with the cases of surrendering fighters and other such matters, that… that all actions taken against Da’esh conform with all applicable international human... humanitarian law and human rights law.  So that… that also needs to be... to take place.  Yes.

Question:  Farhan, Mr. Kobler is in Tunisia today, and do you know if he already has a date for a meeting with the Libyan coalition to start to make the Government working?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I'm not aware of a date yet.  He did make some remarks out of his… out of his meetings today, so there is some information from the UN support mission in Libya concerning his… his travels.  But, at this stage, I don't have any firm date to announce.  Yes, Lou.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Going back to Syria, to follow up, there have been many different and almost conflicting reports on when exactly the next round of peace talks are supposed to take place, ranging from 9 March to 15 March.  Staffan de Mistura himself has said that things will be staggered.  Can you give us some clarity on this so that, you know, we have some sense of how it's going to go?  I mean, is it still up in the air?  Is it being debated?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not up in the air exactly.  And hopefully, this can clear things up, that Staffan de Mistura plans on resuming the talks as of the afternoon of 9 March.  That's Wednesday.  He and his team stand ready to receive all the participants as of 9 March, and they will be conducting preliminary consultations prior to substantive discussions as per the agenda set by Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  It's clear that, due to logistical arrangements, some participants will be arriving on 12 March; some will be arriving on 13 March. We'll accommodate those as they happen.  But, the start of the process remains 9 March.  Yes.

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask you about Yemen.  I wanted to ask you about an e-mail that I've seen and published from Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to Jeff Feltman in which he says the Houthis are willing to meet with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Jordan, but that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia said they would only send lower‑level representation and, although the… the… the e-mail was dated 11 February, it seems that this meeting has not ever taken place.  Some say it's inconsistent with what the envoy told the Security Council in his most recent briefing.  Can you state, what is the UN's position on the willingness of the Houthis to meet with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia's insistence on sending both low‑level… low‑level delegation and wanting to gain time to gain more ground… more advance on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, I wouldn't be able to say that much about the precise level of diplomatic communications.  Obviously, there's a lot of sensitive diplomatic negotiations going on, and as part of that, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been reaching out to the Houthis, to the Hadi Government, to the Saudis, and to other countries in the region trying to see what he can do to bring the parties together.  He is continuing to… his efforts to bring the parties together, and he is actually… remains hopeful that… that face‑to‑face talks can be held.  It's always, in any diplomatic process, difficult to actually bring the parties to the table.  And part of what you're talking about reflects the difficulty of that process.  But, he… but, he's continuing with his efforts, and… and he is confident that, at some point, he will be able to bring them back to talks.

Question:  I have a related Yemen question.  On Friday we had a briefing by the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia [Abdallah Y. al-Mouallimi] who said very clearly that he said… he claimed that both senior leadership of OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and also the Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, both see no need and have expressed that there is no need for a humanitarian access resolution on Yemen.  Since this would be inconsistent with the testimony they've given about the problems and their position on Syria, is this true or false?  And… and… and…

Deputy Spokesman:  You can look back at… at Stephen O'Brien's remarks to the Security Council last Thursday, which we put out as a document.  You can see for yourself what he himself has said about the need for humanitarian access, and I think that speaks for itself.

Correspondent:  So, can you directly address the Saudi ambassador saying that OCHA behind the… he's basically claiming that OCHA's saying one thing publicly and another thing privately to him and to the Security Council, so I want you to either confirm or deny it.

Deputy Spokesman:  What Mr. O'Brien said in public is what he said to the Security Council.  That was a Security Council briefing, and that's very clear what he's saying, and… and we would go by what he has said.  Yes, Oleg.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  In Kafr Batna?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, basically the idea is that it was 20,000 on Friday and 16,000 today, so that's a total of 36,000.

Question:  Any other convoys to go there in the coming days?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll announce them as they can. You know, we're trying to open up a large number of areas, not just Kafr Batna, but, of course, the four towns that had been covered by the previous agreements as well as others.  So, we'll… we'll let you know about those as… as they proceed.  Yes. In the back.

Question: Thank you, Farhan. As you know, last Friday, Turkish Government seized country's most critical and largest newspaper, Zaman.  And Government also fired many journalists, so many workers, and even editorial chief.  Also, Government changed the Zaman's policy and now Zaman is a pro‑Erdogan newspaper.  And it's not happen all that things… also Friday night and Saturday who came to front of the building Zaman protesters police used force and so many protested peaceful protest they get injured. What would you like to say about all this attack of press freedom and anti-democratic action?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, with regard to the recent actions, we would have concerns about any… any harassment of journalists who are going about their work. Obviously, press outlets, press entities, need to have their independence respected.  Beyond that, on a… on the more general question of freedom of the press, the Secretary‑General will be speaking about this very issue in the coming hours in Baden‑Baden, Germany. So I would like to draw your attention to those remarks, which we'll put out as they're delivered.  Yes.

Question:  Ibtisam, my name. I have two questions, one about Yemen and the other about Syria.  About Yemen, you said Friday, based on the Human Rights Council in Geneva, that the majority of victims, civilians, in Yemen were killed by airstrikes, which the Saudi ambassador, if I'm not mistaken, contradicted. So what's your position on this?  What's your comment? 

Deputy Spokesman:  We stand by the information provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  Second question on Syria.  Sorry.  There are different parties in Syria that talked about violation of the ceasefire.  Is there anybody from the UN who is monitoring this issue of ceasefire?  And can you tell us or… what's your preservation on this… I mean what's your… I mean the UN comment on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I've mentioned, the guarantors of the cessation of hostilities, the Russian Federation and the United States, have their own assets on the ground.  They have the ability to get information, to receive information, from the various parties about any possible violations.  Similarly, through our Office of the Special Envoy, we have also… we're also equipped to receive information of any potential violations, which we then share with the guarantors, and they can verify that.  By and large, the cessation of hostilities has been holding, as I've just noted from what the humanitarian agencies were saying, but there have been violations, and we continue to track them.  We continue also to coordinate our efforts with the two guarantor States.

Question:  Did you make this publicly, like, who violated what and where can find this?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, the information is shared with… with the guarantors who then have their own contacts on the ground and try to make sure that there are no further violations and that the violence on the ground does not spin out of control or invalidate the cessation of hostilities.

Question:  But, why not making this publicly?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, this is how we're handling it right now.  We'll, of course, have the information on hand and can share it as needed.  Like I said, the Office of the Special Envoy also has that information.  Yes, Nizar.

Question:  Yeah, Farhan.  Thank you.  Staying with Yemen, Mr. al-Mouallimi last Friday denied categorically that his forces are using cluster bomb munitions in civilian areas, such as Sana'a, contrary to other reports that came out from the United Nations, which mentioned there were cluster bombs used in Sana'a and other as well.  Are you standing… staying by your reports on that issue?  Also, on Nahem, he denied that the aircraft or the Saudi Air Force hit the… the market in Nahem, which was condemned by the Secretary‑General, and he called for impartial investigation.  Will there be any follow‑up on the impartial investigation in this matter as well as on other issues related to targeting civilian infrastructure?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, of course, given the level of fighting, it would be difficult for us to have the presence on ground to have an investigation from our side. Clearly, we believe that all attacks against civilians need to be investigated by the various parties on the ground, and we would ask for them to do that.  Regarding your earlier question, as I had mentioned to Ibtisam, we stand by what the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said.

Correspondent:  So, cluster bomb has been used in civilian areas in Yemen.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, I'd just refer you back to the press release from last Friday, which mentions what their indications are, so I'd refer you back to that.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Yes, Farhan. Can you… I mean, back again to Yemen.  The Saudi Arabian ambassador keeps on suggesting as to… that the United Nations report, whether it's the human rights or whether it's Mr. O'Brien, is basically wrong.  He had a point of view.  [Inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I wouldn't have any comment on… on that. What I can say is that we have our mandate that's provided by the Security Council.  The mandate's quite clear on this.  And as part of that, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been working to try to get the parties back to political negotiations.  And, meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and our partners on the ground continue to try to provide aid for roughly 21 million people, which is to say about four fifths of the population of Yemen.  The needs on the ground are vast.  We have to put this conflict to a halt sooner rather than later, given how much has already happened just in the past year.  And we're doing what we can to… to bring the fighting to a halt and to get aid to the people, and we will continue with our mandated tasks.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible] fighting to a halt, he kept on saying that it is the Houthis who has… he is not taking any responsibility as to whether the Saudis and the Houthis should get together and stop the fighting, no.  He said it's the Houthis.  So, it's one‑sided.

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you back over to the text of the relevant Security Council resolutions.  Yes.

Question:  On the WFP… vessel, the WFP vessel, which is Mr. al-Mouallimi accused the United Nations of concealing the telecommunications and computer equipment which was on board and that they were not on the manifest of the ship.  Is that correct?  And that you've made some apologies regarding that.

Deputy Spokesman:  We have made it clear, as we've said repeatedly that this was information technology equipment designed for the protection cluster in Aden.  We have been informed that sometime this week that in… that equipment should get to Aden and finally resolve the matter.  It was used for our purposes and… and it… it was legitimate humanitarian equipment.  Yes.

Question:  Sorry.  A follow‑up on that.  Are you obliged to clarify that to Saudis?  If so… for example, in Syria… in the Syria… let me please finish this.  In the Syrian case, you always ask for unfettered access to civilians.  In the Yemeni case, we did not hear this.  Why is it not unfettered?  Why Saudis have the first say on how the shipments should be delivered?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we have made clear what the arrangements are.  I've talked about this at length last week.  We… as with most countries, we try to get aid in, and we try to make sure that all parties will allow aid to be in.  We provide information to make sure that it can… it can come in to port and be offloaded without any problem.  There was difficulty over the issue of this information technology equipment, but we believe it's been resolved.

Question:  Same topic?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on, please.  Carla has been waiting for quite some time.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible] made any comment about the joint military exercises that are being held by the United States in South Korea, which are called beheading operation explicitly to behead the Government in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  And two years ago, the Foreign Minister of the DPRK said that they had addressed to the Security Council their concerns about these military exercises, which are very destabilizing, to North Korea and the whole area.  And the Security Council ignored this, and yet they passed a resolution, which was basically strangling last week.  And this week, the military exercises are continuing.  So, under Article 51 of Chapter VII, a nation has a right to self‑defence…

Deputy Spokesman:  Carla, what's the question, please?

Question:  The question is, has… is anyone addressing the fact that these ongoing military exercises with threatening titles, such as beheading operations, are being conducted by the US in South Korea, and these are provocations which are terrifying the north?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I have no comment on the bilateral military exercises or what their names are.  Yes.

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask about Darfur, but first, I heard you say that sometime later this week, this IT equipment will be delivered.  I'm looking back at Stephen O'Brien, what he said to the Council.  And he said the IT equipment will be delivered to Aden on 6 March.  Since it's now 7 March, can you describe what's the problem?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, no, no, it should have happened by now.  It was on track for this week.

Question:  Can you find… can you e-mail or squ-… I guess e-mail, since I'll no longer hear your squawks, e-mail whether, in fact, it was… it was delivered?  Seems important…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Correspondent:  …since you're saying what he said to the Council is all true.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, no, no.  The idea was… the idea last week was it would be this week.  If he said 6 March, I have no reason to dispute that…

Question:  On Darfur… on Darfur, I wanted to ask you this.  On the repatriation of the entire South African contingent, I wanted to… you know… it's… it's… a lot of the praise was offered from the podium.  It was as if there was no underlying problem.  But, I want to ask you very directly something now that I've heard from multiple sources within DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], which is that the incident that took place on 7 January near Kutum in which the South Africans were described as having been ambushed and having given up some weapons by those who ambushed them that, in fact, many weapons were given up, that Mr. Ladsous was quite angry about it, and that was ordered the particular unit that was ambushed and apparently didn't tell UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] for six hours that it had happened that they should leave.  And this, in fact, has led to the entire contingent leaving.  The South African permanent representative has gotten the job.  I just want to know if, in fact, the UN is for once standing up when a contingent doesn't… you know, hands over its weapons to malefactors, why can't you say it?  What's the reason… what happened in Kutum, and what why was it described in the way that it was both by UNAMID and a UN News Centre as not implicating the South African unit at issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've shared the details of the Kutum incident as it happened.  I don't have anything to add to the record of what we said at the time…

Question:  Have the weapons ever been recovered?  How many weapons were taken and by whom?  Because the UNAMID and the UN News Centre say that weapons were taken.  I've heard that there were more weapons… it says one machine gun and ammunition but seems like a big reaction for that.  Whatever the quantity of weapons, were they ever recovered by the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't believe that they have been recovered, but I can check with UNAMID.  Yes, Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Well, you just announced that the preliminary consultations on Syria and Geneva are going to start on 9 March, so there are basically two days left.  Are there any changes in the list of participants?  There was some talks for possible court attendance to these talks. Is there any success, or are these the same parties that were in the previous round?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any changes in terms of participants, but we'll know better… the participants will be arriving over the course of this week, and you'll get a clearer picture at that point.

Question:  On the same… on the same issue, today, the opposition in… of Riyadh, they spoke about the one condition that the first thing, if they don't discuss the interim Government or the transitional authority, which are to be set, then there won't be any talks.  Do you accept such preconditions for the talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've… we've stated many times that… that these talks are to be held without preconditions.

Question:  Another thing.  Regarding the WFP ship to Hodeidah, has the food on board been distributed to the people who need it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, we mentioned that last week.  Yes.

Question:  Lakhdar Brahimi, several years ago, stated that the United Nations is no longer perceived in many parts of the world as impartial, that it is perceived as partisan.  And I know that the Security Council took up the issue of human rights violations in North Korea, and yet, according to the Associated Press, there… it is a living hell for disabled slaves in South Korea.  Why did the Security Council not address the issue of slavery in South Korea?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you need to take that up with the Security Council, who can… who can talk about what they choose to take up and not to take up.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Burundi and Sri Lanka.  On Burundi, I wanted to know whether the UN team there or the human rights presence is aware of allegations of the use of poison, particular… in particular, the Vice-President of Tax and other officials, perceived to be anti‑Nkurunziza officials, have recently died.  And people are saying that there's a use of poison to kill, not only, you know, young people perceived to be part of a rebellion, but, in fact, even officials.  What… is the UN aware of that, and what are they going to do to discover whether it's true or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, the human rights team is still on the ground.  I believe that they are to wrap up their work at some point soon, and they are expected to speak to the press tomorrow and can address questions about what they've been handling.  Yes.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  You've taken a bunch of questions on what the Saudi ambassador said on Yemen last Friday, so I'm going to ask another one.  But, just, generally speaking, how common is it that an ambassador would talk about private conversations with a UN agency?  Does that raise issues for your kind of continued, you know, operations?  Does that… what do you make of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think to ask the question is almost to answer it, isn't it?  You're aware of how diplomacy works.  That's all I can say on that.  Yes.

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask you, the… the… since the protest that I've asked you about… and I'll sort of open‑endedly say whether you have any response to it… of the UN compound in Jaffna, I've been sent a copy of a UN OCHA staff member's witness statement for the [Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka], in which he states that, during the time frame in Sri Lanka, a… he was an OCHA staff member and has presented his identification card, et cetera, that he was picked up by white vans of the Government, was tortured, and that, although he told his employers at UN OCHA, absolutely nothing was done for him since.  He's now in exile in Chennai in Tamil Nadu.  And I wanted to know, what has the UN done since it's admitted what Ban Ki-… or what the Petrie report called a systemic failure to ensure that at least those that actually worked for it at the time have either some recompense or some justice?  And are they aware… I can… you know, I published a redacted version of his statement.  What does the UN… what was its duty to these staff members, and what does it say about those who were tortured with no response by the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we have a duty to all staff members to make sure that their basic rights are respected.  If there's a report of a staff member being tortured, we would have to take that up.  We'll need to follow up on… on what happened with this particular case.  Thanks.

 

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.