The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Central African Republic
We unfortunately have a sad update from the Central African Republic. Our colleagues report that the Moroccan peacekeeper who had been reported as missing has now been found dead. We, of course, extend our condolences to his family and to the people and Government of Morocco.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is heading out to Bangui later today, where he will attend the memorial ceremony for the five peacekeepers who were killed in Monday’s attack. The ceremony is scheduled to take place tomorrow. Mr. Lacroix will convey the Secretary-General’s strong support for the UN Peacekeeping Mission [MINUSCA] to assist the authorities and people of the Central African Republic in their efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to their country. Mr. Lacroix is also expected to meet with senior officials from the Central African Republic, as well, of course, as the Mission’s leadership.
As you know, the Secretary-General is currently in London. He is participating as we speak in a press conference with British officials at the conclusion of the Somalia Conference. Earlier today, in his opening remarks to the event, he said the Conference was an opportunity to listen to Somalia’s leadership and agree on a framework for cooperation.
He said that Somalia has to rebuild security, foster transparency and accountability, deal with a crippling drought, and avert a famine, adding that we also saw an opportunity to build on the momentum of the electoral process and achieve lasting stability.
Mr. [António] Guterres said the UN is now seeking $900 million in aid this year to help the country tackle its most pressing challenges.
He urged all partners to align their support to Somalia’s National Development Plan, and reiterated that the UN will do everything possible to make this the start of a new chapter of sustainable prosperity and lasting peace in the country.
Earlier today, he also participated in a meeting on humanitarian assistance, saying that the lean season is coming in Somalia and that hunger conditions are expected to worsen over the coming months. The 2011 famine in Somalia killed 260,000 people, he recalled — half of them children, which the Secretary-General said was a stain on the conscience of humanity. This time, he added, we must save lives before it is too late.
We will put out the transcript of that press conference out as soon as we’re able to and we’ve already put out the statement he delivered earlier today.
On South Sudan, the Head of the Peacekeeping Mission in that country (UNMISS), David Shearer, spoke publicly a bit earlier today in Juba. He said that over the past four weeks, there has been an increase in the amount of fighting throughout the country. Among other issues, he highlighted the deteriorating security situation in the Bor–Pibor area between Dinka Bor youth and Murle youth, noting concerns that it might spark more widespread fighting between those two communities. Mr. Shearer said the UN has been engaging with communities there over the past few weeks and that it is supporting efforts by the Government and the First Vice President to decrease tensions.
Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, told your colleagues in Geneva a bit earlier today about the preparations for the new round of talks between the Syrian parties next week.
He said the talks will be business-like and rather short compared to other meetings. He “wanted to hit the iron while it’s hot”, he said, following the recent Astana talks. He added that those talks yielded some outcomes that are potentially promising.
Mr. de Mistura added that the holy month of Ramadan will begin soon, which he admitted does have an impact on the timing of the talks. We shared with you the transcript.
From Yemen, the World Health Organization [WHO] and its partners tell us they are responding to an upsurge in cholera transmission in several parts of Yemen that has now claimed 51 lives. According to the Yemeni Ministry of Health, the number of suspected cholera cases is 2,301, of which 58 have been confirmed by lab testing.
WHO has rapidly distributed medicines and medical supplies, including cholera kits, oral rehydration solutions and intravenous fluids, as well as medical furniture and equipment for diarrhoea treatment centres. Ten new treatment centres are being established in the most affected areas.
WHO is also supporting health authorities to establish oral rehydration therapy corners to treat mild and moderate dehydration due to diarrhoea. Starting with 10 oral rehydration centres in Sana’a, this approach will be replicated across different areas.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
In Rome, the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and the World Bank announced today a new agreement to help countries improve rural livelihoods and protect their natural resources.
The two agencies said the agreement will help countries achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] by using FAO’s technical expertise and the World Bank’s resources to fund projects in areas in need, especially in situations of protracted crises and in fragile States. More information from the FAO and the World Bank.
Our dear friends at UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] today announced that a Refugee Food Festival will be taking place in 13 major European cities this summer. The festival seeks to showcase refugees’ cooking talents and facilitate integration into their new homes.
Between 15 and 30 June, some 50 restaurants will be opening their kitchens to refugee chefs from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Ukraine, to name just a few. More information on UNHCR’s website.
At 2 p.m. in this very room, there will be a briefing by senior officials from Argentina and the International Council for Small Business [ICSB] on the new initiatives to empower micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises as engines of job creation, innovation and sustainable growth. The event is co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Argentina and the UN Office for Partnerships, as well as the ICSB.
Tomorrow, my guest will be Marc-André Blanchard, the Chair of the Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC] Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti and Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN. Mr. Blanchard will be here to brief you on the Group’s very recent visit to Haiti.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I… just double‑checking that the death toll in Central African Republic is now one Moroccan and…
Spokesman: Four Cambodians.
Question: Four Cambodians.
Spokesman: Indeed. One Cambodian, as you… as we reported, was killed during the initial attack, four were then missing, and now we've, unfortunately, recuperated the bodies. We confirmed all of the missing are now dead. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Is there any update on the state of the injured? And what exactly is being done in terms of an investigation, both by the United Nations and by the authorities in Central African Republic?
Spokesman: Well, there are two things. I think, as always, when there is a death of a peacekeeper, there's automatically a board of investigation, and investigations will be conducted by the mission. Obviously, we are working with the Central African authorities to try to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice. And that search is ongoing. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Follow‑up…
Question: The injured?
Spokesman: The injured…? No, no change that I… that I've been advised of in the state of injured. Yep?
Question: Follow‑up on this. Do you have any more details about this killed Moroccan peacekeeper, like, where he was found or who killed him, exactly?
Spokesman: Obviously, I think, as… the information that we had was the attack was conducted by, we think, ex‑Seleka [anti-Balaka; see correction below] militias. We are… the mission working on… near the location of where the attack took place was able to recuperate a body, identify it, and is now bringing it back to Bangui. Matthew?
Question: Sure. In Cambodia, Hun Sen, in a speech to soldiers describing the peacekeepers' deaths in CAR, somehow said this would tie this to the idea of civil war in Cambodia. And his quote… his direct quote was that… that his… his party should win all of the elections in 2017, 2018, and if you cr… if you protest the results, quote, “you will be cracked down on immediately by the armed forces; I don't care if war erupts”. Given, one, just generally, what do you think of such a statement? And number two, it's basically being tied… At least what’s been reported…
Spokesman: I haven't seen the exact text of what the Prime Minister said. What I can say is that we are extremely grateful for the presence of Cambodian peacekeepers, as we are with the Moroccans and all the others who provide peacekeepers, especially in a mission that is so fraught with danger as the Central African Republic. And, from what we understand, Cambodia has said they would stand by its commitment and continue the… the Cambodian troops would stay in [the Central African Republic]. As for the speech, since I haven't read it, I'm not going to comment on it.
Question: Speaking of speeches, what happened with the Secretary‑General's London UNA-UK [United Nations Association of the United Kingdom]…
Spokesman: The video should be posted very shortly. We had some technical issues with the organizers, but we're putting the video…
Question: What about the tran… even just the transcript?
Spokesman: No, we're not doing transcripts. The Secretary‑General spoke off the cuff. We will provide the video, and you're free to listen to it, if you haven't already.
Question: I understand it was for… it was a paid entrance speech, and I just wanted to know what are sort of the protocols for that?
Spokesman: You know, it was a nominal fee. I think it's completely appropriate for a charitable organization, a not‑for‑profit organization, such as UN… the UN Association of UK, to ask for nominal fee to recuperate the cost of getting the Westminster Hall and the organizational costs. I know there were discounted tickets for students and others. And I stand corrected, and I'm sorry I got mixed up. The suspects in the attack of the peacekeepers are anti‑Balaka militia and not ex‑Seleka. My bad. Okay. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. I guess… I have other things but I… I didn't know it was going to go so quickly, so let me just ask you this. On the idea of Mr. Mark Lowcock replacing Stephen O'Brien, starting about a month ago, I began to hear that… that the switch was taken about, and some people describe pressure on the Secretary‑General. I don't expect you to acknowledge that, but who was behind the switch? Given that Mr. O'Brien hasn't been there that long, did the UK ask to switch the head of OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] or…
Spokesman: First of all, we will confirm any appointments when we confirm it from here. It is the Secretary‑General's prerogative to put together his team of USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] as he sees fit, and I think that's what we've been seeing since he’s arrived in office. When we have something to confirm on the leadership of OCHA, we shall do so.
Question: Did any country other than the UK communicate…
Spokesman: When we have something to confirm, we will. Thank you. Oh, Olga. I will… you guys are waking up.
Question: I forgot to raise my hand. I'm sorry. Stéphane, in his speech in February, Secretary‑General… in his speech to General Assembly, Secretary‑General announced the initiative to create a new counter‑terrorism department in the UN, and he said then that Member States should come… come up with ideas and assessments in two weeks. So where are we stand now? Is this department created? Has it been created?
Spokesman: Well, if I'm not mistaken, the outline of the project was presented to the General Assembly. We think it's on the right track. And we expect to announce a head of the department in the near future. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Apologies if I've missed this, but has the Secretary‑General made any remarks or comment on the treatment of gay men in Chechnya? And has he had any conversations with Russian diplomats about this?
Spokesman: I don't believe he's had any conversations with Russian officials on this particular subject. We've seen… I think you will have seen a number of statements by UN Special Rapporteurs, which have called clearly for the immediate release of men detained in Chechnya who have been detained solely for the perception that they may be gay. And there's also a call on Russian authorities to firmly condemn all homophobic statements, which they say… which the rapporteurs say constitute an incitement to hatred and violence. And it's clear from the Secretary‑General's point of view, I think, that no one should be persecuted for perceived reasons of sexual orientation or whom they may love. Yes, Madame? Go ahead, Ann.
Question: Ann Charles, Baltic Review. Today's Wall Street Journal reported that US Defense Chief Jim Mattis met with soldiers deployed with NATO in Lithuania recently and said that the US will bolster its ability to observe Russian military in the Baltic Sea region ahead of a major exercise by Moscow. How concerned is the UN Secretary‑General about the Baltic Sea region and the deployment of nuclear‑capable missiles by Russia in Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania?
Spokesman: No specific comment, that, obviously, we would look towards a de‑escalation for any tensions that may exist. Yes, Olga?
Question: Steph, the follow‑up on my old question. So, if you said that you are expecting the appointment of the head of the… this new counter‑terrorism department, does it mean that this department already exists?
Spokesman: It's in the process of being created. Yep?
Question: Sure. On counter‑terrorism, is Mr. [Jean-Paul] Laborde still in charge of what he was in charge of?
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask, because I saw that the Secretary‑General in… in… at the Somali conference describe the death as Abass Siraji as… as tragic and unfortunate, I just wanted to, I guess, ask… I think I asked about it at the time, and you said it seemed like an assassination. Is that no longer the view of the UN?
Spokesman: I'll… I think whatever the Secretary‑General says overrides whatever I may say. That's a rule.
Question: And I just want to understand, when you say that his speech to UNA‑UK was off the cuff, it seems like… I mean, it was a speech. UN News Centre reported on it, so, like, what's the problem with releasing it? I don’t understand.
Spokesman: It's not that we're not releasing it. It's just no transcript's been done. We're going to release the video, and I think the video is as strong as the spoken word. Rosiland?
Question: Yes, to follow up on Olga's question, it has been rumoured that the Russian Ambassador to the US may be the leading candidate to run the new counter‑terrorism group. Is there a list of potential candidates? Is this something that the SG would make the final decision on? What's the actual process?
Spokesman: Yes, it's the… it would be the Secretary‑General's ultimate decision. And when we're… as always with senior appointments, when we're ready to announce, we will do so. And, in the meantime, we always enjoy reading the rumours. Evelyn?
Question: On Yemen, does WHO, to combat cholera, have access to more areas than the Sana’a region?
Spokesman: You know, we have challenged access… we have a challenge to access a number of areas, and that remains a problem for us throughout the country. Yes, sir?
Question: Just… I'm sorry… on Yemen, did you ever end up getting an answer from OCHA or WHO on the expired medicines that I asked about?
Spokesman: No, not specifically. I'm still waiting for something. Okay. Yes, go ahead, Evelyn. Last question, then we'll go.
Question: In CAR, how many injured are there?
Spokesman: What did we say yesterday? That number has not changed.
Spokesman: Yes, it's ten. Thank you, Michelle.