The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’ll start off with an update on Libya. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemns the increased use of heavy weapons and indiscriminate shelling that has damaged civilian houses, schools and infrastructure. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, continues his outreach to call for a humanitarian truce to allow for emergency services to access civilians trapped in conflict-impacted areas.
Yesterday, Mr. Salamé met with Libyan representatives, who transmitted an appeal for an end to the hostilities and a return to dialogue signed by more than 100 Libyan academics, civil society activists, journalists, politicians and representatives of women’s organizations.
The number of people displaced due to hostilities in and around Tripoli is now approaching 20,000, according to the UN’s Migration Agency (IOM). More than 2,500 people were displaced in the last 24 hours alone.
Many families fleeing conflict areas are heading towards central Tripoli and its immediate surroundings, but more than 14,000 of those displaced have sought safety outside of the capital, including in Tajoura, Al Maya, Ain Zara and Tarhouna.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that centres set up by local authorities to accommodate displaced families now house some 1,500 people. Humanitarian assistance – including emergency health care, food, water, hygiene supplies, and psychosocial support – is being provided at these and other locations where hostilities are impacting civilians. More than 8,000 people have been reached with some form of humanitarian assistance.
Libyan first responder teams report that civilian evacuations are increasing, with a significant number of casualties amongst those evacuated.
Fifty civilian casualties have so far been confirmed, including 14 deaths. These figures represent [cases] that could be individually verified and must, therefore, be considered a minimum.
On Sudan, I just wanted to let you know that earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke to Moussa Faki, the chair of the African Union Commission, to tell him that he has requested Nicholas Haysom, one of his Special Advisers, to be available to support the African Union’s mediation efforts in Sudan.
You saw that yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General expressed his horror at the pictures he saw of the fire in Paris engulfing the Notre Dame Cathedral, which he said is a unique example of world heritage that has stood tall since the fourteenth century.
The Secretary-General said that his thoughts are with the people and Government of France.
For her part, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), said that we are heartbroken by the fire that ravaged Notre Dame, which is inscribed on the World Heritage List.
She was at the site with French authorities immediately, and noted that Notre Dame represents a historically, architecturally and spiritually outstanding cultural heritage.
Ms. Azoulay also announced that UNESCO will take part in a rapid damage assessment and will support the French authorities in the rehabilitation of the cathedral.
**Central African Republic
And I have an update on the ongoing joint high-level mission of the African Union, United Nations and the European Union to the Central African Republic.
The African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Smail Chergui, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and the European External Action Service Managing Director for Africa, Koen Vervaeke, today met with the Prime Minister of the Central African Republic. They reaffirmed their full support to the implementation of the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic by working together to make progress on the Agreement.
Following that meeting, Mr. Lacroix told reporters that this Agreement is a unique window of opportunity in the country, which must be seized.
Yesterday, the AU-UN delegation also visited Bambari and Bangassou in the Ouaka prefecture and reiterated the importance of the peace agreement for a lasting peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic.
Our colleagues at the UN World Food Programme (WFP) tell us that in the month since Cyclone Idai made landfall, they have now reached 1 million people in Mozambique with food assistance.
WFP intends to assist a total of 1.7 million people requiring urgent food and nutrition support in the country’s most affected provinces, but the agency still requires $130 million to be able to fully implement its response through June.
For its part, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has also begun the distribution of maize, bean and vegetable seeds and tools for up to 14,700 farmers, that is in Mozambique.
And in Zimbabwe, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says an oral cholera vaccine campaign targeting close to 488,000 people began today in the two districts worst-affected by Cyclone Idai.
In Nicaragua, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today said that one year after the country’s political and social crisis began, more than 60,000 people have been forced to flee their country. The vast majority of people – about 55,000 – have sought refuge in Costa Rica.
The UN agency said that many people, including young children, have walked for hours through difficult terrain, exposed to heat, humidity and the risk of malaria.
UNHCR says it is developing, together with other UN partners, an inter-agency humanitarian response plan to support the [Costa Rican] Government in addressing the immediate needs of increasingly vulnerable asylum seekers and host communities.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. We all saw the Secretary‑General’s tweet. I wonder if he has anything to add on the rebuilding of Notre Dame, now that the fire is out? And then I have a second question on your announcement about Nick Haysom. Is he actually going to be going to Sudan? What exactly is he going to be doing? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Sure. On… let’s start with Europe. On Notre Dame, through the work of UNESCO, we will be supporting the French authorities in whatever way they feel is most necessary. UNESCO is not only the cultural arm of the UN but, as you know, is also based in Paris. So, I know our colleagues there will do whatever they can, and the Secretary‑General will fully support UNESCO’s efforts.
On Mr. Haysom, he is being put at the disposal of the African Union, which, as we understand it, will be engaged in some mediation capacity between the transitional government council… transitional council in Khartoum and various parts of Sudanese society. So, Mr. Haysom will be there to support them in whatever way they can. At this point, he is in New York. We’ll have to see in the next couple of days where his next stop will take him. Mr. Bays?
Question: Follow‑up question on Libya. The Security Council is now considering a draft resolution, which would call, if, of course, down the line it was passed, for a ceasefire. Is that something the Secretary‑General supports?
Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General would welcome a strong and united response from the Security Council on this very issue. He has been… since he left Tripoli, been calling for a ceasefire, for a cessation of hostilities, for whatever you want to call it, for something where… a situation where the guns fall silent, where the immediate need is for humanitarian aid to get in, for first responders to be allowed to do their work without being shot at. So, we would welcome any expression from any quarter on this. Erol?
Question: On Libya as well… on Libya as well… thanks, Steph. Does the Secretary‑General has any Plan B ‑‑ obviously, our favourite question ‑‑ if this negotiation meeting that was postponed or, rather, failed, to go on with the negotiation on Libya? And, also, since we read the same newspapers, there are a lot of reports that UN and the Secretary‑General is actually supporting… backing the current Government in Tripoli, while some other members of international community, including France, for example – has said ‑‑ is supporting General [Khalifa] Haftar. So, what is true… is that true description? [inaudible]
Spokesman: It’s not… I think the terminology of the use of “backing” is probably not a correct one. The Government in Tripoli is recognized by the United Nations. That happens to be a fact. The Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy is working with the Government and all other parties in Libya, as well as international actors, trying to push for a cessation of hostilities so we can move on with the political process. I think Mr. Salamé was very clear that the national conference was not cancelled. He was going… he wanted to go forward with it, but there is an obvious impossibility to go forward while people are shooting at each other and while civilians are being shot at. So, it’s not a matter of plan A or Plan B. It’s a matter of getting a cessation of hostilities and getting the political procedure back on track. There is no alternative to a political solution in Libya right now. Carole and then Joe and then…
Question: Stéphane, back on Sudan, you mentioned that Nicholas Haysom will work with the African Union, and the African Union Peace and Security Council has put out a very strong statement calling on the Military Council to hand over to a civilian government in 15 days. Are we to assume that this appointment means that the UN will be working with the AU in this effort?
Spokesman: I think it’s… this is where we’re jumping off to a lot of assumptions. The role of Mr. Haysom will be to support the African Union’s mediation efforts. I think the African Union, as we all saw, put out a very clear statement, and it’s according to the laws, if I can use that word, it… the African Union had adopted… resolutions that the African Union had adopted a few years ago concerning military coups. The Secretary‑General is very attached to his partnership with the African Union, and he will do whatever he can to support their efforts. I think it’s only normal that a regional organization be on the front lines in trying to help mediate, and we are there to support their efforts. Joe and then…
Question: Yes. Has the Secretary‑General reached out personally to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to offer his congratulations on the prime minister’s election victory? That’s number one. Number two, regarding Yemen, could you give us an update on the UN’s activities relating to the implementation of the Stockholm understanding?
Spokesman: Sure. On Yemen, I really don’t have anything to add to the exhaustive briefing Mr. [Martin] Griffiths gave and Mr. [Mark] Lowcock gave on Yemen yesterday in the Security Council. So, I would refer you to those texts.
I’m not aware of any phone call between the Secretary‑General and Prime Minister Netanyahu. As far as I understand, the negotiation… as I read in the press, the negotiation… the process of appointing the next government is under way. So, I’m not aware, and I’m not aware of any phone call. And, traditionally, it is done at the Head of State level, but as I understand it, the negotiations to the Government are still going on. Señor?
Question: A first shipment of aid by the Red Cross arrived today in Venezuela. Is the UN part of this process, or is there any progress in the discussions with the Government in… [inaudible]
Spokesman: We continue to be in discussions with the Government about scaling up our operations further, and we will support the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] in whichever way we can. No Monica… Oops.
Question: I’m just wondering, Steph, where and how the Secretary‑General will spend his Good Friday.
Spokesman: Away from the office. [laughter] As we all should. Yeah, thank you. [inaudible]
Question: What else? What else?
Spokesman: That’s… I think that’s enough for all of us. Thank you.