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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 16 April 2012

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

The first group of six United Nations unarmed monitors arrived in Damascus last night and began working this morning. The monitors’ early tasks include liaising with Syrian Government authorities and security forces, as well as the opposition, to ensure that all sides understand the role and work of the team. The rest of the 30-person advance monitoring team will arrive in the coming days. We would like to acknowledge the critical support of the Italian Government, which is airlifting United Nations vehicles from our logistics base in Brindisi and other locations so that the monitors are able to be mobile quickly and travel to all locations in Syria.

This morning, in Brussels, the Secretary-General welcomed the arrival of the advance monitoring team and said he will present his concrete proposals for an enlarged official monitoring team of over 250 people by Thursday, 19 April.

The situation in Syria is very fluid, he said, noting that he is very concerned about the renewed shelling in the city of Homs that has taken place over the last two days. He once again urged the Syrian Government, in the strongest terms, to end the violence. At the same time, the Secretary-General expects that as a next step, the political dialogue will continue. A political solution needs to be found which respects and reflects the aspirations of the Syrian people. This solution should be Syrian-led. He noted the Syrian Humanitarian Forum will be held in Geneva on Friday, 20 April, and he expects strong support from the international community.

**Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria

This morning, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria welcomed the arrival in Damascus last night of an advance team of observers. The Commission hopes that the ceasefire will contribute to putting an end to the gross human rights violations that it has been reporting on over the past six months. The Commission recalls the need to ensure accountability for those violations. The full text is available online.

** Afghanistan

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on attacks this weekend in Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the coordinated attacks that were carried out yesterday and today against State institutions and international organizations, including foreign diplomatic missions, in Kabul and in other parts of Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General notes the efforts of the Afghan National Security Forces in responding to these events.

It is ordinary Afghans who ultimately bear the brunt of such attacks. The Secretary-General calls on the parties to the conflict to take all possible measures for the protection of civilians.

**Secretary-General Travel

And this afternoon, the Secretary-General has just arrived in Luxembourg, the last stop on his three-country European trip.

This morning, in Brussels, the Secretary-General met European Union development ministers and attended the opening of the EU Summit on Sustainable Energy for All. He told the Summit that energy poverty is a threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. He said that sustainable energy needs to be brought to all people starting with those who need it most, what he called the bottom 3 billion.

The Secretary-General also held bilateral meetings with the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso; the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Catherine Ashton; as well as the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, reported three separate incidents of air strikes this weekend in Unity state. Two were in Bentiu and another in Mayom, where UNMISS premises withstood material damage after being hit by two bombs. The UN staff members are reported safe. The Mission is, of course, following up.

**Security Council

This morning the Security Council issued a presidential statement on the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, strongly condemning the 13 April launch by the DPRK. The Security Council demanded that the DPRK immediately comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions 1718 (2006) and 1874 (2009), including that it abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, immediately cease all related activities and not conduct any further launches that use ballistic missile technology, nuclear tests or any further provocation. The Security Council expresses its determination to take action accordingly in the event of a further DPRK launch or nuclear test.

** Mali

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has voiced deep concern over the safety in Mali of Timbuktu’s invaluable cultural heritage, following reports that rebels have overrun and looted centres containing thousands of ancient books and documents that bear testimony to the city’s extraordinary history. The Director-General appealed to all relevant authorities, including Mali’s warring factions, neighbouring Governments, INTERPOL, customs organizations, the art market and collectors, to be on the alert against any attempt to traffic items stolen from these centres.

**Disaster Risk Reduction

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, began a five-day mission to Viet Nam today to call for stepped-up disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures.

She visited the Mekong Delta Ben Tree province, which is particularly at risk of sea-level rise, with 90 per cent of its land mass just one metre above sea level. She also visited a number of climate change adaptation projects put in place by Oxfam and the World Wide Fund for Nature. While in Viet Nam, Ms. Wahlström is also expected to meet with the Foreign Minister and other senior officials.

That’s it from me. Questions? Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question: On this Bahrain… when this report [inaudible] has issued the Bahrain [inaudible] is using extreme harsh repressive measure to arrest and detain the dissidents. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about this?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General continues to maintain that people have a right to free, democratic protest. Their rights should be respected and undue force should never be used.

Question: This… another… another…

Correspondent: A follow-up?

Question: Is there a follow-up on that?

Deputy Spokesperson: A follow-up?

Question: A follow-up on [inaudible]. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of the protesters who is sentenced from… life sentence… has been on hunger strike for over two months and the last thing we heard from the Secretary-General that he was promised to be sent to Denmark since he carried Danish citizenship. I understand that he hasn’t been transferred to Denmark and that he is still languishing in jail under hunger strike for over 63 days. Has there been any follow-up on that by Secretary-General of the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General continues to maintain that he should be sent back to Denmark, if that in fact is his choice.

Question: How about the hunger strikers in Saudi Arabian jails also for protesting? Is there any action by the United Nations and…?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on Saudi Arabia, no, sorry.

Question: Okay, should we expect another statement, I mean on… regarding those detainees in Bahrain very soon?

Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll have to see, I don’t have anything on the agenda right now.

Question: With regard to the peace observer advance team that arrived to Syria, what are the nationalities of the advance team? And the Syrian Government has announced earlier that they will reject peace observers from countries, they did not name them. My question, did the Syrian Government have any say in the selection of the peace observers, whether the advance team or the later force that should be arriving soon?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we don’t comment on the nationality of observers in any UN mission, and we are not about to start doing that now. With respect to what the Syrian Government has said, the United Nations will govern itself according to Security Council resolutions. Matthew?

Question: [inaudible] the Syria mission, I mean I… you may not get into that, but Saturday at the stakeout there was some confusion about General Mood who is in charge… at one point sent, and Russian Ambassador Churkin said that Mr. Mood had left abruptly Damascus and… and that… and that Kofi Annan’s office said he wasn’t going to go back, the Syrian ambassador said they want General Mood back. What is the status of General Mood with… with this mediation effort?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, from my understanding, General Mood was in Damascus last week to discuss the modalities of deployment. Mr. Jean-Marie Guéhenno is in New York this week working on the Secretary-General’s report that will be submitted to the Security Council by Thursday, based upon which the Security Council, it is hoped, will adopt a resolution authorizing deployment of the full mission. That’s all I have for you on that.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that Major General Mood went to Damascus from 5 to 10 April to discuss the modalities of the eventual deployment of a United Nations supervision mission. He then came to Geneva to report to the Joint Special Envoy on 11 April. He added that, as his mission was accomplished, he returned to Norway.

The Spokesperson also noted that the advance team in Damascus was being led by Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himiche. He added that when the Security Council adopts a second resolution authorizing deployment of a full mission, the Secretary-General would appoint a Force Commander.]

Question: Okay, can I… another question that arose there and I… sort of a hybrid question. There is obviously a lot of focus, and I have seen the Secretary-General say that there needs to be full freedom of movement, for the observers in Syria, and that it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that. I mean, it’s not been, you know, formalized and finalized — this Secretary-General’s report on MINURSO in Western Sahara, and paragraph 46 of it says very clearly that the MINURSO peacekeepers are monitored, I think is the word used by the Moroccan authorities that individuals cannot approach them and speak, and so I just… I wanted to know, in putting forward this report, is there something that the Secretary-General is complaining about the freedom of movement, or is it somehow okay in one mission and not in another?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’ll have to check on that Matthew, I think Martin answered a question on MINURSO last week, if I am not mistaken.

Question: He said he wouldn’t comment on a change in the report, but I am saying even as changed, it… it just describes factually without complaining about a lack of… a lack of… paragraph 46 of the report put out by the Media Liaison office today, so maybe I… I… if you don’t have something now, maybe by later this afternoon you can…

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, let’s see what we can get for you, let’s see what we can get for you.

Correspondent: Just to understand… okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Masood?

Question: Yeah, I just want to ask another question about the human rights issue, flotilla at this… air flotilla which is going to Israel. Israel is detaining all the protesters, including all the Europeans and everybody, and in Israel, the Israeli… several Israeli Knesset members have protested and have said that this is a human rights violation of not allowing the protesters who are coming into Israel to join the air flotilla to take aid for the Palestinians in Gaza. Does Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson: Masood, what exactly is your question that you want…?

Question: The question is about these… these dissidents being arrested at the Ben Gurion airport by the Israeli authorities who were supposed to come there to protest and to take aid for the Palestinians in Gaza.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Masood…

Question: The Israelis arresting them, putting them in jail or deporting them.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Masood, I think any sovereign State has a right to determine who enters it country and who doesn’t.

Question: These are peaceful dissidents coming in.

Deputy Spokesperson: But, peaceful people coming in, I mean, every country in the world has its own visa and entry regulations, and whether people are peaceful or not, they have the right to implement those regulations.

Correspondent: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Now, what we expect always from all countries is to apply humane standards in keeping with international law.

Question: Okay, the accusation of human rights violations are not only by anybody from outside, it is from within Israel itself who are saying that Israeli Government is overreacting and sending all these people, deporting all these people.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, they have every right to do so, and they have every right to protest peacefully; that’s a right the United Nations recognizes and insists in all situations.

Question: Okay.

Question: On the same subject, how about the countries that prevented protesters from travelling to Israel, people such as… countries such France, Belgium, Turkey — they all prevented people from travelling, this ban of travel on those who want to protest or just to express their opinion about occupation?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, it is one thing to express your opinion of a situation in your own country; it’s quite another to try and do it in another country. The authorities have the right to determine who can enter the country.

Question: Yeah, how about the countries that prevent others from going to another country?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, that’s something that the people in the country should take up legally with their authorities.

Question: I mean, the United Nations has no position on that? That they should be allowed to travel where… because freedom of travel is… is one of the tenets of freedom, human rights isn’t it?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ll have to check on that, I don’t have… this is the first I hear of any country interdicting its people from travelling abroad from these countries. From Western European countries you are talking about?

Correspondent: Yes.

Deputy Spokesperson: It’s the first I have heard of it, we’ll have to check into it. Matthew?

Question: Sure, I want to, about Timor and the Congo. I saw the Secretary-General’s statement on the election in Timor-Leste and it looks like the winner is José Maria de Vasconcelos. He used to be a guerrilla leader who actually appears in UN reports as… as recommended for prosecution for illegal transfer of weapons, and so I wonder, what is the… the Secretary-General’s congratulations, is he aware of this previous past of the individual and one, does he have… is he saying that that’s now entirely forgotten, or is there no follow through by the UN system on its own recommendation for prosecution of this individual?

Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to check on that Matthew, I don’t have anything on it.

Question: Okay, and I wanted to ask on the Congo, maybe you will have something, maybe DPKO will have something on this. There is a controversy in MONUSCO in eastern Congo, Walikale, the town where there was mass rapes and allegedly with… with inaction of MONUSCO at the time. There was a… there a quick implementation… a quick-impact project set up, five grinding mills into Walikaleto somehow make life better there, but I am informed that four of the five mills were never installed, and that basically money has been wasted, they are rotting, rusting, and I just wonder, since this… this was a… high-profile thing at one time, with the UN trying to make good in Walikale, what’s the status of that project and why has there been no follow-through?

Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, Matthew, you will understand I have to check into that for you; I don’t have that information with me.

Question: [inaudible] speaking about the bottom 3 billion, is this in reference to energy availability? He spoke earlier of 1 billion having… having to do with poverty, was the number…?

Deputy Spokesperson: I think it is the bottom 3 billions of people who have difficulty accessing energy. I’d recommend you to read the speech, it’s available online. That will probably clarify matters for you, okay?

Question: Can I ask one more? I just want to ask sort of a procedural question. It seem like on a lot of the questions today, you know, obviously, I mean… and… and maybe we will get an answer by 3 o’clock, but a lot of the questions, I mean, weren’t answered; you said I don’t have anything on that. Is there some way to know the answers that you do have? Can we just…?

Deputy Spokesperson: Ask the questions.

Question: Okay. All right, do you have anything on Latin America?

Deputy Spokesperson: What would you like to know?

Question: I am… any comment on the failure of the Summit of the Americas to come up with a statement? I mean, I guess we can go hit and guess, but if you prepare a statement, let’s just hear it.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well no, no — look, Matthew, this is a briefing…

Correspondent: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: …at which we provide you with information of what the Secretariat is doing and we take a few questions every day.

Correspondent: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: If you want to talk about the situation in Latin America, again, the Summit of the America is under the aegis of the Organization of American States, they run it, you might want ask them for their comments on how they see the outcome of that Summit.

Question: How about Guinea-Bissau? Do you have… do you have an if-asked on Guinea-Bissau? It seems like there was readout of the Secretary-General’s call with the… with the Foreign Minister of Portugal where he said he had immediately condemned the coup, but some people noticed he didn’t immediately put out a statement once the military did what it did. Was this a recognition by this… by the… by the Secretariat that initially it wasn’t a coup? What’s the… what’s your… the current understanding of the Secretariat on the situation in Guinea-Bissau?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, let me read to you what I have.

Correspondent: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Basically, what the Secretary-General said was that he was in close contact with the SRSG in Guinea-Bissau, and they were determining what the course of events were. The course of events have been very fast-flowing, and when we have something else for you, we will get it to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified that his Office had issued the following statement on Friday, 13 April:

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the unconstitutional seizure of power by the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau on 12 April. This action occurred as the people of Guinea-Bissau were preparing to go to the polls on 29 April to vote for a new President. The Secretary-General is extremely concerned about the reported arrest and detention of key public officials. He calls on the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau to immediately and unconditionally release all detainees and ensure the safety and security of the general population, as well as of members of the international community in Guinea-Bissau.

The Secretary-General underscores the need for the Armed Forces and its leadership to respect civilian authority, constitutional order and the rule of law, as well as to take urgent and immediate steps to return the country to civilian rule. He urges the people of Guinea-Bissau to remain calm and to refrain from violence or acts of vandalism during this period. He reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to continue to support the constitutional order in Guinea-Bissau in ensuring sustainable peace and stability in the country.]

Question: Do you have anything on Heglig? This is for… my last question, I just… you… you had a readout about attacks by Sudan in South Sudan, which clearly… actually, there may be more of this, Warrap State, they are saying was also attacked, but do you have anything… the other way, if I were to say to you what is the status of South Sudan being in Heglig, would you remain alarmed?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we are not going to submit on a daily basis to complete interrogation. I have given you what I have given you on Sudan, and that’s basically all we have to say, okay?

Correspondent: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Okay, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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