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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 13 July 2012

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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

The Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, has issued a statement saying he is shocked and appalled by news coming out of the village of Tremseh, near Hama, of intense fighting, significant casualties, and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry, such as artillery, tanks and helicopters.

He said this violated the Syrian Government’s undertaking to stop using heavy weapons in population centres and its commitment to the six-point plan.

The Joint Special Envoy condemned the atrocities, and he said it was yet another reminder of the nightmare and the horrors Syrian civilians are being subjected to. He said it was desperately urgent that the violence and brutality stop and more important than ever that Governments with influence exert it more effectively.

As you will have seen, the Head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, General Robert Mood, has said the Mission stands ready to go to Tremseh to try to verify the facts, if and when there is a credible ceasefire. I can tell you the Secretary-General spoke with his Head of Mission this morning. General Mood briefed him on the Mission’s assessment so far of the reports from Hama. The Secretary-General is, of course, deeply concerned about these reports. We expect a statement from him a little later.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Yesterday, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo used two of its attack helicopters in support of efforts by the country’s Armed Forces to deter M23 fighters near the villages of Ngugo and Nysisi, south of Rutshuru town, in North Kivu.

The M23 fighters had been seen to be moving south toward Goma. The UN mission, which is known as MONUSCO, had also received reports of human rights violations by the M23 in that area. The Mission attack helicopters used rocket fire and missiles to deter their further advances and to protect the population. MONUSCO is assessing the impact of the operation, which took place in a remote and heavily forested, mountainous area.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the DRC, Roger Meece, has been in Goma today. He met with local authorities and the leadership of the Mission and of the Congolese Armed Forces, known as FARDC, to discuss the security situation. Mr. Meece called for calm and reaffirmed the determination of MONUSCO to protect civilians and support FARDC efforts to ensure secure main population centres. From Goma, the Special Representative will travel to Addis Ababa to attend the African Union Summit.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General will depart on Monday, 16 July, for a visit that will take him to China and to South-Eastern Europe. In China, he will take part in the in a Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. While in Beijing, the Secretary-General will also meet with the country’s leadership. He will then travel to South-Eastern Europe, and we’ll provide more details on the trip shortly.

**UN Women on Afghanistan

In a statement issued today, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet said that Afghanistan has been witnessing cases of extreme abuse and appalling violence against women. These actions have sparked national and international outrage, and have once again focused attention on the continuing and urgent need to protect women’s and girls’ rights as the world redefines its role in Afghanistan, and as the Government of Afghanistan moves forward in transition. The full statement is available online.

** Afghanistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Afghans are facing an uncertain future, despite improvements in education, health care and political participation over the past decade. The departure of foreign troops will reduce economic activity, State revenues and foreign aid, putting the development gains of the last decade at risk and exacerbating humanitarian needs in one of the poorest countries in the world. The Office notes that the current consolidated appeal for Afghanistan for this year calls for $448 million to implement 165 projects across the country. Halfway through the year, this appeal is only 30 per cent funded.

** Yemen

The Office for the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs reports that the conflict in Abyan and the south of Yemen has severely disrupted basic social services, increasing already widespread and chronic vulnerabilities.

The conflict between Yemeni security forces and insurgents in Abyan, and the destruction of infrastructure, such as irrigation channels, power installations, machinery and markets, have destroyed the livelihoods of some 200,000 people. Sustained and expanded humanitarian action across the south is critical.

This response requires an additional $87 million to support some 320,000 people in need over the next six months. As of 12 July, the appeal for this year, this is the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, has received $249 million, or 54 per cent of the amount sought.

**World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) has presented a new publication entitled Africa 2011 Facts and Figures. The report highlights that the World Food Programme spent more than 50 per cent of its global assistance in Africa last year. The report says the World Food Programme was the world’s biggest buyer of food for humanitarian operations and the largest single purchaser of food assistance in Africa. And the full report is available online.


And finally I have some personnel announcements to make.

The Secretary-General has appointed Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania, former Deputy Secretary-General, as his Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He’s also appointed Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister, to serve as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. Leila Zerrougui of Algeria will replace Radhika Coomaraswamy as Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and finally, Jean-Jacques Graisse of Belgium is being appointed as Acting Head in the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. There are many more biographical details on those four appointments available in my office.

Questions, please. Yes, Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question: I wanted to ask… I saw that obviously, which you read out, that General Mood had offered UNSMIS’s services to go into Tremseh and see what the facts were. So I wanted to ask you about this Houleh report, which goes back now many weeks, maybe more than a month, that UNSMIS went into Houleh, wrote a report, gave it to the Secretary-General. What’s the status of the report? Because some people are starting to say that, even if they went into Tremseh today, when would the report become available? So, when is the Houleh report going to be available?

Spokesperson: As I’ve told you on a number of occasions, Matthew, that this is something that is being looked at by different parts of the UN system, as is appropriate, and as soon as I have anything further, I’ll let you know.

Question: I guess I want to… it sounds like the UN is saying if it can get into Tremseh today, it would report facts that would be meaningfully impact, let’s say, on the debate on the resolution, and I want to know, would they take the same methodology of more than a month delay on the report, or is there something…?

Spokesperson: I think you are really confusing two things here, Matthew. Because, at the time when the military observers and the civilians from the Mission went into Houleh, they were able to provide immediately facts that verified what had happened on the ground. And I think that is very well known to everybody, but apparently not to you.

Question: No, but… my question is what’s the UN’s position on the number of people killed in Houleh, whether they were killed by the Government in Shabiha or opposition, if there’s…

Spokesperson: You’re very well aware of what was said at the time and you’re also well aware that there is a report coming. Okay, other questions, please? Yes, Miki?

Question: Will the Secretary-General, when he meets with the leadership of China, will he talk about the disputed Spratly islands in South China Sea, and the West China Sea, as well?

Spokesperson: I’m not going to prejudge what the Secretary-General will be discussing with the Chinese leadership. As you well know, that whole topic of territorial disputes in that region is something that the Secretary-General has consistently said is best dealt with by the countries of the region through dialogue and that remains the case. Other questions. Yes, Nizar? And then I’m coming to you.

Question: The [inaudible] Lebanese kidnapped between Turkey and Syria, is there any update about this? It’s been two months now since they’ve been abducted.

Spokesperson: Nizar, I don’t have any further update for you. I think it’s obvious, as I’ve said several times before, that the Secretary-General fervently hopes that these people can be released as soon as possible. But, we don’t… we’re not specifically involved directly with that, that matter, day to day, but we are obviously concerned about their safety and would wish to see them released as soon as possible.

Question: The Saudis are sending reinforcements to the eastern province after the abduction of the Sheikh Nimr and, of course, shooting and killing two people, injuring many others. What’s the position of the United Nations regarding such a reinforcement, especially that the people were protesting peacefully and there’s no indication that they were clashing with the police and… how do you view such reinforcements?

Spokesperson: If I have anything on this, I’ll let you know, Nizar. I know that you’re keen to hear something. I don’t have anything at the moment. Yes?

Question: Okay, Martin, Secretary-General’s visit to South-Eastern Europe, exactly former Yugoslavia countries, what’s the purpose of the trip? Is this in conjunction of the twentieth anniversary of Yugoslavia break-up or what could it be and what message is he taking?

Spokesperson: Well, this is a key opportunity for the Secretary-General to promote the strong partnership between the United Nations and the countries of the region. And, in some cases, of course it will coincide or nearly coincide with the twentieth anniversary of their membership to the United Nations, for example, Croatia. The overall message is to underscore the partnership between the United Nations and the countries of the region and the idea of looking to the future and the way that the countries, the region has moved forward over the past two decades and to help encourage that process.

Question: Thank you. Second, can I join on this trip with the Secretary-General since I’m from the region? I made that request through your Office as well.

Spokesperson: I know that we’ve received a request and I’m happy to take that up with you after this.

Question: Thank you.

Spokesperson: Yes?

Question: Two questions on Sudan, one on Sri Lanka. I wanted to ask, today’s Friday and so the [inaudible] protests in Khartoum and met with tear gas, detentions, there’s a quote by Omer Bashir that the enemies face a long, long burning summer, and I’m wondering as this escalates, as these protests and the repression and the rhetoric escalates, is there yet any from the Secretariat — or from I guess from Mr. Menkerios or maybe Mr. Gambari — is there any response from the UN system to this?

Spokesperson: Well, not for the first time I will say that people have the right to protest freely and to express their aspirations for change for the rights that they wish to have. It’s for them, it’s universal right to be able to do that, and to be able to do so peacefully and without fear of retribution.

Question: It’s kind of a UN and Sudan question. There’s these two UN or UNAMID staff members, Mustafa Hasuna and Hawa Haydar that have been for more than a year PNG’d and excluded from Sudan. They’re in Entebbe waiting supposedly for resolution. So, I now understand that Muhammad Yunus, Mr. Gambari’s deputy, has been in charge of negotiating with the Sudanese, but the question is that, after a year, what is the UN’s position on the right of these international staff members to return and what really is Mr. Yunus’s role? Some people believe that he may have played some role in actually getting at least one of these PNG’d. So, where’s this stand? I know I’ve asked you this before, but now that it’s hit more than a year, has the UN given up or are they trying to get them back in and what’s going to be done?

Spokesperson: I’ll check, Matthew. Thank you.

Question: [inaudible] the refugees coming from Syria. The Jordanians are speaking about 150,000 already gone into Jordan in the south, whereas the latest figures published by OCHA and others, it’s about 96,000, as I remember. Why is this discrepancy between the two figures and are many refugees, for example, not registered or what’s the situation?

Spokesperson: That may be part of the story, that people, that not everybody has registered, for example, because they would hope to be able to go back quite quickly. That is sometimes the case, not just in this situation, but in other parts of the world, too. So, there may well be discrepancies in figures. The fact remains that a large number of people have fled from Syria to neighbouring countries and are in need of assistance and they’re receiving that assistance from extremely generous national authorities and with the help of the humanitarian community, obviously not least the refugee agency, UNHCR.

Question: How much have been raised so far? I mean, the last I heard was $193 million, I believe. How much, so far, has been raised?

Spokesperson: I’d have to check on the exact figure. I don’t have that, Nizar. But plainly the needs are great. As I said, neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Jordan, have been extremely hospitable and clearly they will need support. The international community does need to provide support for those people who have had to flee their homes.

[The Spokesperson later said that $49.6 million have been received out of $193 million requested in the appeal, which comes to 26 per cent.]

Question: Palestinians who have been trying to flee the conflict there have been complaining about Jordanian borders blocked in their face, even those who carry Jordanian passports. Is there any checking about or verification of this case?

Spokesperson: I think you’re aware that UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] has a very strong presence in the region, including there and I’d refer you to them. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Question about Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said publically now that the elections, provincial elections that are being held everywhere else in the country, will not be held in northern Sri Lanka in three provinces that were the subject of the war that ended in May 2009, Jaffna and elsewhere. So, many people are saying, he says it’s because the voter roles are not ready, but other elections have been held there since. And so, since there were three points that the Secretary-General raised when he went to Sri Lanka in 2009 that needed to be addressed after the war, one of them being reconciliation, and now the areas most contested are not being allowed to vote, I’m wondering at this point, the Secretary-General or DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or someone in the Secretariat has anything to say about this disenfranchisement of the very areas discussed three years ago?

Spokesperson: Let me check, Matthew. Thanks very much. Have a good afternoon.

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