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

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

7 September 2012

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

Mr. Mokhtar Lamani of Canada has been appointed as Head of the Office of the UN-League of Arab States Joint Special Representative for Syria in Damascus. Mr. Lamani brings a wealth of experience to this role, having held a wide range of diplomatic positions, most notably as (what was then) the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) representative to the United Nations in New York, and as the Representative and Special Envoy of the League of Arab States to Iraq between 2006 and 2007.

Also today, the United Nations has increased its humanitarian appeal for Syria from $180 million to $347 million; that increase was first announced at today's Syria Humanitarian Forum in Geneva. The new plan includes 57 projects and covers all of Syria's 14 governorates. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the number of people in need of humanitarian aid has doubled since July to 2.5 million. More than 1.2 million people are internally displaced, and half of them are children forced from their homes. There are nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries; more than 100,000 people were registered as refugees during August alone.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General has sent a message to the mini-Summit of leaders of the Great Lakes region which is taking place in Kampala, Uganda. And he has asked them for their concerted efforts to resolve the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He said that, while there has been a lull in military activities by the M23 in North Kivu since July, the situation remains very fragile, and he called for the group’s immediate and complete cessation of all destabilizing activities. He once again condemned the violence and serious human rights violations committed by the M23, as well as other armed groups, against civilians and asked for thorough investigations. The Secretary-General added that he is deeply concerned at the continuing reports of external support to the M23, and he called for an end to all such support without delay.

The Secretary-General said he intends to convene, on 27 September here in New York, a high-level meeting on the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the margins of the General Assembly. That would provide a platform for further dialogue aimed at reinforcing regional efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis there.

** Myanmar

The UN refugee agency expressed concern today about reports that China has sent groups of nationals of Myanmar back to insecure parts of Kachin State.

The agency estimates that some 5,000 ethnic Kachins, many of them children, have returned to Myanmar since the middle of last month and are living in makeshift camps. They had fled to China’s Yunnan Province after fighting broke out in June of last year in Kachin. The agency has not been able to reach or assist those people living along the Chinese side of the border.

On the Myanmar side, an agency team has been able to provide aid – including blankets and mosquito nets – and to assess the returnees’ needs. Local partners say they expect more people to be sent back from China, and the agency is urging the Chinese Government to offer temporary protection to those who fled the fighting, to respect their humanitarian needs and not send them back to a situation where their safety and livelihood could be at risk. The agency also says it stands ready to support China in assisting these people until the situation stabilizes in their home areas.

** China

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is monitoring developments after a series of earthquakes in China and stands ready to assist the Government of China. Media reports say that at least 43 people have died and 150 people have been injured in those earthquakes in south-west China today. The US Geological Survey said the strongest of the earthquakes had a magnitude of 5.6. The earthquakes have reportedly affected more than 700,000 people.

** Somalia

I have been asked about developments in Somalia a couple of times. Our position on Kismayo is the same one that was articulated last month by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, who said on 14 August that he was deeply concerned about reports of civilian casualties in Kismayo caused by naval gunfire and airstrikes. Mr. Bowden called at that time for all parties to make every effort to minimize the impact of conflict on civilians and to allow full humanitarian access to all people in need. And we maintain that position today.

Questions, please? Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thanks. Martin, could you elaborate a little more on exactly what Mr. Lamani is going to be doing in his new job?

Spokesperson: The short answer is not really; not yet, not yet. I think, as you will be aware, there have been discussions in the past few days here in New York, and those have continued in Cairo on the logistics for this office. I don’t think we are at the point where we could give that much more detail yet. But it may be that Ahmad Fawzi, who is the Spokesperson for Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi, has some more details and would be able to give them to you. And should I also be given those details, I’ll be very happy to share them with you, but I don’t have them at the moment. Other questions, please? Yes, Masood?

Question: So what you are saying is we don’t know when Mr. Brahimi will meet with us?

Spokesperson: As I said yesterday, I think, or it may have been the day before, I would urge you to check with Ahmad Fawzi to see what Mr. Brahimi’s availability might be. As you know, he is not in New York at the moment. But you will also be aware that he has spoken just the other day in the General Assembly, and has given a number of interviews in which he has staked out some of his thoughts on what has been unfolding in Syria. I think he is aware of your interest. And when I say he, I mean Ahmad and also Mr. Brahimi. Yeah, other questions, please? Yes, and then I’ll come to you Hank. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, Martin, I want… the… the… the SLM [Sudanese Liberation Movement] Abdul Wahid in Darfur has said that there has been renewed, both bombing by Antonov aircrafts and clashes with the Government in West Darfur, and they say that the Government is trying to use, is using, the talks in Addis and the attention, such as it is that is directed there, to make these attacks. I’m wondering what UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is… presumably focused on Darfur, if they can confirm this fighting and again if they have any comment on the curfew imposed on parts of Darfur?

Spokesperson: On the fighting that you mention that has been reported, let me check with our colleagues; I don’t have anything at the moment. On the other question, the decision to impose a curfew falls within the purview of North Darfur State government authorities. The mission, UNAMID, has operations in the affected area, including night patrols that contribute to the protection of civilians in Kutum township and nearby camps for internally displaced people. And those night patrols and operations have continued, in accordance with pre-existing patrol schedules. Okay, yes?

Question: Thank you. Good afternoon, Martin. With sort of loose guideline doctrines like responsibility to protect that does have a little bit of worst-case scenario military language in it, I just ask you, what avenues outside of a Security Council resolution does the body of the United Nations have at its disposal to put UN military troops on the ground in Syria? Are there any?

Spokesperson: It is typically in matters of peace and security for the Security Council to determine where action of that kind is to be taken. And plainly, you will have heard the Secretary-General’s remarks in this interactive dialogue session a couple of days ago on responsibility to protect. It was, I think, a fairly clear set of remarks, particularly with regard to the need for action within the Security Council to help end the bloodshed and move matters onto a political track.

Question: So what he is doing is urging the Security Council to try again, as opposed to any other sort of separate avenue?

Spokesperson: There are… what he has also said, when speaking to the General Assembly the day before that, is that the General Assembly itself has shown its ability to move forward and to speak quite clearly about the developments in Syria and to take some action that resulted, for example, in the Joint Special Envoy role coming into being; and that was subsequently endorsed by the Council, as you know. So I think the Secretary-General has made his views clear on the strength and power of a unified Security Council, and the paralysis that results when that unity is not there. Yes, Stefano?

Question: Thank you, Martin. Again last night, another boat, this time going towards Lampedusa, just a few miles away, apparently sank, because they can’t find any trace of the boat, but they found… they rescued 56 migrants and they think that there are many more missing. At this point, my question is: is it possible that here we are now in a crisis of refugees or immigrants, but also of human traffickers, because one of the possibilities is that those migrants were just actually left in the middle of the water and then by human traffic… I mean people that do this, like bring them, get the money and then drop them on the sea? So is the UN doing any investigation? Does… is it aware that could be this possibility, that we are confronting a crisis of also human trafficking? In this case, would the agency of the UN look at this as a problem of human trafficking?

Spokesperson: Without commenting on this specific case — because I don’t have full details and I don’t believe anybody has the full details yet about what happened — human trafficking is an enormous problem. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) works extremely hard on that, in conjunction with other relevant agencies, such as the refugee agency. It is obviously an enormous problem that affects countries that will become recipients, countries where those people have left and, first and foremost, that the people, the victims themselves who fall prey to criminals, resulting in misery and in death. As I say, we don’t know yet precisely what has happened in this particular case, in the same way that we don’t know the full details of the case that happened just off the coast of Turkey.

What I do know is that there was some follow-up on what you asked me yesterday, and that is that the refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed its concern about the reports of the deaths at sea of some 60 people believed to be Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians after a boat sank off the western coast of Turkey, near Izmir. And the agency says it understands that the alleged smugglers who have survived have been arrested. But I don’t have further details. It may be that the refugee agency does on this case and on the one that you have asked about today. Okay, other questions? Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, I want to ask you a couple of things about South Sudan. This group called the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy had their offices broken into by gunmen. There was also this, another South Sudan Civil Rights Alliance by Deng Mawiir, who was recently kidnapped and tortured. People there are starting to say that if not the Government, some in the Government may be behind these attacks. There was also an anti-corruption guy, Ted Dagne, that had to flee the country, and I am just wondering, what is UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan]… since there is a UN Mission there that is working closely with the Government, have they had anything to say about this sort of trend of attack on both human rights groups and anti-corruption groups?

Spokesperson: I’ll check with the Mission, Matthew. After all, the Mission does also have a human rights component, so I am sure that they would be monitoring developments and it may be that we have something that we can say on this, but I don’t have it right now. Yes?

Question: Thank you, Martin. With the situation getting worse in Syria, and time going by without any sort of resolution, does the Secretary-General have a concern that there… a rising concern, perhaps, that there will be unilateral action taken by some State or another, any State, on Syria? There’s so many different dynamics at play. What’s his latest on the possibility of unilateral military action in Syria — from anyone?

Spokesperson: Well, what the Secretary-General has said, and you’ve heard me say many times, is that he does not believe that further militarization would be helpful, and that weapons flows from any source to any party inside Syria are also extremely unhelpful and simply add to the misery of the Syrian people, who have endured enough in the past 18 months or so. So he does not believe in the further militarization of what is happening in Syria.

Okay, thanks very much. Have a good afternoon and a good weekend. Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record

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