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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

31 March 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon everyone.

**Kuwait Conference

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at the third pledging conference for Syria taking place in Kuwait.  The Secretary-General said that four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation.  The country has lost nearly four decades of human development.  He reminded the audience that Syrian people are the victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time but that they are not asking for sympathy.  They are asking for help.  He stressed that the best humanitarian solution to end the human suffering of this crisis is well known:  a political solution must be found.

He later said that international donors had pledged $3.8 billion at today's conference.  The Secretary-General said that today, the international community has come together in solidarity with the people of Syria and neighbouring countries bearing the heavy burden of hosting millions of Syrian refugees.

And Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, added that this funding will help humanitarian organizations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need.

The Secretary-General held a press conference in which he called once more upon the international community to lend its full support to UN efforts to forge an inclusive, Syrian-led political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué and which meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.

We expect to have that transcript shortly.

On the margins of the Conference, the Secretary-General held a number of bilateral meetings, including with the Amir of Kuwait, whom he thanked for organizing the conference and for Kuwait's own generous pledge, and the Prime Minister of Lebanon.  We have those readouts available in our office.


Also on Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the humanitarian situation in Idleb, north-western Syria, is deteriorating.  The fighting, which escalated on 24 March between the Government of Syria and Non-State Armed Groups, has led to numerous civilian deaths and injuries, and to the displacement of some 30,000 people.

The UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, said that he is gravely concerned by the ongoing fighting taking place in Idleb Governorate and its possible impact on hundreds of thousands of civilians.  He appeals to all parties to this conflict to adhere to their obligations to protect civilians and all humanitarian personnel under international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The situation in Idleb is becoming increasingly dire, with electricity shortages and closure of schools and hospitals.  Limited commercial supplies are available and many shops have closed.


Our humanitarian partners and local residents have confirmed that air strikes bombarded the Al-Mazraq area of Hajjah Governorate in Yemen yesterday morning, hitting a camp for internally displaced persons and surrounding civilian infrastructure.

According to initial reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), these strikes killed at least 29 people and injured 41 — all of whom appear to be civilians.  Of the 41 people injured, 14 are children and 11 are women.  Casualty figures are likely to rise as bodies are retrieved from the camp and additional injury reports are verified.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen deplored yesterday's attack in the strongest terms and called on all parties to observe their solemn obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law at all times.

And UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein expressed alarm about the fast deteriorating human rights situation in Yemen and called on all sides to protect civilians from harm and resolve their differences through dialogue rather than through the use of military force.

He expressed shock at the airstrike against the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced people and also roundly condemned all attacks on hospitals and other medical facilities, which have a special protected status under international law.


The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) today welcomed the ceasefire and the withdrawal of forces from the Sidra Oil Crescent area.

The Mission considers the withdrawal a significant first step in ending the fighting in the Oil Crescent area.  It plans to invite the parties involved to a meeting soon to continue the negotiations, including on interim security arrangements for the oil facilities.

UNSMIL has repeatedly called for an end to the fighting across Libya, including in the Oil Crescent area.  It adds that stopping the bloodshed and securing Libya's oil wealth would help to create an atmosphere of trust as Libyan parties engage in a decisive stage of the political dialogue.

The statement is available on the UN Mission's website.


The independent inquiry launched by the Secretary-General to determine the facts surrounding the violent demonstration that took place in front of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali's (MINUSMA) Regional Headquarters in Gao, Mali, has submitted its report.  The report is being examined by the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support and as we have previously indicated, the main findings will be made public in the coming days.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said the country today marked a milestone with the signing by commanders of the Congolese Army of a landmark declaration to combat rape in war.

Ms. Bangura said that this signing shows the progress we can make when political will and commitment are coupled with concrete action and support from the international community.

More details about the content of the declaration are available online.


The Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, has called today's ceasefire agreement between the Government and 16 ethnic armed groups after more than 60 years of conflict a "historic and significant achievement".

He says that the signing of the agreement is a first step towards a larger dialogue for settling the political and military issues that will pave the way for an inclusive and harmonious future for the country.

Today's agreement, he says, is a signal that new levels of trust, confidence and cooperation are possible between former enemies and that the seeds of change in Myanmar are beginning to sprout.

His full statement is available online.

**Ukraine – UNICEF

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today that more than 40 children have been killed and more than 100 others injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine in the past year.

UNICEF says that the number of children killed and maimed by mines and unexploded ordnance would be significantly higher if non-government controlled areas were included, adding that a lack of access to these areas is a real challenge for humanitarian workers on the ground.

There is more information on UNICEF's website.


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called for an investigation into the death of two Iraqis at the Bulgaria-Turkey border earlier this month.

UNHCR remains concerned about the safety of people seeking international protection, who have been denied entry or have encountered violence at the European Union's external borders.

There is more on the UNHCR's website.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that relief efforts are under way to help residents of Chuuk State in Micronesia, as they recover from the impact of typhoon Maysak which struck the islands on Sunday.  Typhoon Maysak continues to move west-north-west across Micronesia.

A Disaster Assessment Task Force has been established by the Government and five assessment teams have been deployed to Chuuk.

The UN is monitoring the situation and is on standby to assist, should the Government request it.

**Animal Plague

The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health will outline today in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, a 15-year campaign to wipe out sheep and goat plague.

This livestock disease is one of the major risks to the food security and livelihood of hundreds of millions of rural families.

More information is available on the FAO's website.

**Honour Roll

For the honour roll:  Spain has become the sixty-sixth Member State to pay in full its contribution to the regular budget.  Thank you, Madrid.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Last on press conferences:  tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here organized by the Permanent Mission of Uruguay on Amnesty International's Death Penalty Report for 2014.

And then at 12:30 p.m., the UN Mine Action Service and partners will hold a press conference ahead of the International Day for Mine Awareness.

**Questions and Answers

That's it for me.

Yes, Errol.

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, I just wanted actually to follow you on that honour roll.  What is the situation with the Eastern European countries since they do have problems with the strong dollar as I said before?

Deputy Spokesman:  With what?

Question:  With the payment of their dues to the United Nations?  Are they in—

Deputy Spokesman:  We get payments from each and every region, and of course, when we get them, we let you know who's paid in full.  Of course, some countries pay partially.  Some of them will pay later in the year depending on their own fiscal year schedules, and we'll notify you as they come in.  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Farhan, a couple… sorry.  A couple of follow‑up questions.  Could you tell us the latest prospects for talks in Yemen by Mr. Benomar and when the next round of talks are scheduled to start in Libya and does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the upcoming, coming into force, of the International Criminal Court's acceptance of Palestine, that they officially become a member tomorrow?

Deputy Spokesman:  On your third question, no, I don't think we have any particular comment.  You saw what we said when the ratification was submitted and the note that we issued at the time.  And that was as much as we have to say on this.  Beyond that, I think that's really more an issue for the International Criminal Court itself.

Regarding talks in Yemen, Jamal Benomar is continuing with his efforts.  We, of course, are urging all sides to return to the negotiating table.  At this stage, as you know, there's been a lot going on on the ground in terms of military activity, and the Secretary‑General, as you saw in his appearance at the Summit of the League of Arab States a few days ago, made very clear that there ultimately needs to be a negotiated solution, and we will continue to press for that, and Mr. Benomar is going to continue with his efforts.

Regarding Libya, Mr. León has been continuing with his talks, and we have been… I don't have a date yet on the next round but you saw from what I read just a few minutes ago that there has at least been progress dealing with problems in the Sidra Oil Crescent, and that's a welcome step forward and should bode well in terms of setting the atmosphere for further talks.  Yes, Carole.

Question:  Farhan, on this Syria conference, going in, I think the figure that the UN was targeting was $8.4?

Deputy Spokesman:  $8.4 billion, yes.

Question:  Now we're down to $3.8 [billion]?  That's not even half the goal—

Deputy Spokesman:  One of the things we said in advance, we didn't have any particular targets for this meeting.  This meeting is one step of the process, and in fact, it's extremely impressive that we got as much as $3.8 billion.  If you compare the figures for pledges this year compared to last, we're actually doing really quite well.  At the same time, of course, the needs have grown, and as the year progresses, we're going to keep trying to get closer and closer to the 8.4 billion figure.  So two things need to happen.  First of all, we do need ultimately to go beyond the pledges that we receive today, so that we get to $8.4 billion, which is what we've estimated is the needs both within Syria and in the neighbouring countries.  But second of all, we also have to, as always, make sure that these pledges are converted into actual cash and actual assistance on the ground, and we'll start doing that right away.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  No, there's other people around, Erol.  Talal and then Matthew.

Question:  Concerning the attack on the camp in Yemen, the refugee camp and tens of people who lost their lives, the Foreign Minister of Yemen, Riyadh Yaseen, has appeared in our station saying that the forces of Ansar Allah are responsible for bombardment of that camp.  Now, does the United Nations have any real proof who are the perpetrators of the bombing of that camp?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, our work in this continues.  We have not identified who is responsible for this attack.  Whoever's responsible, this is a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.  This camp, as well as the hospitals that have also been hit, are under protected status and should not be hit.  So whichever forces are hitting them are in violation of the law.  There should be accountability for that, and ultimately, all such attacks have to cease.  Yes.  Hold on, please.  I'll get to you next.

Question:  Sure.  On Yemen — a follow‑up on that and a different question on Yemen.  I've seen… the UN statements have called them an airstrike.  I just want you to confirm from here that the UN system knows this was a strike from an airplane on that refugee camp.

Deputy Spokesman:  This is the best available information that we have, and as you've seen a variety of sources, the World Health Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have all described it that way.

Question:  Also on Yemen, both the International Committee of the Red Cross and MSF of today complain that they can't get any medical supplies into the country due to the closure of airports, and it's also said that the ports are blockaded.  What is the UN system doing to ensure there's access to much‑needed medical supplies as it's called for elsewhere?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are pushing for this and we do urge all forces in control of border crossings, of ports, and of airports to make sure that aid can come in and go, and that people can go out.  What's needed is regular travel and it has to be safe.

Question:  Who in the UN system has spoken to the Saudi coalition about the blockading of ports?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have been touch in a number of ways at a number of levels including, by the way, in order to get our own personnel out.  We've been trying for different windows.  We're aware that there's a conflict on the ground, but we've been in touch with the various parties to make sure there are windows of time when flights can go in and out.

Question:  There's an intention at blockading of ports.  Is there any provision aid to allow in either aid or medical supplies and who is asking for that from the UN system?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are seeking access and we will continue to push for that.  Yes.

Question:  Yes, one of the reasons populated areas, densely populated areas are bombarded by the Saudis and their allies, is that they are citing that the Houthis and the Yemeni Army are putting anti‑aircraft guns in these areas.  Is that a justification to bombard such areas?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said what I've said about different areas being protected under international human rights and humanitarian laws.  What that means is both that they should not be struck and that parties should not use them for military activity.  Neither thing should happen.

Question:  But, of course, I… sorry, follow‑up.  Anti‑aircraft are defensive weapons, they are not attack weapons.  They are not like missiles or anything.  So they are meant to protect the areas.

Deputy Spokesman:  The point of international human… humanitarian and human rights law is that certain areas are meant for the protection of innocent people and should be off‑limits by either side for whatever purpose.  Sherwin?

Question:  Farhan, it's looking increasingly likely that President Goodluck Jonathan is running out of luck in Nigeria's presidential election.  Do you have anything to share with us at this time?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not at this time.  You've seen what the Secretary‑General has to say about this.  Beyond that, as you're aware, the vote counting is still going on and we'll have to see what the final ruts are… results are and we'll bide our time until then.  Benny?

Question:  Following up on the situation in the camp, there were reports that there were Houthi fighters inside the camps, since this is a UNHCR camp.  Can you confirm or is there any information that you can relay on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I cannot confirm.  I don't have any information regarding that, no.  Yes, Abdel Hamid.

Question:  Thank you, I have two questions, one on Yemen and one on ICC.  On Yemen, is there still no official statement by the Secretary‑General on the military operation, a policy statement?  That's one.  And if not, did the 10 countries [who] started this operation inform officially the Security Council before they start the military operation according to the UN Charter?  If it's not self-defence, they were supposed to inform the Security Council.  Did they do that?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, regarding the Security Council, I don't speak for them, so you'd have to ask the President of the Security Council.  Second of all, regarding your initial question, we did have a statement that was issued at the start of these operations a few days ago, so look back to our statement on Yemen.  I think it was last Thursday or Friday we put that out.

Question:  Okay.  Now, my question on the ICC, why there is no statement?  And this is a major development.  The 123rd country joined the ICC, which is Palestine, and there is a chance for those victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity from all sides to be accounted for.  Why there is no statement?  It's a major development.

Deputy Spokesman:  You actually just said this was the 123rd State party.  You're not aware that we've had statements for the previous 122 State parties either, right?  So this is in keeping with that.  Iftikhar.

Question:  The Secretary‑General has been meeting various world leaders on the Yemeni crisis but has he been also in touch with OIC, which is supposed to resolve the disputes between Islamic countries?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has not been in touch with the Head of the [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] in recent days, but you'll have seen that in recent days, he's been in touch with a wide variety of leaders across the region, as well as the Head of the League of Arab States.  And you'll have seen the readouts we've put out of those.  Carole.

Question:  What's the situation with the UN staff then in Yemen?  You're having a hard time getting them out?  What's going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Actually, today I can confirm that the remaining international staff — we had about 13 international staff remaining on the ground in Yemen — they have now been withdrawn.  There are no more international staff in Yemen at this stage.  They have been temporarily relocated outside of the country and are to go back as soon as circumstances permit.  Right now the work of the UN on the ground will have to be done by our local staff, of whom there are several hundreds.  Yes, Talal and then Benny.

Question:  You said that Special Adviser Jamal Benomar is continuing his work.  Where is he now?  Where does he continue his work from?  And is there really a chance now with the bombardments and the war going on for him to actively and realistically pursue his work?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Benomar along with a large number of other staff was relocated outside of Sana'a over the weekend so he is outside there.  I believe he is currently in Amman.  What?

Question:  Outside of Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  Outside of Yemen.  He's not in Yemen anymore.  But he is continuing with his efforts.  You're absolutely right that it's difficult in a time of war to get negotiations going, but it's also precisely crucial to do that at that very time.  We need to get the fighting stopped and we need to get everything back on track.  As you know, he's been trying for some time with some success in previous years to proceed the country along on the course of its political transition.  And what's needed is to return to that track, because the current track that the country is on of constant fighting, of constant dislocation, is of no benefit to anyone.  Yes.

Question:  Two quick questions on Yemen again.  First of all, is there any plan to issue a formal statement by the Secretary‑General on the attack on the camp?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's being considered, yes.

Question:  And secondly, we have a situation here now that we had a Special Representative in Syria pretty much overtaken by war.  We had… we have one in Libya, not very… not moving the ball very fast forward.  We have one now in Yemen who was successful for a few years when there was no war but now is being eclipsed by war.  Are these situations… do they show that maybe this whole idea is not working too well?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that's actually kind of absurd.  It's a little bit like saying the existence of crime means that you don't have any excuse to use police because the existence of police does not in and of itself prevent crime from happening.  The existence of diplomats does not in and of itself prevent war from happening, no.  But they are there to make sure that steps can be taken to bring people back essentially to sanity, to the cause of peace and to the cause… to the course of negotiations.  You'll have seen many, many examples over the UN's time when in fact wars have broken out.  And yet, you'll have also seen times when you get actual results through the diplomatic process.  If you want to look at the region, just look at Iraq recently where you've had the situation get very bad and you've seen some improvements.  A lot of these things are difficult and the course of diplomacy is not always easy.  Indeed, even Iraq will show you that.  But you can get progress and you can get the killings to ease off.  You can get people to come back to the table.  And ultimately, hopefully, at the end of the day, you can have peace.  Yes, please.

Question:  Going back to Yemen and international UN staff, how many staff members did you have originally and when did you begin withdrawing them?

Deputy Spokesman:  We had well over 100 international staff in the country just about a week ago.  Like I had said earlier this week, about 100 of them were withdrawn over the weekend and the last 13 of them have been pulled out now.  This again, like I said, is a temporary relocation.  They've been flown out initially to Djibouti and to Addis Ababa.  Many are being relocated to Amman, Jordan, where they will await the ability to return to the country, as soon as circumstances permit.

Question:  Is that where Mr. Benomar is also?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe Mr. Benomar is in Amman, yes.  Masood?

Question:  Yeah.  Farhan, do you have any comments or any observation on the arrests of journalists in Malaysia, one newspaper's editors and owners and everybody was arrested at the same time.  Do you have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything particular about that case.  Of course, you know our basic point of view on this is that freedom of the press and freedom of expression needs to be respected and so we would need to see very carefully what has happened in this case and make sure that journalists' rights are protected.  Yes, Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding Special Rep de Mistura, what is the latest in terms of his efforts to reach a… you know, bring about a political settlement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. de Mistura is continuing with his efforts to obtain a freeze first — first in Aleppo and then outwards in other areas.  I don't have any progress to report on this so far.  He was present with the Secretary‑General at the Sharm el‑Sheikh Summit over the weekend and he continued his discussions there.  Yes, Nizar.

Question:  I have two questions, one on Idleb and the other on Yemen.  On Idleb, it seems that Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is categorized as a terrorist organization, took control of the city and they came with a coalition of similar armed groups.  How does United Nations deal with that if ‑‑ when a terrorist group takes over a city?  And what are the plans to help the civilians there?

Another thing is regarding Yemen, the Sana'a airport has been bombarded.  The Saudis prevented an aircraft carrying medical supplies to land.  They did not give the permission for them to land.  Not only that, they bombarded the runway itself so that they cannot do it.  How are you dealing with such a situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I said before on Yemen, we're trying to push for access so that humanitarian supplies can get into the country, and we would call on all sides to allow that to happen.

Regarding your first question on Idleb, at the start of this briefing, I discussed the problems in Idleb and mentioned what our Humanitarian Coordinator there, Yacoub El Hillo has said, and there's a full press release available which also includes the work we're trying to do to provide assistance to people displaced from the fighting there.

Question:  That doesn't answer the question regarding how do you feel that Jabhat al‑Nusra is controlling the city?  That's the main thing.

Deputy Spokesman:  I've told you what we had to say about the seizure of Idleb.  And again, I can say that we're gravely concerned by the fighting and its possible impact on hundreds of thousands of civilians, and we appeal to all parties to adhere to their obligations to protect civilians and all humanitarian personnel.  Yes.

Question:  Farhan, two things.  One is since it has been announced that the strong military force, as they say, the 40,000 elite soldiers would be flown from the Arab countries to intervene first to be used in Yemen, does the Secretary‑General expect or want them or would say anything that those forces should act within the Security Council limits and preamble ‑‑ and the articles of the United Nations' Charter?  Number one.  And number two, a short follow‑up on Carole's question on Kuwait conference.  Do you have in mind how much of those pledges were actually transferred to cash?

Deputy Spokesman: Last year about 90 per cent of the pledges have been received.  So that's a good performance, and we're hoping that we can achieve something similar this time around.  And regarding the force, the Secretary‑General, as you know, was in Sharm el‑Sheikh when this was being discussed, and I would refer you back to his remarks that he made at that Summit where he talked about his own views on it.  Yes.  Oh, wait, first Matthew and then you.

Question:  Sure.  One more about Yemen.

Deputy Spokesman: No, no, no, you'd gone in just recently.  That's why.

Question:  One more about Yemen and I also want to ask about Sudan and Myanmar at some point today.  But on Yemen, I wanted to know, you were saying how the UN diplomacy is what Mr. Benomar is pitching.  So I just wanted to know, can you say, did Mr. Benomar caution Saudi Arabia against this airstrike campaign?  And since they've said publicly that one of their demands now is that the Houthis leave all cities essentially, which many people see as unrealistic, is that ‑‑ does he believe that that's ‑‑ even with the campaign having begun that that's a reasonable goalpost to set to ending it?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to disclose his own views on this while he's trying to get the parties together.  I think it's important that he have the ability to talk to all parties and to do what he can to bring them together.

You've heard from us the concerns that he's expressed in the past, and I would just refer you to his own recent remarks, his press releases, his briefings to the Security Council, where he talked about his own concerns about how the situation can escalate.  And as you can see, it has, in fact, escalated.  So he is trying to reverse that dynamic and we'll leave him to that.

Question:  But I mean, basically it seems like President Hadi is out of the country and he is applauding these airstrikes, essentially raising his negotiating power.  What I wonder is that:  is this seen by the UN system or by Mr. Benomar as kind of a legitimate way to change the negotiating leverage or is there a call to end airstrikes of the kind that we've seen?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have made our own concerns known about this offensive, and I would just, again, refer to you what the Secretary‑General has been saying in recent days.  He has spoken out about this, and I'd refer to you his past comments.  Ali and then…

Question:  Just to follow up, Farhan.  Thank you.  Do you have any indications that a ground assault is going to follow the airstrikes in Yemen?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the various reports.  Of course, we would be concerned about any further escalation of this conflict.  Yes, Carole.

Question:  Farhan, you probably saw the reports that President Putin is considering attending the GA this year, first time in a decade.  Do you have any information on that?  And generally, can you talk about: is the fact that it's the seventieth anniversary that we might see more top‑level leaders come to the GA?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly a number of Member States have made clear their great interest in participating in UN affairs during the seventieth anniversary of the founding of this organization.  That's certainly a very welcome development.  And regarding President Putin, I can't confirm whether he will show up or not.  That's really for the Russian Government to do.  Of course, we would be… we would find it very welcome for him, as well as for other Heads of State and Heads of Government to come here.  We want as high-level a participation as possible and we're very hopeful that a great number of world leaders will be here.


Question:  Farhan, how does the United Nations feel about the smear campaign waged by the Qataris and the Saudis against Benomar at this stage for the last few days?  They've been attacking him and discrediting him in many ways for his lack of support to the aerial campaign so far.

Deputy Spokesman:  All I'd say is that the Secretary‑General has the full support for his Special Adviser, Mr. Benomar.  And he continues to hope that the parties will cooperate with him and allow him to go about his work.

Question:  Wouldn't such attacks on Benomar undermine his role as a mediator and as an accepted envoy?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, the Secretary‑General fully supports his Special Adviser, and we certainly hope that the parties will all work with him.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to go back to Sudan, because remember there was that standoff about the Resident Coordinator Ali Za'atari, who has said that the UN is standing behind him and he won't be PNG'd, and I saw an announcement that on March 21st, a new Resident Humanitarian Coordinator began work in Khartoum, Mr. Mustafa Bin Al Malih.  And so what happened?  And why didn't the UN announce that they removed Mr. Za'atari as Resident Coordinator?

Deputy Spokesman:  We pressed for them to continue with Mr. Ali Za'atari and they continued with their objections.  Ultimately we do need to have somebody on the ground to do the work, although we do not accept that our impartial, neutral experts did not get permission to be on the ground to do their work.

Question: And has Yvonne Helle also been replaced as the representative of UNDP in the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe Ms. Helle left some time ago.  She was already out of the country when they took the decision so I believe there's a process in place to make sure that the work is done.

Question:  Can I ask a follow‑up on Myanmar?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  And then Abdel Hamid after you.

Question:  Okay.  I heard your statement on behalf of or by Mr. Nambiar praising the country.  I just wanted to know:  has he or anyone else in the UN system have anything to say about the filing of criminal charges against the students who protested the national education law?  A number of… even some countries have [inaudible] this standoff in March where the peaceful demonstrators have been arrested.  Now the charges have been filed, they haven't been released.  Is there any follow‑up by the UN on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll check with Mr. Nambiar what he has to say on that.  Yes, Abdel Hamid.

Question:  Efforts are under way now to organize a peaceful flotilla toward Gaza to break the siege.  And many politicians and leaders will be on board including the former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki and others.  What is the position of the UN regarding this peaceful flotilla that tries to highlight the suffering of Gaza and the siege, which as many international [inaudible] now are silent about and go business as usual when 2 million are under siege since 2007?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously we always support people's right to their freedom of expression including the right to peaceful protest.  In the current circumstances, when the situation in the Middle East is as tense as it is, we do hope that anyone trying to act on these issues will carefully consider these actions in light of the effects that their actions can have on the dynamics of peace in the region and to avoid anything that could be construed as a provocation.  But, yes, of course, they have their right to freedom of expression.

Question:  When Al-Nusra invaded Idleb recently, did you get reports on massacres perpetrated against minorities inside it?  Because, of course, there were — some fled the city.  However, others remained.  And are there any independent reports about what kind of atrocities were perpetrated there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I've told you what we have to say about the situation in Idleb.  We'll continue to try and get information from the people who have been displaced from there, and if we get such reports, of course, we would view them with concern.  As it is, we're concerned about the impact that the takeover of Idleb could have on the civilians in and around that area.

Question:  Another one on Gulf of Aden.  There are several fleets now operating in the region.  How concerned are you that there could be any clashes between two sides, like Iranian, Egyptian, Saudis, in that area?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think I'd take on any hypothetical questions about this at this stage.  Yes.

Question:  In the past, the statements from this podium and other statements said that all aid to Gaza should be coordinated with the appropriate authorities, meaning probably the UN Office in Egypt and Israel.  Has the UN office received any communication from the organizers of that flotilla?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we have, no.  Yes.

Question:  Farhan, maybe you made a statement on the killing of the 50 civilians by the Saudi air reported yesterday, have you—

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  At the very start of this briefing, I did talk about what our Offices on the ground and our High Commissioner for Human Rights have been saying about this.  There's also the possibility of a statement by the Secretary‑General.

Question:  Yeah, and about this Red Cross not being allowed inside, that also was noted about not being allowed inside Yemen, inside the areas particularly which are being attacked by Saudi Arabia?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll leave it to our colleagues in the Red Cross and Red Crescent to comment on their own organization but of course, we would be concerned about any lack of access to humanitarian workers or medical workers and we've asked for that to be repaired.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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