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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

24 February 2016

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

Good afternoon and apologies for the longer-than-usual delay.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General addressed today's opening session of the Great Lakes Private Sector Investment Conference.  In his remarks, he said that for the region to reach its great potential, solving security issues will not be enough.  Root causes need to addressed, on the basis of good governance and the rule of law.  The Secretary-General urged the Governments of the region to create an environment that ensures that business operations and investments are responsible and sustainable, and he asked development partners to build and enhance the productive capacities of the Great Lakes States.

The Secretary-General also had a series of meetings with officials from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including President [Joseph] Kabila, representatives of the majority and the political opposition, as well as members of civil society.  We will share readouts of these meetings as they come in.  And he is expected to hold a press conference, I think about now, in Kinshasa.  And then will make his way to Juba, South Sudan, tomorrow for the day.


Meanwhile, Stephen O'Brien, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council this morning that the announcement of a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria, scheduled to come into effect this weekend, is a welcome development and a long-awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people.  He echoed the Secretary-General's call for the parties to abide by the terms of the agreement to bring about an immediate reduction in violence as a first step towards a more durable ceasefire and to create the conditions necessary for increased humanitarian aid.

Mr. O'Brien noted that recent aid efforts, in which 62 trucks reached 40,000 beneficiaries in Madaya, three trucks reached 1,000 beneficiaries in Zabadani and 18 trucks reached 20,000 beneficiaries in Foah and Kefraya.  The convoys have proceeded without any major security incident, although there have been delays in delivery as parties disagree over the terms of the agreement.  Overall, he said the UN and its partners have reached 110,000 people in besieged areas, and have approval to reach a further 230,000 people, including through other means and further convoys.

Also some additional details we received about Sunday's bombing attack in Damascus, from our colleagues at UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East].  And as you remember, the Secretary-General did condemn that attack.  UNRWA says that among the more than 120 people who were killed, 31 Palestine refugees, including a 12-year-old UNRWA student, who was killed along with her mother; the 13-year-old son of an UNRWA teacher; and an UNRWA staff member who was killed with her six-month old son, her sister and her brother-in-law.  The mother of an UNRWA teacher was also killed.  The Agency offered its sympathies to the families of all the victims.


And the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, today welcomed the statement signed by a majority of the members of the House of Representatives in which they approved the Government of national accord proposed by the Presidency Council.  Mr. Kobler said that this development demonstrates the strong determination of the people of Libya and the overwhelming support by the majority of the House for the proposed government. Mr. Kobler called on them to take immediate steps to formalize the endorsement.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that fighting between Murle factions has been ongoing in Pibor town since this morning, including in the vicinity of the compound of an NGO [non-governmental organization], Catholic Relief Services.  Fighting around Pibor also continues along the Gumuruk Road area.  The Mission is engaging with political groups at a number of levels, both on the ground and in Juba, to help deescalate the situation.  Peacekeepers are protecting an estimated 1,100 civilians who have sought protection near the Mission's base over the last 48 hours.  And the Mission also continues to assist with the facilitation of humanitarian assistance in the area.


And the Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Marta Ruedas, said today she was concerned about the plight of over 85,000 newly displaced civilians in North Darfur State after the recent escalation of fighting in the Jebel Marra area.  On Monday, Ms. Rueda visited Tawilla, west of El Fasher, where over 22,000 people, mostly women and children, have gathered in recent weeks next to an existing camp for displaced people.  She said that civilians continue to bear the brunt of conflict and that their protection is the UN's paramount concern.

Meanwhile, OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] says that the United Nations, international and national organizations, and the Sudanese Red Crescent Society are delivering assistance, but the massive influx of new arrivals is straining an already logistically complex humanitarian operation.  Yesterday, an 11-truck aid convoy left El Fasher for Sortony, in North Darfur.  And this is where the influx has been greatest – with over 63,000 newly displaced people.  The UN urges all parties to the conflict to allow access to displaced people in Central Darfur, and calls for immediate, safe and unfettered access to all people in need, wherever they are located.


Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, was on his first official visit to the island of Lesvos – that took place yesterday.  He said that he was very worried about the increasing closures of the European borders along the Balkans route and the increased burden put on Greece, which is already shouldering a big responsibility.  As you know, last year more than 500,000 refugees first touched European soil on the island of Lesvos.  And so far, this year, more than 50,000 more people have come to this one island – more information on UNHCR's [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] website.


And an update on the visit that we told you about by the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan – she arrived today in the north-east of Brazil to visit the area most impacted by neurological disorders suspected of being linked to the Zika virus.  Dr. Chan visited a hospital and clinical research centre in Recife where a significant number of pregnant women who have contracted the Zika virus during pregnancies have delivered children with microcephaly.  Dr. [Carissa] Etienne, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO, is also taking part in the visit. And as I had mentioned yesterday, Dr. Chan is having a press conference at 5 p.m. in Brasilia.


Just an update from Fiji – colleagues [from the] humanitarian office say that the authorities have confirmed that 36 people have died and two people remain missing in Fiji, in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston.  Some 35,000 people are currently sheltering in 424 evacuation centres.  Moreover, an estimated 97 schools have been damaged or destroyed, and 100 per cent of crops are reported to have been destroyed in the worst affected areas.  Aid has begun arriving for cyclone affected communities, especially in the outer islands in the east, including Koro. Following a request from the Government, OCHA is deploying a UN Disaster and Coordination team to support emergency response.


And today, as you know, is the fifieth anniversary of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  And to mark that anniversary at the ministerial meeting going on today, the Secretary-General in a message to the meeting said that in the last half a century UNDP has been on the front lines of human need and aspiration.  The Secretary-General added that with its global presence and programmatic approach, UNDP has helped combat poverty and to rebuild countries affected by crisis.

As we speak, more than 80 ministers from across the world are meeting in the General Assembly to chart a course for the future of global development and share their vision on making the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda a reality; that is available on the webcast to follow.  And the Administrator of UNDP, Helen Clark, also spoke at the meeting, saying that the conclusions and recommendations emerging from the discussions will help guide UNDP's work in the years to come.

**Honour Roll

And today we say thank you to our friends in the United Arab Emirates, who have paid their bill in full and on time becoming the thirty-sixth Member State to do so.  Thank you for paying attention.  You and then Nick.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you… O'Brien… Stephen O'Brien mentioned these airdrops in Deir Ezzour that took place, 21 tons, he said.  Do you have any more details on that?  I've also heard that there may have been some glitches.  That might have not been the case, but do you have any details?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, I just… in fact, I was a little late because I was on the phone with our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome, and they do obviously confirm that the first high‑altitude airdrops over Deir Ezzour took place, 21 tons.  They are trying to get more details as to what exactly the situation is on the ground.  The team will… as you know, the airdrops can be very, very challenging.  So, the pallets were dropped.  They're trying to reach local partners to see exactly and to ensure that the aid was received.  Lou and then Nick.  Sorry.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Just following up: Do you have any targets?  Does OCHA have any targets for the tonnage of airdrops they would like to get in the coming days and how many more airdrops are planned?  And then, also, the main opposition group in Syria has yet to say whether it's going to participate in the cessation of hostilities, which could undermine it.  Is… obviously, Staffan de Mistura is working on it.  Is the SG [Secretary-General] involved?  Is anyone else trying to encourage or pressure the opposition to get involved?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, we're aware that a decision has not yet been taken by a number of the opposition.  Contacts are being had at various levels, and we very much hope that those members of the International Support Group for Syria who have influence over those opposition groups bear that influence in a positive manner so that all of the armed opposition will participate in the cessation of hostilities.  Obviously, their participation is critical, to say the least.  They are trying to reach… WFP is trying to reach about 200,000 people that are in need in Deir Ezzour.  There will likely be other airdrops in the coming days.  I think the focus right now today is to get more details as to what happened on the ground.  There may have been some difficulties in terms of the pallets.  They were all dropped from the plane.  But, as I said, we're on the phone with WFP, and I know they're on the phone with their partners on the ground to get more details.  Nick?

Question:  Stéph, thanks.  At lunchtime, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft is going to deposit the deal that David Cameron reached with the EU [European Union] last week at the Office of Legal Counsel, and there's going to be a ceremony.  I was intrigued to find out whether that kind of ceremony is unprecedented or rare, or is it fairly routine?

Spokesman:  You're probably not the first… you're not the only one who's intrigued in this room.  I mean, there is… you know, when instruments… treaty instruments, international legal instruments, are deposited, there is, in a sense, a ceremony to ensure… there is a procedure and a ceremony to certify that the instruments have been received in hand.  I think one can debate on the meaning of what exactly a ceremony is.  There is a procedure, and one could imagine there may be a ceremony involved.  But I don't… I will try to get more details, but I don't think one should envisage a big ceremony.

Question:  Like… just a quick follow‑up.  I mean, does this have any kind of legal… does it make it any more legally binding, or…?

Spokesman:  It's a good question.  I will… Nick, I will try to find out more details on it, because, as I said, there are at least two people who are intrigued by your question here, one being you, one being me.  Evelyn?Question:  Yes.  One more on the airdrop:  Does ISIS control that area, or is it in eastern Syria, or do they sound it?  Why can't they get in there?

Spokesman:  It is controlled by armed groups who are not letting the aid go in.  The only way to get in is through airdrops.  If they could do it by road, they would.

Question:  Which armed groups?

Spokesman:  I don't have that information to share with you.  Signore?

Question:  Do we have any update about the possibility that de Mistura tomorrow is going to have a video press conference from Geneva?

Spokesman:  The update that I can give you is that he is now scheduled to brief the Security Council on Friday, at 3 p.m., 9 p.m. in Geneva by video.  We have put in a request to see if he could do some sort of a media encounter, either with the journalists in Geneva, which would be webcast here so you could at least see it or by videocast in this room.  But, obviously, your colleagues in Geneva would also like to get a piece of him directly.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  President [Bashar al] Assad of Syria has reportedly accepted the cessation of hostilities as part of political solution.  And, as you've indicated, the opposition… we haven't heard from them yet.  If the opposition accepts likewise and given the complication of the situation in the various regions of Syria, who will specifically supervise the cessation of hostilities?

Spokesman:  I think the cessation of hostilities [is] an important first step.  There is no… as far as I'm aware, there is… it will be supervised by the parties themselves.  I think we will get the reports fairly quickly if the cessation of hostilities breaks down.  Obviously, as we, hopefully, can move into something a little bit more formal; there may be other monitoring mechanisms put in place.  Emoke?

Question:  Going back to the airdrops, do you know exactly what items are being airdropped?  Is it food, or is it a variety of items?

Spokesman:  I believe it's mostly food, but I'll try to get an itemized let's for you.  Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you also clarify what's the reason to re… another time reschedule, de Mistura briefing?

Spokesman:  I think it's up to the Council to… I think they had asked for the briefing to be changed.  I think it's important that they… obviously they wanted to hear from the humanitarian angle and… and as well as the political angle.  Thank you, all.  Enjoy your day.

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