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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

23 December 2020

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

Good afternoon.

**Ethiopia

Just an update from Ethiopia, where we have been told by our humanitarian colleagues that although access is limited in areas where conflict is ongoing, humanitarian assistance has started to gradually trickle into Tigray Province.  The World Health Organization has dispatched emergency health supplies to treat more than 10,000 patients for three months.  Additional medical supplies are on the way.  The World Food Programme managed to deliver food for 35,000 refugees in Adi Harush and Mai-Aini camps this week, but the convoy to Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps has returned due to insecurity in the area.

Water treatment chemicals were also provided to internally displaced people in northern Amhara as well as western Tigray.  Water, sanitation, hygiene and non-food items are also prepositioned in northern Amhara and western Afar for 5,000 internally displaced people.  And our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), also together with the logistics cluster for the UN, led by the World Food Programme, agreed with the relevant authorities on setting up temporary humanitarian information-sharing mechanisms to facilitate access, movements, safety and security of humanitarian assets, personnel and activities in Tigray.  And this includes border areas where there may be people in need.  In the meantime, we continue to engage with the Government and all relevant interlocutors for the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and supplies to all parts of the Tigray Province.

**Central African Republic - Peacekeeping

And a few notes on the Central African Republic.  Our colleagues at the UN Peacekeeping Mission there today denied press reports that were claiming that the town of Bambari had fallen and remained under the control of the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) armed group.  The UN Mission says that UN peacekeepers are patrolling the streets, and that the situation is under control.  The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the Peacekeeping Mission, launched operations yesterday to expel UPC combatants and re-took full control of the town, following an attack by combatants against these Central African gendarmerie forces.

**Central African Republic — Peacebuilding

And also today, the Central African Republic Peacebuilding Commission Country-Specific Configuration issued a statement strongly condemning the recent attacks on civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, as well as violations of the Political Agreement.  These grave incidents risk reversing hard-won gains achieved by the country in recent years, a few days before the holding of the first round of the legislative and presidential elections, scheduled for Sunday.

**Central African Republic - Human Rights

And the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also today, said that they were deeply alarmed by the reports of escalating violence in the Central African Republic just days ahead of the election.  The violence, stoked by political grievances and hate speech, has resulted in the forced displacement of civilians, including to neighbouring countries.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina - Lipa Camp

A quick note from Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I can tell you that our UN colleagues on the ground are very concerned about the effective closure of the Lipa temporary reception centre, in the Una-Sana Canton, that took place today.  This has forced approximately 1,200 people into below-freezing winter conditions.  Our colleagues in Bosnia and Herzegovina tell us that, during the operation to close the camp, a number of tents and containers were set on fire before the blaze was brought under control.  No casualties have been reported, however, the centre's infrastructure and accommodations have been largely destroyed.  We commend the local firefighters for their quick and effective response, and an investigation into the cause of the fire is under way.

Our colleagues also noted that at least 1,500 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children, were already stranded in the makeshift shelters, including in forest camps in the area.  They tell us that the closure of Lipa camp brings the overall number of people in urgent need of assistance to almost 3,000.  We, along with our partners, are providing lifesaving items and food parcels to all in need — however, this situation is not sustainable.  We urge the authorities to offer immediate alternative shelter to those impacted by the destruction of the camp, and to identify and make available new locations, preferably outside of the Una-Sana Canton and Sarajevo Canton, for all people stranded outdoors.

**Mozambique

Turning to Mozambique, our colleagues across the street at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are warning that approximately 250,000 children have been displaced by the escalating crisis in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, in Mozambique.  These children are now at risk of deadly diseases as the rainy season is setting in.  UNICEF is especially concerned that safe water, sanitation and hygiene services are insufficient to meet the growing needs of children and families in overcrowded temporary accommodation centres and in host communities.  The UN agency stressed that these services must be urgently strengthened and expanded to prevent the outbreak of waterborne diseases like cholera, as well as the further spread of COVID-19.  In 2021, UNICEF is appealing for $52.8 million to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs in Mozambique, including $30 million as part of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Cabo Delgado.

**Financial Contribution

And lastly, we want to end on a positive note and say thank you to our friends in the Gambia, as Banjul has paid its full payment to the regular budget.  This takes us to 142 fully paid-up Member States, which leaves 54 who are not fully paid-up.  Maria?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  So, I have two questions on two UN missions, actually, one on Central African Republic.  Russia sent their 300 military instructors, and I wonder, how do they cooperate with the United Nations mission, if there is any cooperation.  And also, as Security Council ended… yesterday it was decided to end the mission in Darfur; is it possible for personnel there to be re-sent to Central African Republic?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Thank you.  On your second question, the UN doesn't unilaterally have the authority, the Secretariat does not unilaterally have the authority to move peacekeeping troops from one mission to another.  We would need the accord of the Security Council on that.  So, I have nothing to confirm on that front for now.  On the second, as you know, the dispatch of Russian military personnel is not within the UN peacekeeping framework.  I have no doubt that, operationally, contacts are being had to make sure that everyone is working with the same goal of ensuring a peaceful election in Central African Republic on the 27th of this month.  Toby…

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Always appreciate the briefing.  My question is regarding yesterday, Iran and the non-proliferation discussion at the Security Council.  Once again, we had resolution 2231 come up, and some issues there with snapback and paragraph 11.  My question is, does the Secretariat's legal office ever provide advice given… on Security Council resolutions given that there was a logical and semantic difficulty with that paragraph?  And does the Sec… does the legal office ever get involved in things like that?

Spokesman:  Let me take it out of the Iran context for now.  The legal office, if required by the Secretary-General, can provide legal guidance.  But, obviously, that's privileged information.  And they can provide legal guidance as requested by various legislative bodies.  But I would refer you to [Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary] DiCarlo's remarks, which I think go as far as we can go in terms of expressing the Secretariat's own position.  As a matter of principle, it is always easier for the Secretary-General and for the Secretariat to do its job when there is clarity in terms of the Security Council's position on any issue.

Question:  Just one more question, this one on Ethiopia.  Humanitarian access has started to trickle in, as you said, to Tigray.  What's coming ahead here?  This is a positive development, but is this a sign of… are you encouraged by the access that you've received?  And do you hope to get more?

Spokesman:  Yes and yes is the short answer.  It's not that we hope to get more.  We need more.  There are two assessment missions led by our OCHA colleagues currently on the ground looking at the needs for much wider help.  And also, it is important for us to have these assessment missions to do their work and come back because we've not had the information that we need to paint an exact picture of the humanitarian needs in Tigray.  I think, I used the term "trickle in".  When you're thirsty, a trickle is better than no water, but it really doesn't solve the problem.  Oh, sorry.  We're going to go to the screen, I think Iftikhar and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  You have given us a good picture of the humanitarian side of the crisis in Tigray, but what about the underlying conflict, you see?  Where do the efforts stand to resolve the underlying conflict?

Spokesman:  Well, the various regional organizations and subregional organizations, whether it's the African Union and IGAD, have been involved.  We support wholeheartedly those efforts, and we've always called for a genuine reconciliation in Ethiopia in which every community that makes up the country can feel as an equal part of the country.  Okay.  Evelyn?  Evelyn?  All right.  I don't… oh, there we go.  I see Evelyn.  I don't hear her yet but try…

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  If you're not… go ahead.

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  I can hear you now, as they say.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Maria took my question on Central African Republic, and there's also Rwanda… has troops in there that may or may not be mingling with the peacekeepers.  And secondly, I heard Ambassador [Christoph] Heusgen yesterday speak about the two Canadians held in China.  Many of us know Michael Kovrig as a dear friend of the press while he was in the Canadian Mission.  Has the UN made any overtures in that regard?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, Michael used to work for me at United Nations Development Programme.

Correspondent:  That's right, yeah.

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we are involved in any way in this case.  We very much hope it does get resolved.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  And happy holiday to you.  Thank you for your call…

Spokesman:  To you, as well.  Toby, you could have told me that, before I started the briefing, that my collar was up.  All right.  Listen, we will see you all tomorrow for the last in-person briefing of the year.  So, come tomorrow and wear your party hats.



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