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

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

Good afternoon.

**Press Conferences

In a short while, I will be joined by the President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Oh Joon, along with Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs Hongbo Wu.  They will brief you on the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which takes place starting from today until 20 July.  And then at 1 p.m., the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, will be here to brief you on the High-Level Thematic Debate on Human Rights, which takes place on from 12 to 13 July.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, you will have just seen and heard what the Secretary-General had to say when he called on South Sudanese leaders to do everything possible to de-escalate hostilities immediately.  He also urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country and he condemned the killings of the two Chinese UN peacekeepers and one national UN staff member.  Further to this — the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that, in the last 24 hours, 67 people have been injured in or around the protection of civilians sites.  Eight of those people subsequently died.

**West Africa

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Mohamed ibn Chambas, briefed the Security Council this morning on West Africa and the Sahel.  Addressing the security and humanitarian situation in the region, Mr. Chambas said that an estimated 4.5 million people are displaced and 6 million people are in need of emergency food assistance in the Sahel alone.  Highlighting the underlying challenges in the subregion and beyond, he urged the international community to work collectively to improve conflict prevention efforts before crises escalate beyond control.

**Syria

And on Syria, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is in Rome, where he has held bilateral meetings with Italian authorities.  He also met with Riad Hijab, head of the High Negotiations Committee, who was also in Rome for meetings with the Italian authorities.  After meeting with the Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, Mr. de Mistura spoke to the press and referred to the critical importance of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) co-chairs — the United States and the Russian Federation — and also emphasized once more that it was critical for the ISSG and the Syrian parties to commit to a serious and meaningful process of political transition.

And also on Syria, we remain deeply concerned about increased fighting in and around Aleppo city.  Since 7 July, the intensification of hostilities between the Government of Syria forces and non-state armed groups has rendered the Castillo road impassable, the only access in and out of [eastern] Aleppo city.  An estimated 300,000 people residing in eastern Aleppo city depend on the road, which allowed for the flow of humanitarian supplies, commercial goods and civilian movement.  Given the history of the tensions in the area, most people in eastern Aleppo city rely heavily on humanitarian assistance.  Price increases have also been reported in eastern Aleppo.

The humanitarian community is also particularly concerned about the spread of hostilities throughout the city, putting the lives of thousands of civilians at risk, as we continue to receive distressing reports of aerial bombardment and the shelling on civilian locations in both western and eastern Aleppo.  The UN reiterates the call on all parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access to all civilians in Aleppo city, as required under international humanitarian law.  This includes enabling the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave.

**Population

And in his message on World Population Day today, the Secretary-General urges all Governments, businesses and civil society to support and invest in teenage girls.  He adds that everyone deserves the benefits of economic growth and social progress, urging all to work together to ensure a life of security, dignity and opportunity for all.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) today also warned that despite strides the world has made towards gender equality, teenage girls remain extremely vulnerable — for example, in developing countries, one in every three girls is married before she reaches the age of 18.  The agency stressed the enormous potential of teenage girls, who can enrich the world in immeasurable ways if their rights are fulfilled and respected.  Khalas!  Sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The unrest in India and held Kashmir up to the last known 25 people have been killed by the security forces and putting down Indian demonstrations and quite a few imposed.  Any comments on that?

Spokesman:  Yes, we have obviously seen the reports, which are of concern to us.  I hope to have a bit more to say on that a bit later this afternoon, so as soon as I have it, I will share it with you.  Abdelhamid? 

Question:  Thank you.  I have two questions, one on Yemen and one on Palestine.  I will start with Palestine.  I mean, the response of Israel to the Quartet report was to announce building more settlements and the Secretary‑General issued a statement strongly criticizing.  What does it mean to strongly criticize?  Does it have any legal meaning?  Is it at the same level as condemning?  Why he uses the word “strongly criticizes” and stops short from condemning the building of settlements?

Spokesman:  You know, I think you are reading too much into this.  The Secretary‑General's position on the issue of settlements in the West Bank is unequivocal.  He has repeated it time and time again and he will continue to do so, whether in public statements, whether in the UN's contributions to the Quartet reports, whether in his updates to the Security Council, which he will deliver one tomorrow to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East.  So, it can be said in different ways.  I think the meaning is one in the same.

Question:  Does he still believe that Israel is committed to the two‑State solution?  He calls that such action calls into question the commitment of Israel to a two-State solution.  Does he really believe there is any possibility of a two‑State solution?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General remains committed to a two‑State solution and he wants to see both parties committed, not only in words and actions towards the two‑State solution.

Correspondent:  Now my question on Yemen, I'm sorry to take your time…

Spokesman:  Your time is my time.  My time is your time.

Question:  President Abd Rabbuh Mandur Hadi, he said he will not go back to Kuwait for further negotiations if the UN will impose a national unity Government.  Is there any comment on that?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, in times of intense mediations and discussions, there will be statements made by various parties.  The Special Envoy remains committed, and wants all the parties to remain committed, to the political process, and we very much hope to see all the parties back in Kuwait later this week when the talks resume.  Pam?  Go ahead and then Matthew.

Question:  Stéphane, hi.  I know the Secretary‑General said he couldn't say exactly how many more troops of UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] or peacekeeping troops for South Sudan, but is there any range?  Is there an idea of doubling it?  What is the Secretary‑General calling for and what would it take… Has there been any direct contact with the parties by the Secretary‑General or someone on his side because he has been there?

Spokesman:  The Special Representative has been in contact on the ground with all the different parties.  As the Secretary‑General said, the issue of strengthening UNMISS will be discussed in the Security Council, but what is clear is that the solution is a political solution.  This is not a natural disaster.  This is a manmade disaster, and Riek Machar and Salva Kiir and those who work for them have responsibilities to the people of South Sudan.  There have been agreements, there have been signings; those need to come into place.  The South Sudanese people deserve no less, so obviously there will be discussions on strengthening UNMISS.  But, we know what needs to happen.  What needs to happen is the fighting needs to stop.  The leaders need to give orders to stop the fighting and those who receive those orders need to obey those orders, and that is what we want.  We need to see an end to the violence that we are seeing right now.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Yeah, I want to ask on South Sudan.  The Secretary‑General was just talking about accountability and I want to… given that the Associated Press is quoting witnesses inside the UN camp as saying that an SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] Government tank fired at the Chinese APC [armoured personnel carrier], killing two peacekeepers; what's the UN say about?  This is the Government that it works with… does it accept that evidence, and if so, what will they do about it?

Spokesman:  You know, the targeting of… specific targeting of UN peacekeepers is a very serious international crime.  We are trying to get the details of exactly what happened to our Chinese colleagues, but we do understand that it was a direct confrontation from the military.  I don't have all the details yet; and, again, people will need to be held to account.  There is an elected Government in South Sudan.  They need to honor their responsibilities, first and foremost to the people who elected them and to all the people of South Sudan.  And they need to respect the Status of Forces agreement, the agreement signed with the UN, which includes freedom of movement for UN personnel and UN peacekeepers and UN planes and that currently is not being respected.

Question:  Speaking… I wanted to ask you, there is a particular case of a dozen international… of something called of Tareen Apartments in Juba that say they have no protection at all and are surrounded by the SPLA.  And I wanted to know, is the UN in a position to provide help?

Spokesman:  This is a very, very fluid situation.  The UN is doing whatever it can with the means that we have on hand to protect its own staff, to ensure that everybody is safe and sound and there are mechanisms in place, and I'm sure those are being followed but I don't have those exact details.  I'll come back to you.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  On South Sudan.  Are the peacekeepers in barracks or can they shoot when they see this crossfire happening against civilians or Chinese injured?

Spokesman:  They obviously have a mandate to defend themselves and defend the civilians that are under their protection, and they will take whatever measures they need to take.  What we don't have right now is the full freedom of movement, which we need, which the authorities in South Sudan are not honouring through the agreements they have signed with the Organization.  Masood?

Question:  Stéphane, not to belabour the point, but when is the Secretary‑General really going to take note of the situation in occupied Kashmir, when so many people are being killed and he continues to brush it all aside?  Why?

Spokesman:  I don't think anybody's brushing it all aside.  What I told your colleagues, I hope to have a bit more language on that later.

Correspondent:  But, he had a stakeout today on South Sudan.  The situation over there is very bad — in occupied Kashmir. 

Spokesman:  I think no one is denying that there were concerns about the situation in Kashmir.  The fact that the Secretary‑General did not raise it, as he did not raise many other critical situations around the world, doesn't mean that he is brushing anything aside.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment regarding the DPRK's [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] announcement that it would cut ties with the US through the New York channel?

Spokesman:  We obviously would hope that there are no provocative actions taken.  Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  You mentioned earlier Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Italy.  What are his further plans on his way to prepare the next round of talks?

Spokesman:  The discussions are continuing at his levels, and I think as he said himself various levels in various other cities at technical levels.  When he thinks the time is right and the mix is right, he will announce a new round of talks.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  According to Israeli press, the Quartet report was given… an advance copy of the report was given to Israel.  A few portions of it, a few paragraphs were omitted completely, which talks about the illegality of the settlements and some other paragraphs had been watered down, for example, the siege of Gaza, it became free access to and from Gaza instead of lifting the siege.  Do you confirm that?

Spokesman:  No.  What I can confirm is that both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side were given a chance for inputs into the report, into the Quartet report, and those views were taken into consideration from both sides.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The new UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] chief of last week called on the Secretary‑General.  Is he now operational, has he taken over formally?

Spokesman:  That is a very valid question and I won't guess but let me try to get a confirmation as soon as this briefing is over.  Thank you.  Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask you I had seen published a memo by Mr. Peter Drennan of DSS [Department of Safety and Security], basically saying… suspending any travel in or out of Juba by UN personnel.  And I wanted to know, would that cover by land?  Would this preclude peacekeepers coming from elsewhere in the country to Juba?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I haven't seen this memo, which was obviously shared with you but not with me, if it exists.  The head of DSS takes the necessary precautions and sets out necessary orders for the safety of staff; that is his responsibility.  Obviously, the airport remains closed on official orders of the Government.  We would like to see that airport reopened.  At this point, we are unable to get staff that needs to come back in in.  We are unable to get people who need to be Medevac’d, including wounded peacekeepers and others who need to be Medevac’d out.  So, the opening of the airport is a critical part of us trying to get, improve the situation and also the fact the airport is closed limits our ability to bring in food and other critical supplies to the UN camp, including for the civilians, the thousands and thousands of civilians we are housing in various locations.

Correspondent:  This is what I wanted to know, is that many… a number of Member States, they do disclose their warnings, travel restrictions.  The US announced last night that it was ordering nonessential personnel to leave, so… and I didn't see that…

Spokesman:  Last I checked, we are not the 194th Member State.

Question:  Right, so why would you be less transparent than Members States?

Spokesman:  If this memo exists, it's about ensuring that staff is informed and staff are the ones who need to be informed.

Question:  And what about the Malakal report, I wanted to know, and you said it would be like at the end of May, we were given sort of an oral summary.  Supposedly there were two reports.  Are either of the reports actually going to be made public?

Spokesman:  They will be made public and I will check to see what the status is.  Thank you.  I will go get our guests if you can just be patient for a minute.

For information media. Not an official record.