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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.

**Sudan and South Sudan

This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, addressed the Security Council on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).  He said the mission continues to play a stabilizing role in the Abyei area and along the border regions, adding he was encouraged by the significantly improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan in the past year.  Also addressing the Council on Sudan and South Sudan was Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.  He updated Council Members on recent developments in relations between the two countries, on the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States and the process led by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel.  Those remarks are available to you.

**Western Sahara

Also today, the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, otherwise known as MINURSO, and that mandate was extended for a further six months.


This afternoon, Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, will be briefing the Council followed by closed consultations, and he has recommitted himself to speaking to you at the stakeout afterwards.


On Libya, just to say, to reiterate our message that we remain very much concerned about the continued clashes and their impact on civilians.  The UN continues to provide humanitarian support and call for humanitarian pauses and a ceasefire.  An estimated 43,000 people have now been displaced by fighting; that’s according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  Almost 30,000 people have received some form of humanitarian assistance since the start of the current hostilities, including assistance to displaced families at collective shelters, assistance to refugees and migrants, including evacuations, and restocking of medical facilities.  Through the Tripoli Flash Appeal, $10.2 million in funding is being urgently needed to assist people impacted by the clashes.  And as you may have seen, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today expressed grave concern that thousands of civilians remain stranded in conflict-affected areas of Tripoli.  In a statement, she stressed the urgent need for the creation of safe humanitarian corridors for trapped civilians and joined calls for an immediate ceasefire and resumption of political talks.

**United Nations Population Fund

This morning, the United Nations Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, spoke on behalf of the Secretary-General at the Salas Lecture of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which this year coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development and the fiftieth anniversary of when UNFPA began operations.  The Secretary-General said the fiftieth anniversary of UNFPA reaffirms the importance of its efforts to save lives, promote the well-being of people worldwide, particularly in the areas of sexual and reproductive health.

**Press Briefings

And as I mentioned, as soon as you’re done with me at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here on the upcoming “Play it Out” concert to beat plastic pollution, which will be held in Antigua on 1 June.  I assume we are all invited to go.  Speakers will include:  President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, along with the Minister for Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, Molwyn Joseph, and Grammy Award-winning singer Ashanti.  Tomorrow, no Grammy Award singers, but you will have a President, and that is the President of the Security Council for the month of May.  The merry month of May.  At 3 p.m.  Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to these United Nations, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work.


And we’re going to finish on two high notes, if you’ll excuse the pun, because today is International Jazz Day.  In a tweet, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, said that jazz crosses culture and borders, and on this Jazz Day we should celebrate the musicians who are using their art to bring people together and to speak out on issues they care about.  This year the main celebrations are being held in Melbourne, Australia.  There will be a concert at the Melbourne Art Centre Hamer Hall that will feature over 30 artists including Herbie Hancock, James Morrison, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling.  The concert will be webcast via YouTube, Facebook, the United Nations and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to millions of people worldwide.

**Honour Roll

And since we need money to run these operations, we say thank you to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which has joined our honour roll or the honour's list, as they would say.  [Eighty-nine.]  Eighty-nine.  Excellent.  Excellent.  Why don't we take some questions?  Mademoiselle?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  So, this morning, the interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, declared that the next phase of their operation, the Freedom Operation, is ongoing.  And we saw Leopoldo López, who was in house detention, join him with some of the military defectors.  What is the response by the Secretary‑General on the prospective possible actions by the National Guard of Venezuela, who has been reportedly using their army vehicles to ram against people, as well as teargas and fire being shot?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Sure, sure.  First of all, I'll say that, obviously, the Secretary‑General is following very closely and with concern the latest developments in Venezuela.  The situation is unfolding as we speak.  We are also… the United Nations is also reaching out to the parties.  The Secretary‑General urges all sides to exercise maximum restraint, and he appeals to all stakeholders to avoid any violence and take immediate steps to restore calm.  Joe?

Question:  Yes.  When the IMF [International Monetary Fund] managing director, [Christine] Lagarde, spoke at the Belt and Road forum, while praising the initiative, she also pointed out some concerns, including debt sustainability.  She called for more transparency, open procurement process with competitive bidding and so forth.  The Secretary‑General, on the other hand, only praised the initiative, quite vigorously, without noting or referring to any of these issues or even encouraging China to continue along its self‑proclaimed path to try to ease the debt burdens.  Why… I guess I have to ask you, why is that?

Spokesman:  I mean, if I may, I think I disagree with you with the analysis of the Secretary‑General's message.  The director of the IMF spoke to issues that pertain to the IMF.  The Secretary‑General's message was that the UN, its country teams, will work with countries involved in the Belt and Road projects to make sure that these projects are aligned with the development priorities of the countries, are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The Secretary‑General feels that the Belt and Road projects are, indeed, a great opportunity to… for green development.  He appealed for a kind of green Belt and Road, and our role here will be with the countries that are involved should they seek it, of course, and our country teams working with them to ensure that the projects are aligned with the various parts of the Sustainable Development Goals and that the projects be sustainable.

Question:  Debt sustainability or the ability to pay off debt or lose, as happened in Sri Lanka, a strategic port to, in this case, China, is inherent to a sustainable development, and the issue of debt burdens has been before the UN.  I know Argentina has brought it up.  So, I still wonder why it was ignored…?

Spokesman:  I don't think the Secretary‑General was ignoring anything, and I… again, I think it's a matter of differing opinions on how we read the speech.  Mario?

Question:  Just a follow‑up on Venezuela.  Some countries have expressed support for this action of Mr. Guaidó to take power.  Some others have rejected it.  What is the position of the Secretary‑General?  And if I may, you said that the UN's reaching out to the parties.  Has the SG spoken to anyone in Venezuela?

Spokesman:  Contacts are being had at various levels within the United Nations.  It's not for the Secretary‑General to give support for one party or another.  The focus of the Secretary‑General is on the well‑being of the people of Venezuela and ensure that everything is done to avoid violence and that calm be restored.  And again, I think, as the Secretary‑General's message, both privately and publicly, has been the same, which is to ensure that people understand that his good offices remain available should both sides request them.  Carla, then Betul.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on Jeffrey Sachs' report "Economic sanctions is collective punishment, the case of Venezuela"?  According to Sachs, this is a violation… these collective sanctions are a violation of the Hague and Geneva Conventions and even…?

Spokesman:  It's not… I saw the report.  It's not for the Secretary‑General to comment on Mr. Sachs' report.  Betul?

Question:  I have a follow‑up.  Because the suffering of the Venezuelan people, as a result of the sanctions, was described by the Foreign Minister on Thursday.  Friday, he was sanctioned by the US Government.  Will that affect his ability to come here and give us information, which would…?

Spokesman:  I don't know if it will affect his ability.  He was here previously, and as a matter of principle, we very much hope that the US, as they've said, would always respect their engagements under the Host Country Agreement.  Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  The [Donald] Trump Administration now wants the asylum seekers to pay a fee for their applications to be processed, and I was wondering if you have a reaction to that.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  What the United Nations would want to see and wants to see, and I think our colleagues at the refugee agency would say the same, is that asylum seekers have basic rights.  Those rights are enshrined in various international legal instruments, and they should be respected.  Right here.  No, if you wouldn't mind letting the young Russian lady behind you speak first.

Question:  Thank you so much.  So, Russia claims that Russian chemical weapons expert Dmitry Poklonsky was denied a US visa to attend a UN event.  So, is Secretary‑General aware of this problem?  And as I understand, Russia claims that this issue is becoming more often recently.

Spokesman:  I've just seen the reports on this issue.  We're looking into it.  I may have something for you a bit later.  Maggie and then Masood.

Question:  Steph, Eritrea's Minister of Information was tweeting today that the Foreign Minister has summoned the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] rep in Eritrea because… to protest what he said was unwarranted actions to hamper the Government's ability to repatriate their people who are… who are in Libya, who have been in these detention facilities.  Do you have any response on that?  And related to Libya, can you update us on Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé, where he's been, who he's talking to, what's going on?

Spokesman:  Sure.  On that particular thing, regarding Eritrea, I don't have anything to share with you except to say that we have more than once and continue to express our very deep concern at the fate of the thousands of migrants and refugees who are in Libya either in detention centres and other places, especially those in Tripoli.  I think the current cycle of violence that we're seeing, once again, underscores the fact that Libya is not a safe point of disembarkation for migrants or refugees.  Mr. Salamé has returned to the Mission area.  He's currently in Tunis, where the UN Mission maintains a back office.  The UN Mission and the country team are continuing to operate from Tripoli.  He's back from Europe and continuing to have contacts at various levels.  I'll come back to you.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is also in regard to Venezuela.  I was just wondering what the current state of UN involvement or the UN role… humanitarian role or whatever, is in Venezuela these days?

Spokesman:  The UN humanitarian role, as we've outlined here, is one of supporting the Venezuelan people in the face of the very serious humanitarian situation in the country.  We have ramped up our presence over the last few months, both with WHO [World Health Organization] and very much also with UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], which has been doing a lot of work on the ground.  And we are supporting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which had… has an agreement with the Government in the distribution of aid.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, following on that question, is there any concern about the safety of the UN personnel who is in Venezuela right now?

Spokesman:  We're taking the measures that we need to take to ensure the safety of all our staff.

Question:  Would that affect the distribution of aid, since…?

Spokesman:  I think it's too early to tell.  And obviously, a lot of the distribution also goes off… happens in other… in parts outside of Caracas, where the situation may be different.  But, as we said, the situation is unfolding as we speak.  Yes, and then we'll go to Evelyn.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yes.  To follow up on Venezuela, the Secretary‑General has talked a lot about preventive diplomacy, and Venezuela has moved today from a political crisis to a military division under armed forces.  So, is now the moment to… for preventive diplomacy before military escalation takes place in the country?  And how will the Secretary‑General demonstrate that?  And what are the steps, contacts that he has made in the last 24 hours, if he has made any?

Spokesman:  As I said, contacts are being had with the various parties at different levels within the UN, also very… also, I have no doubt, on the ground.  Since the beginning of this crisis, the Secretary‑General has been speaking to various part… he met with the Foreign Minister earlier this week.  He's also met with the Grupo Lima.  This is a topic that has come up in discussions with other relevant parties.  His message, as I said, publicly and privately, has been one to push for dialogue in order to resolve this peacefully, also underscoring the impartiality of the UN's humanitarian work and, once again, restating his offer of good offices.

Question:  To follow up, do you have any readout from the meeting yesterday, the Secretary‑General with Grupo Lima?

Spokesman:  For our part, the representative of the Grupo Lima had requested the meeting.  The Secretary‑General, I think, had a very good dialogue with them.  They expressed their position, and he repeated, as I said, basically the same message that I've been repeating here.  Evelyn, and then Masood.

Question:  Yes, to follow up on Linda's, the ICRC in Venezuela has had some trouble distributing the goods.  Has the UN had similar trouble…?

Spokesman:  I've not been briefed on any specific issues or blockages that we've had.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on this Yemen, the… which has been termed by the United Nations as the first preventable humanitarian disaster, has the Secretary‑General been able to talk to the Saudis or the other parties to the issue to… what do you call… bring down… to stop killing the people using air strikes and all that?

Spokesman:  You know, we're not going to pretend the situation in Yemen is anything else than what it actually is, which is indescribable humanitarian crisis for the Yemen… civilians in Yemen, who continue to suffer both from fighting, from deprivation in terms of lack of access to humanitarian assistance, to health facilities, destruction of civilian infrastructure, destruction of schools.  All of this needs to stop.  And this is what Martin Griffiths has been involved in dialogue.  This is the message that the Secretary‑General has also backed on, and we keep working.  We keep plugging at the efforts of having a political solution.  You never know here.  You never know.  You never know.  Yes, and then we'll go to Erol.

Question:  Yes.  Another follow‑up on Venezuela.  You said that you're expecting the United States to uphold the agreement with United Nations.  Do you…?

Spokesman:  No, I didn't say… no.  I didn't talk about the United States.  Oh, I'm sorry, in terms of the visas.  Yes, I'm sorry.  Excuse me.  I don't even pay attention to what I say sometimes.

Question:  Do you know where is Foreign Minister [Jorge] Arreaza right now? Is he at the United Nations…?

Spokesman:  No, I don't know where he is.  And my… I was stating a principle that we have no reason to believe the US will not uphold its part in the Headquarters Agreement.  Erol, and then I think some people are trying to come out here.

Question:  Just a quick one, if I may.  There is a letter sent to the Secretary‑General from a non‑governmental sector from Bosnia, addressing the issue of dispute between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia on the territorial water and building a bridge over the Pelješac.  It's becoming a big issue, and it's directed directly to the Secretary‑General.  Members of the Presidency also talked that the Secretary‑General is aware of that.  I'm asking, how much the SG is aware and what can he do… will he do in addressing that?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of the letter.  I'm sure it's somewhere in the mail distribution system in this house.  I will try to find it and get a response to your question.  I will leave you with people that are more fun than me.

For information media. Not an official record.