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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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Happy Tuesday.


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed today’s return of negotiators to Doha and said that it looks forward to the speedy resumption of talks between the two Afghan negotiating teams in Qatar.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, urged both sides to use this opportunity to move ahead to create the conditions for a reduction in violence and reach a political settlement that is acceptable to all segments of Afghan society.  She added that a cessation in fighting would create a better atmosphere for talks, provide hope to the people, and allow humanitarians to deliver much-needed winter assistance to Afghans across the whole country.  The Mission stressed that it will remain in close contact with both parties and, as the Secretary-General said at the opening of the talks in September, the UN stands ready to assist as necessary.


The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, will be visiting Riyadh and Aden in the next few days to meet with the Yemeni President and the newly formed Cabinet.  The Special Envoy will first head to Riyadh, where he is scheduled to meet with Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, as well as senior Saudi officials.  He will then proceed to Aden to meet with Prime Minister Muin Abdel Malek and members of the Government of Yemen.  The visit comes after the formation of the new Cabinet and the attack in Aden airport on 30 December 2020, targeting the Government's ministers, which resulted in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), reports that the security situation in Bangui remains relatively calm, with the Joint Task Force for Bangui maintaining operational readiness amid increased patrols in the city.  The Mission reports the presence of armed combatants in Bangassou.  MINUSCA peacekeepers continue to conduct patrols to ensure protection of civilians.  In a joint declaration issued yesterday, the head of the Department of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, along with senior officials from the African Union, the Economic Commission of Central African States and the European Union, took note of the provisional results of the Presidential elections, announced yesterday.  They recalled that the country’s Constitutional Court will proclaim the final results and appealed to all political actors to respect the decisions of the Court.

Central African citizens have demonstrated their determination to exercise their right to vote, despite many obstacles, the senior officials said in the statement.  They reiterated their call on all political actors to settle any electoral disputes peacefully and in accordance with the laws and the Constitution of the country.  They also called on the Central African Government and the entire political class to favour an inclusive, open, constructive and credible political dialogue to promote national stability.  The officials strongly condemned speeches and statements of disinformation, hatred and incitement to violence, as well as the violence perpetrated by certain armed groups aimed at compromising the electoral process.  They condemned violations of the Peace Agreement by armed groups and urged all signatory parties to fully honour their commitments.  They invite them to relaunch the peace process, in particular by emphasizing consultation, strict compliance with commitments and accountability, because, they said, impunity is not a viable option.

**Ethiopia Refugees

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that it continues to register new refugee arrivals at the Sudanese-Ethiopian border.  Some 800 people crossed from Ethiopia’s Tigray region into eastern Sudan in just the first few days of the new year.  Since early November, more than 56,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled to neighbouring Sudan.  UNHCR said that more than 30 per cent of refugees are estimated to be under 18 and 5 per cent are over 60 years old.  In support of the Sudanese Government, UNHCR and partners continue to relocate the refugees from the arrival locations at the border to the designated refugee camps.  A new camp just opened in Tunaydbah, and it has already received some 580 refugees over the past couple of days.  UNHCR said that further assistance is critical to improve water and sanitation conditions in the camps, as well as to ramp up COVID-19 prevention measures.  Additional funding is also required to sustain shelter projects and improve the living conditions in the camps, especially in anticipation of the next rainy season, which is expected to start in May.


Turning to Kenya, today the UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, allocated $1.5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for desert locust control operations in the country.  The funds will go to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) response, which includes air and ground surveillance and pesticide spraying.  Since 21 December 2020, numerous swarms started to form in eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia following Cyclone Gati.  They have been entering into north-east Kenya and are likely to spread throughout northern and central counties.  Our colleagues say that, if not controlled, the swarms could destroy crops and pasture and threaten the livelihoods and food security of 3.6 million people across the region and in Yemen, including 173,000 people in Kenya.  In response, FAO has extended its locust response plan until June.  However, further donor funding is urgently needed to contain the threat from desert locusts in the region.  And that is all I have for now.  And just a reminder that Brenden Varma will not be speaking to you today.  Does anyone have any questions for me?  Yes.  Alan Bulkaty first.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hello, Farhan.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question regarding DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  Some media report that DPRK recently request that from GAVI… so‑called GAVI, the… let me see.  It… it's… yeah, Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization.  So, the DPRK requested vaccines from [inaudible].  As the somebodies of the UN system are parts of this Gavi alliance, do you have any information how many doses and what exact vaccine did DPRK request?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We're part of the Gavi initiative, but we don't speak for the whole initiative, but I'll try to get any details we have on how Gavi has responded to the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s] request for vaccines.  All right.  James Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  There seems to have been a breakthrough in the Gulf dispute.  Saudi Arabia and Qatar seem to have resolved their differences at the summit in Saudi Arabia that's taking place today.  Do you have any response to this news?  And does the UN have anybody actually at the summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, at this stage, what I can tell you is that we do welcome the announcement to open the airspace, land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar.  We hope that all countries involved in the dispute will act positively to continue to resolve their differences and stress the importance of Gulf unity for regional peace, security and development.  We're also grateful to those who worked tirelessly towards resolving the Gulf rift, particularly the State of Kuwait.  And we expect to have more upon the conclusion of the summit.

Question:  Just… a quick follow‑up, Farhan, and thanks so much for that.  It's appreciated.  Is there any UN official actually at the summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that this was a summit involving the Gulf Cooperation Council members.  So, this was not something which we're attending.  All right.  Any other questions?  Does anyone have their hand raised in the room? I can't quite see the room yet, but if someone has their hand raised, please go ahead.  Anyone?  Okay.

Question:  Farhan, I wanted to raise a technical issue.  In listening to the Syria debate in the Security Council, if you were listening to it on WebTV and you used the language English, you heard all the foreign speakers, but not the English speakers.  In order to hear the speakers in English, you had to go to… you had to move that dial to "original", which doesn't make sense.  So, could you pass this on to the tech experts?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Sorry.  We're several months into the COVID situation.  We are sometimes having some problems with our language services, including through the Interprefy platform, and we try to straighten those out, but I'll let my colleagues know.  And I don't see anything further.  If there's nothing further, I'll wish you all a very good afternoon.  Have a good one.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Bye.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.