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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 7 October 2019 - Syria

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(excerpts)

**Questions and Answers

Questions? Yes, Maggie?

Question: Stéphane, this developing news about northern Syria, has the Secretary‑General… who has he been talking to? Has he been working the phones? USG [Under-Secretary-General Rosemary] DiCarlo is in the region. She’ll be in Lebanon later this week. Any chance he might deploy her to Ankara to get a clearer picture of what the Turks plan?

Spokesman: Look, we are in touch with the relevant parties, mostly through our Office of the Special Envoy. The Secretary‑General, for his part, is following with great concern the situation in north‑eastern Syria, in particular the risks to civilians from any potential escalations. It’s very important that all parties exercise maximum restraint at this time. The Secretary‑General also emphasizes that civilians and civilian infrastructure need to be protected at all times and that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need must be guaranteed in order to allow the UN and its humanitarian partners to continue to carry out the critical work in Syria. And I would add that we… the Secretary‑General reiterates that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict; the only sustainable solution is a UN‑facilitated political process, as outlined in Security Council resolution 2254.

Question: So, he hasn’t himself picked up the phone yet, only Geir Pedersen?

Spokesman: He’s been… there have been contacts at various levels this morning. Yes, sir?

Question: A follow‑up on Maggie’s question. Does the situation where we have a group of people, the Kurds, are on the verge of extinction or cleansing, as described in the Turkish Foreign Minister statement, isn’t that grave reason enough for the Secretary‑General to take a flight and go to Ankara and start diplomacy on the ground?

Spokesman: Look, there are… as I said, we are in contact with the relevant parties. I think one of the things that we’re concerned about, and our colleague Panos Moumtzis outlined it, I think, very well this morning in Geneva, is to make sure that any changes that may take place, right, because nothing has happened so far, will not result [in] any further displacement, and it’s very important that people have retained their freedom of movement and access also to humanitarians… [cross talk]

Question: Follow‑up, please. This is the Special Envoy view and United Nations’ view, but the reality on the ground, we have threats by the Foreign Minister of Turkey to cleanse the territory from the Kurds. This is war that dates to World War II.

Spokesman: I think I’ve… [cross talk]

Question: Isn’t that a red flag enough to start an untraditional diplomacy in this scenario? [cross talk]

Spokesman: First of all, as I said, we’ve remained and we continue to remain engaged with all the major actors in this. Our concern, I think, as we’ve… the Secretary‑General has outlined it through what I’ve said and through what Mr. Moumtzis said, is the impact on civilians. Yes, Nabil?

Question: [inaudible] Stéphane, can you share with us any contingency planning you’re doing, whether in Syria or southern Turkey? Have you taken ‑‑ I don’t know ‑‑ any urgent action to deal or address the situation?

Spokesman: Our humanitarian colleagues are always ready with any contingency plans. This is not the first time we’ve had threats of developments of this kind, so they are ready inasmuch as they can be ready. And, of course, I think what concerns us, if there is any increased military action, is the lack of access we have to people who need our help. Yes, Betul?

Question: Thank you, Steph. Another follow‑up. We know that the UN has been cautious on any type of buffer zone given its previous experiences, but Turkey has been determined to establish a safe zone, and they suggest that they would relocate at least 2 million Syrians in that area. Would the UN coordinate or has the UN been given any assurances?

Spokesman: Look, I’m not aware of any assurances having been given. What is important is that any sort of zone that may or may not be created ‑‑ and again, we’re sort of talking hypotheticals here ‑‑ is that it has no impact on the rights of people to seek asylum, that any return for any refugees ‑‑ and this applies worldwide ‑‑ any return to any refugee be safe and, most importantly, be voluntary and, of course, done in dignity. James and then Ibtisam.

Question: Another follow‑up on a specific aspect of this. You’ve talked about the humanitarian situation, but, of course, clearly, in the area we’re talking about, there are a great number of detainees, including ISIL fighters. How concerned is the Secretary‑General about the custody of those people? And do… does the Secretary‑General want countries to get together to try and find some sort of new mechanism for the… to hold those people?

Spokesman: I think, on your latter part, there have been Security Council discussions on this issue. It is very important that things be done in a way that would deal with the threat of Da’esh but also that people’s rights be respected. And, also, our concern, as we’ve expressed and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has expressed, is the fate of those children in the camps. You asked a first part of the question, but I’ve already forgotten it. And so, have you… [cross talk] We both have, yes; excellent. [laughter] Ibtisam?

Question: Stéphane, you said that you… that the representatives of the Secretary‑General are… is in contact with different parties. Does this include also the Americans who are there? And…

Spokesman: We are regularly in touch with all the parties involved in this conflict, which means either those on the ground or those who have influence on those on the ground.

Question: And which reactions are you getting? I mean…

Spokesman: I’m not at liberty to speak to that. Abdelhamid and then Erol.

Question: Thank you. Moving to Iraq, Mr… the Secretary‑General was a little bit late in issuing a statement. We asked you first why he didn’t issue a statement. You said his Special Envoy did. Then he issued a statement talking about people going to the street demonstrating in part… in different parts of the world, without mentioning Iraq. Then the third stage - he issued. Does it need to take like 95 people killed to issue a statement?

Spokesman: No.

Question: Why he was late in issuing a statement?

Spokesman: We’re… you know, the situations… inasmuch as I’d like to think that things rotate around noon, situations evolve throughout the day, throughout the world. It was felt that a strong political message needed to be sent through a direct statement, and that’s what happened. Erol?

Question: Yes, Steph, when you say the… you are in contact in relevant sides or parties of… regarding this crisis in Syria, is Secretary‑General talking to President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan? Does he know where is he today? For example, did he talk with the phone with him, because he is a major… [cross talk]

Spokesman: No, he has not spoken to President Erdoğan, and I don’t think he knows where… I mean, it’s not up to us to know where President Erdoğan is.