Joint press stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura and UN Senior Adviser, Jan Egeland
26 May 2016
Special Envoy de Mistura
Good afternoon. I am going to address two points and then I will leave it to my friend and colleague, Jan, to actually go deeper on this. But the two points that I would like to address is 1) the issue of the air drops, which was amply and at length discussed today by the HTF and with the participation by VTC of the Executive Director of the World Food Programme. And secondly, the fact that I am addressing this afternoon the Security Council, therefore the implications that you may have or one of the questions that you may have, which is when will be the next talks take place. So these are the two points which I would like to address.
Now, on air drops, point number one. It was a clear decision by the Vienna recent meeting that if by the first of June there would not be a movement on some of the many areas, which need to be reached by land, which remain the priority, the cheapest, the most effective, the most deliverable - also because you can imagine that six weeks of air drops is like one convoy by land - but if areas both besieged by the government or by the opposition, such as Kefraya and Foua, or by the government such as Darayya and Moadameya, are not accessible, the option of air drops, air lifting, air bridging should be taken seriously into account.
Based on that, WFP did an excellent work, as usual, in preparing concretely some plans and working on those plans, in order to be able to educate, inform all the members of the ISSG who are responsible for the delivery of what they indicated was going to be an option. What are the conditions, what are the best situation, what are the costs and so on?
It is clear from the briefing that we got from the WFP Executive Director that in order for the air drops in particular to become concrete, either by delivery at high altitude, like has been and is been done in Deir ez-Zor, or by helicopters, landing where in fact there is no possibility of doing safe air dropping, there is a need for the cooperation of the government of Syria. And by the way the government of Syria has cooperated very happily and with a lot of energy for the air drops in Deir ez-Zor, which has reached 110,000. And has authorized and cooperated with the Iranian military authorities for air drops or air lifts by helicopters of Iranian military to the two locations of Kafraya and Foua. So the logic would be, since they are all Syrian civilians, Syrian people, the same type of authorization would be expected to be delivered for other places where Syrian civilians are present, such as Darayya, such as Moadameyah and Duma.
By the way, there are credible reports that we heard today that areas such as Moadameyah, there is a report of already beginning of severe malnutrition among children. And perhaps even in Al-Wa'er. So this should put even further a sense of urgency.
Now, we still believe that the best way is to do it by road, but the option of air drops, air lifts are and needs to be concretely there.
Last point, if we are able and authorized again to reach 110,000 people with seven hundred tons with air lifting, air dropping at high altitude to a location called Deir ez-Zor, where in fact all the people have been now reached with sufficient food for one month, and this is a joint operation with Russian pilots, WFP planes, US funding and cooperation, US parachutes and the contributions from countries like Netherlands, like Germany like many others, there is no reason, no excuse that we should not be in a position of arguing strongly and pushing for having similar or equivalent type of access in order to reach every other civilian wherever they are inside Syria.
Now the talks, I am going to report to the Security Council this afternoon what is my own assessment, on behalf of the Secretary-General, on the current situation. So, I am going to discuss, and ask and consult the Security Council regarding what would be the best option for the resumption of the talks. So, I am not in a position now to tell you when they will be announced, but I am going to be in a position of doing so after I briefed and consulted, as it should be, the Security Council this afternoon.
The floor is yours, Jan and then there will be questions, obviously.
Thank you Staffan. The month of May continues to be much more difficult than we have hoped. May was supposed to be a good month. We were supposed to have procedures with the government and with armed opposition groups that would make it possible for us to reach a million people by land in addition to the 110,000 people by air in Deir-ez Zor. Of the one million people that we have planned and tried to reach by land in May, we have only so far reached 160,000. So we need to reach a lot of places in the remaining days of May and before the 1st of June for this to be anywhere near what we had hoped. Even in areas where we had full approval from the government, there has been infinite problems in actually reaching the places. And in others where we had conditional approvals like Darayya and Duma, we haven’t been able to reach the people at all. We are still failing the people of Darayya, as we are failing the people of Moadamyia and Al-Waer. Those are indeed three places, I would say that the situation is still horrendously critical. Children are so malnourished in these places that they will be dying if we are not able to reach them -- Darayya, Moadamyia and Al-Waer. There are however a lot of important humanitarian activities happening, and it is happening in a more difficult security climate as well. There is more fighting, there is more bombing, there is more infighting in many areas and that has made it much more difficult to be an aid worker.
The UN colleagues in Aleppo have to move from place to place to be able to survive in [and] being present in Aleppo. The UN hub has been repeatedly hit. And we have in some places been denied going there because the access route was not cleared or was not safe or there was fighting in these places. We need an end to hostilities to be able to reach many of these places.
However, we are proceeding with vaccination campaigns. Unicef and WHO reported a massive ongoing effort, and it’s going in government controlled areas, in opposition groups controlled areas and even in the so-called Islamic State controlled areas. All together we hope to reach two million children through the Unicef/WHO efforts. 1,400 teams are being prepared to go even in cross border trainings to be able to reach our goals. It’s a massive effort and we hope it will be successful. The next few weeks will decide. Thank you.
Questions and Answers:
Question: Question for Mr. de Mistura about the Security Council. Will you be asking for extension, my understanding is that your deadline for an agreement is 1 August, we have the month of Ramadan and time is running out for talks now, what is the range of possibilities? You say you will announce when talks will happen, can you give us the range of ideas? Also about air drops, you said that the Syrian government will need to give you an agreement, they didn’t agree to trucks, why would they agree to air drops?
Special Envoy de Mistura: Well, let me start with the second point then the first one. It is WFP clearly indicated that as a standard procedure, in order to get the air drops by commercial planes to move forward and be insured, there is as a standard procedure, the need of a clearance, the permission of the government in question, whatever the government and the location is. From that point of view it is a standard procedure. Now, that doesn't mean at all that if the government decides to say no, both to air drops, air lifts and land convoys as it had done often, there will not be an opportunity which we intended to raise, and I personally will raise with the Co-Chairs, to actually ensure that they find a way to maintain what was a decision by the Co-Chairs - Russia and the US - in Vienna, proposed by every country around, to ensure that either way the food needs to start reaching everyone.
I mentioned today that in my knowledge of many years of professional involvement, 45, as you know, 46, I never met one single fighter or one single soldier starving, never, anywhere in the world. But there are plenty of civilians at the moment in danger of starving and they happen to be all Syrian civilians - in Deir ez-Zor, in Darayya, in Kafraya, in Foua, in Moadameyah. And the time has come, and I think that was the main news of Vienna. It was not that the talks have been postponed, but it was actually that the international community was feeling the guilt, the pressure to actually make sure that just listing a number of cities to be reached through humanitarian aid is not any more enough.
Regarding the first point, I (inaudible) that I am going to ask for the Security Council to guide me, because number 1 there is a sense of urgency in having the talks resumed, because we need to keep the momentum. But those talks in order to be credible, based again on the Vienna decision, need to have a credible ground, based on humanitarian improvement and on cessation of hostilities improvement and stabilization.
The date of August is there and remains there. Does it mean that we need be in hurry, the answer is yes, but August is there.
Last point, Ramadan. With great respect that we all have and we should have for the holy month of Ramadan, the message is: if people in the region are capable and willing to fight during Ramadan, which unfortunately has been often the case in the past, I don't think we should not expect them to talk at least about peace, or give a chance to talk about peace in Ramadan. So Ramadan will not be a factor.
Q. Yesterday the Syrian Kurds opened a bureau, an office, in Paris and they said they were on their way to implement a (inaudible) of the Federation, so you already told us that the Syrian territorial unity has to be preserved. Apart from the cessation of hostilities and apart from the humanitarian situation, how critical could it be as an initiative to threaten the resumption of the talks?
Special Envoy de Mistura: I think that the resumption of talks will not be threatened by this type of affirmation or statement, because we have had them and will continue having them on the overall political transition which is as you know based on Resolution 2254. All the rest can be declarations by whoever wants to make a declaration but is not affecting and influencing our talks. You know very well that the issue about a Federal state is not on the agenda of the Intra-Syrian talks. It may be an issue that the Syrian people should be discussing or can discuss if and when they will be ready to discuss the issue of the future constitution. At this stage, it is not entering there.
Q. There were these attacks the other day on Jablah and Tartous. I just want to know what impact you see that this might have on the government’s willingness to return to the peace talks, given that these were government areas.
Special Envoy de Mistura: Well, I leave it to the government to comment on that. My hope is that this very tragic, very sad series of terrorist attacks which have been claimed by the way by a common enemy of everyone inside Syria, i.e. Daesh, will contribute at least to the sense of urgency in finding a political solution based on the Geneva communiqué so that everyone can focus then on what is a common threat, not only in Syria, but elsewhere, Daesh.
Q. This afternoon, what will be your message to the Security Council? Will you be trying to convince them to resume the talks by the end of this month, despite the challenges and the negative signs everywhere?
Special Envoy de Mistura: I know that you have a lot of respect for what we are trying to do, and I have a lot of respect for your profession. But you are asking me something impossible, that I tell you and the press before I tell who is actually I am supposed to report to, what I will be telling to them. So please wait until 7 p.m. and then the answer will be there. But anyway, it was a very good try.