Source: UN Mission in Ethiopia and
Date: 25 Mar 2004
UNMEE media briefing notes 25 Mar
UNMEE PUBLIC INFORMATION
A near verbatim transcript of the weekly press briefing chaired in the
Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa by the Spokeswoman and Chief of Public
Information Office, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte', via videoconference linking
participants in Asmara and Addis Ababa . Also present in Asmara Phil Lewis,
Programme Manager for UNMACC.
On 18 March, in Asmara, the Special Representative of the Secretary
General (SRSG) briefed the diplomats in Asmara on the status of the peace
process; the Security Council's meeting with Troop Contributing Countries
(TCCs) as well as its informal consultations on the Secretary General's
progress report; and Security Council resolution 1531 (2004). Also present
was the Force Commander Major-General Robert Gordon who briefed the officials
on the Sector Military Coordination Committee (SMCC) meetings, the latest
Military Coordination Commission meeting in Nairobi and the overall military
situation in the Mission area.
On the same day, the SRSG made remarks at the National Union of Eritrean
Women's (NUEW) workshop (supported by UNMEE) on women's rights and HIV/AIDS.
In his statement, the SRSG highlighted factors that contribute to the
problems relating to HIV/AIDS, and assured the audience of UNMEE's support
for joint initiatives on these issues.
Meanwhile in Addis Ababa on 18 March, the Deputy Special Representative of
the Secretary General (DSRSG) Cheikh Tidiane Gaye met with Dr. Tekeda Alemu,
the Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, at the latter's request.
He also attended the launching of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), which
took place at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa.
On 19 March, the SRSG attended the screening of UNMEE's documentary,
"Next Steps to Peace" at the Intercontinental Hotel in Asmara.
On 22 March, the SRSG, accompanied by the Force Commander visited Sector
Centre, where he inaugurated the Bada water pipeline project, funded by the
Quick Impact Project (QIP) funds. He also attended--at the invitation of
Eritrea's Department of Water Resources of the Ministry of Lands, Water and
Environment-- celebrations marking 2004 World Water Day, the theme of which
was "Water and Disasters." The observance was held at the
Intercontinental Hotel in Asmara.
On 23 March, the SRSG met with the French Ambassador to Eritrea, His
Excellency Gerard Sambrana, who paid a courtesy call on him. Later in the
afternoon, the SRSG received a delegation from the South African Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, who also paid a courtesy visit.
On 24 March the SRSG attended the Italian Contingent Medal Parade. In the
afternoon he was interviewed by journalists from the "Boston Globe"
and "the Washington Post". Both correspondents are based in
During the past week, UNMEE conducted 656 ground and 13 air reconnaissance
patrols throughout the Area of Responsibility. The general situation in the
Mission area continues to remain tense, yet is assessed as remaining
militarily stable. There have been no significant changes in troop locations
or dispositions reported over the past week.
In all sectors, UNMEE peacekeepers continued to provide medical assistance
to local civilians, including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), along with
supplies of bulk water to civilian communities in the Temporary Security Zone
(TSZ) and the Adjacent Areas.
Restrictions of Freedom of Movement
The Asmara - Keren - Barentu road continues to remain closed to all UNMEE
movement, a restriction which considerably hampers UNMEE in the performance
of its mandated tasks.
The Slovak Engineering Company, demining mechanically and manually,
cleared an area of 11,149 square metres in the Adi Hakin-Mai Hbey minefield
and an area of 1,300 square meters in the vicinity of the village of
Sheshebit (8 km southeast of Shilalo) in Sector West. Ten pieces of MYB-2
igniters, one 82 mm mortar bomb, six detonators, two fuses and three POMZ-2
anti-personnel mines were cleared in the Adi Hakin-Mai Hbey minefield. In
Sector Centre, a detachment from the Company manually cleared an area of
3,782 square meters along access roads to the border area near Ksad Eiqa,
about 15 kilometres south of Adi Quala.
The Kenyan Demining Engineering Company, working in the Adi Hakin-Mai Hbey
minefield, also manually cleared an area of 3,269 square metres of four
detonators, six fuses, one grenade and thirteen POMZ-2 anti-personnel mines.
MECHEM de-miners cleared 14.2 kilometres of road near Shilalo, a 5.8
kilometre stretch of road near Adi Melele and 55.5 kilometres of road near
Tokombia. In addition, they cleared an area of 400 square meters at the Mai
Hbey minefield of 93 POMZ-2 anti-personnel mines, which were found in the
On 23 March 2004, the UNMEE Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) was
awarded a UN 21 Award in recognition of their outstanding 'team
productivity,' initiatives and contributions in 2003 which were aimed at
improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the UN Organisation. The award
applauded the MACC Team for its approach of 'extending beyond its
coordination role to include operational activities, such as mine risk
education, explosive ordnance disposal and mine clearance, demining for
demarcation, medical coordination and emergency response.' The award praised
the MACC for being 'the first UN Mine Action Centre to successfully integrate
civilian and military demining operations and personnel into a holistic
operation, employing best practices to achieve significant results.'
The Programme Manager of MACC Phil Lewis attended the 7th International
Meeting of National Mine Action Directors and UN Technical Advisors in
Geneva, Switzerland. The event was conducted under the auspices of the UN
Mine Action Service (UNMAS). The purpose of the meeting was to provide a
global forum where participants are able to exchange ideas, and discuss
issues concerning contemporary global mine action issues.
Meetings And Visits
On 20 March, the Deputy Force Commander and Chief Military Observer
Brigadier- General Walid Krishen visited the Military Observer Team Sites at
Mendefera and Adi Quala where he was briefed by the respective Team Leaders.
On 22 March, the Special Representative of the Secretary General Legwaila
Joseph Legwaila and the Force Commander Major- General Robert Gordon visited
Bada in Sector Centre to inaugurate a 2.5 km pipeline laid by the Indian
Battalion (INDBATT) to supply water to the village of Boleli (approximately 1
kilometre north of Bada).
On 23 March, the DFC and CMO Brigadier-General Walid Krishen visited the
Military Observer Team Site, the Kenyan Demining Engineering Company, the
Slovak Engineering Company, the Bangladesh Engineering Company and the
Jordanian Battalion Company at Shilalo.
Evacuation of Seriously Injured Eritrean Boy
On 18 March, the INDBATT Company at Zela Ambessa evacuated a critically
injured young Eritrean boy by vehicle to the Senafe Hospital. The boy had
sustained serious back and leg injuries in a fall from a rooftop and required
immediate medical attention. INDBATT's action, which saved the boy's life,
was highly appreciated by the local administration and the villagers.
Repatriation of Ethiopian Minors on Humanitarian Grounds
On 18 March, the INDBATT Company Commander at Zela Ambessa arranged for
the repatriation of two Ethiopian minors, aged 14 and 11, who were
apprehended by the Eritrean Police at Lahio (5 kilometres south west of Zela
Ambessa) after they had accidentally strayed into the Temporary Security Zone
earlier that day.
Return of Cattle
On 16 March, the INDBATT Post Commander from the Italian Fort arranged, in
conjunction with the Eritrean Police, the return of 12 cattle that had
strayed into the Temporary Security Zone from Ethiopia.
Forced Border Crossing
On the evening of 16 March, a civilian vehicle crossed the southern
boundary of the TSZ from Eritrea into Ethiopia in the vicinity of the Mereb
River Bridge. The vehicle which was speeding, crashed through the Eritrean
checkpoint and then avoided the UNMEE checkpoint by crossing the dry
riverbed. Subsequent investigations with the Ethiopian authorities confirmed
that there was only one person in the vehicle.
On 24 March, SRSG and the Force Commander presented UNMEE medals to
members of the Italian Military Police Company at their medal parade, which
was held at the Staff Officer's Camp.
On 25 March, SRSG and the Force Commander presented UNMEE medals to
members of the Finnish Guard Company. Admiral J Kaskeala, Chief of Defence of
Finland was the guest of honour at the medal parade, which took place in the
Finnish Camp in Asmara earlier this morning.
Questions and Answers
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Thank you Gail, my question is about this
freedom of movement of UNMEE vehicles in Eritrea, (on the) Asmara-
Keren-Barentu (road.) How long has it been closed now?
Spokeswoman: Let me just check on the exact date, I think it was in
the first week of March, the 5th of March to be exact.
Q [from Asmara]: Can you just tell us how the situation is
regarding this road? Is UNMEE still discussing with the Eritrean authorities
to get access to the road again?
Spokeswoman: We are, absolutely (raising this issue at every
opportunity) because this is a very important road. I think the Force
Commander made that clear when he was here two weeks ago-that this is our
main supply route to some 1,500 troops and therefore we need to make sure
that the road is reopened as soon as we can get it open. So we are waiting on
the Eritrean authorities, who have said that they are undertaking an
investigation and as soon as we hear from them, which we hope will be very
soon, we hope the road will be reopened and we can continue to carry out our
Q [from Addis Ababa]: We are hearing that along the border near
Zelembessa, there have been lots of military activities by Eritreans, a lot
of explosions and gunfire and in fact they tell us there is lots of smoke
following the explosions and so on.
Spokeswoman: On which side of the border?
Q [from Addis Ababa]: On the Eritrean side. They are saying, that
is because the Eritrean forces are engaged in some training exercises. Have
you observed this? Has UNMEE observed this? I would like to know.
[Please note the correction in this response from the Spokeswoman to her
earlier statement regarding training activities on both sides of the border.
In fact the Force has confirmed that training activities with live ammunition
has only taken place on the Ethiopian side.]
Spokeswoman: I know that training was going on and there was firing
on the Ethiopian side of the border, and we were concerned that the firing
was very close to the southern boundary of the TSZ. This was a matter raised
in the Sector MCCs and since that time, though the exercises have gone on
they have moved away from the southern boundary of the TSZ. As far as on the
Eritrean side I will just have to check with military whether they have heard
anything of firing around the Zelembessa area on the Eritrean side.
CMPIO: From a military point of view, so far we have not received
any information on this sort of incident that firing is being conducted from
the Eritrean side. We have not received any message so far.
Spokeswoman: The Military PIO has said that he does not have any
information on this but we will check for you. We always do when you raise
issues like this. We will check with the Force. Sharif could you check with
the force and if we have anything more we will add it to the briefing note.
CMPIO: Okay I will check it and in the next briefing (note) I will
let know. But there is some information that there was fire fighting. Some of
the huts (in the area) were burnt by fire. Not firing of ammunition. This was
just normal fire fighting.
Q [from Asmara]: It is about that civilian who crossed the border
from Eritrea to Ethiopia, do you know if it was an Eritrean citizen?
Spokeswoman: The vehicle that crashed through (the Eritrean
checkpoint,) yes it was.
Q [from Asmara]: Was it a male or female?
Spokeswoman: I have no idea. I have no other details other than
what you have there.
Q [from Asmara]: I was just wondering if the person had been
arrested in Ethiopia, if you knew about that?
Spokeswoman: No, I don't. I would presume so, since we asked the
Ethiopian authorities and they were the people who were able to tell us that
there was one civilian who crossed the border. So I am assuming that the
person was apprehended on this side. But I think it also goes to show that
they (people crossing the border) don't necessarily need to go through UNMEE
checkpoints to cross the border.
[Please note that the Spokeswoman has also ascertained from the Force that
they cannot confirm whether the civilian who crossed the border in the
incident of 16 March was apprehended on the Ethiopian side.]
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Inaudible
Spokeswoman: It is not at our checkpoint, that's the bottom line.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: They avoided your checkpoint.
Spokeswoman: They did avoid our checkpoint.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Inaudible...
Spokeswoman: We have always said if people want to cross the
border, they will find means of doing so.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: I note that the Deputy SRSG had a meeting
with Dr. Alemu, do you have any further information about what they talked
about, as it was called by the Foreign Affairs person?
Spokeswoman: Usually we do not give you any more information on
those meetings especially because (on this occasion) it is at the Ethiopians'
request, not ours. You know those meetings are usually confidential and I am
not allowed to say anything on them.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Would you explain to us the status of
demarcation as of now, since the Secretary-General presented his report to
the Security Council?
Spokeswoman: Have you read the report and the Security Council's
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Inaudible...
Spokeswoman: That is why I am asking, have you read both?
Q [from Addis Ababa]: No I didn't.
Spokeswoman: Okay, because I think it is really important and I
said this before and if you don't have copies, we will furnish you with them.
But I think it is important to read the recommendations of the Secretary-
General's report as well as the current resolution and what it says on the
issue of demarcation because it says clearly there what the UN's expectations
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Would it be possible...
Spokeswoman: On demarcation as you know, the ball is not in our
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Would it be possible to get copies of the
Spokeswoman: Absolutely, Adane can you make sure that copies of
both the Secretary Generals' Progress Report as well as the Security Council
resolution 1531 are available because I think it is really important that you
read it, really thoroughly.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: First of all congratulations on receiving
that award. Just a routine one, I wonder if you could explain the difference
between mechanical and manual de-mining? I am assuming that mechanical is
much faster but presumably mechanically you can't get to certain positions
and the manual is better in that case. But could you give us the difference
Phil Lewis: (Programme Manager UNMEE MACC) Thanks very much for the
congratulations. Mechanical, we have one unit here that uses heavy machinery
such as tank rollers and heavy flails, as well as remote controlled light
flails. And mechanical is primarily used as a groundbreaking tool to clear
the way for manual or dogs clearance. It is faster, but obviously it cannot
be used as stand-alone because it is not a hundred per cent accurate in its
clearance techniques and therefore you always have to follow mechanical with
manual or with dogs or a combination of both. Manual is by far the most
painstaking and slowest way of clearing, but it's also the most effective in
that with a good well trained manual team, you can be assured that if they
have been trained to international standards and operated to international
standards they would have cleared the land one hundred per cent which is
something that machines just cannot do.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: I am not really satisfied with the response I
got from Asmara about these activities (near) the border. I would like to
know what is the distance of the UNMEE post from the border, because I have
heard this, not from one person, but ten fifteen persons, that there have
been activities there. And the fact that UNMEE is telling me they don't know
any thing about it, just makes me a bit unhappy. So I want to know if it is a
matter of distance. I would like to know what is the distance between the
border and the next UNMEE post inside Eritrea?
CMPIO: There is no equal distance from this border. It varies
depending upon the camp location or post location. In some places it is two
or three kilometers, in some places it is just close to the TSZ southern
boundary line. So it varies, there is no fixed distance of the UNMEE posts to
Spokeswoman: But we did say we would check. We did not say that it
may not have happened, but that that we are not aware of this, as far as we
Q [from Addis Ababa]: You should have known by now. This has
happened last week, UNMEE should have known...?
Spokeswoman: But first of all you are assuming that your source is
Q [from Addis Ababa]: It is correct, because I know these are
people living there. They came here and I talked to them. They told me, there
is no reason why they should lie about it.
Spokeswoman: Well, I am not saying they are lying. I would not go
that far. But I am saying that we did mention that there were training
activities. What I do not know is whether it was specifically in that area on
the Eritrean side. That is what we would need to check.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: You said only the Ethiopians are doing
Spokeswoman: Well the Ethiopians had informed us when they were
going to do these exercises, so we knew.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: On the Eritrean side you don't have?
Spokeswoman: But on the Eritrean side, I personally don't know any
thing about (training exercises). That I would have to check.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: But not for next week.
Spokeswoman: No we will check today. I am sure the Force will know
on the ground, he (Military PIO) can check today and we will get back to you
and let you know.
[The Spokeswoman has confirmed that there was a firing incident in the
area around Zelembessa, which apparently was caused by inebriated persons
firing into the air.]
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Have you sustained accidents as a result of
the worst road you have to use because of the blockage?
Spokeswoman: The (alternative route to) the Asmara-Keren-Barentu
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Yes.
Spokeswoman: Have we had accidents?
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Yes.
Spokeswoman: No, we have very careful drivers. (laughter) Not at
all. No we haven't had any accidents. It is a huge inconvenience because it
takes much longer. It does obstruct our being able to use our main supply
route, which is a major problem, which is a major obstruction. It also, as
the Force Commander I think has said, it also makes us half blind in terms of
being able to monitor what is happening in that area, because it means when
we take the other route obviously there are areas that we cannot see (or
monitor effectively.) So it does affect our carrying out our mandate.
Q [from Asmara]: If you are so fed up with the Eritreans about the closure
of the road why do you keep on doing CIMIC projects and stuff for them?
Spokeswoman: No, Jonah I don't think... Did I use the word fed up?
(laughter) I just wanted to check on that one. No what I would say is that
CIMIC (Civil Military Collaboration) projects are very important for the
communities. And for us that is a really important part of our mandate to
help the communities as much as we can, regardless of what is happening
politically. CIMIC projects are a way of, as the Indian Battalion says,
"winning hearts and minds," and that is why we would continue those
because it has nothing to do with what is happening politically.
Q [from Asmara]: So the Eritreans have refused to let you use this
road. Have you got any counter measures you can use such as stop cooperation
in some areas, stop helping in another area, or you are just going to keep on
with your diplomatic channels and talking to them about it and hope they will
change their mind?
Spokeswoman: I think you have to remember we are a peacekeeping
mission and I do not think (the leadership of) peacekeeping missions walk
around just generally trying to have confrontations all over the place. I
think what we try to do is to resolve the situation as best as we can, and
this one, we are making sure that we continuously raise it in every quarter
that we can, that it is a distressing thing for us at this point in time in
more ways than one, and that it is also obstructing our mandate over and
above everything else. So it is not just that we are sitting and not doing
anything. Perhaps our methods of addressing this are little different from
Q [from Asmara]: I hope it is more successful than your continued
lobbying about the high altitude air routes.
Spokeswoman: I wouldn't say we have been totally unsuccessful. We
are still talking about it. At the moment it is not a dead issue. So I would
take that as a good sign of hope that we can eventually move there, and we
have made our position on that very clear. If you look at the Secretary
General's progress report it has been raised again with the hope that
something will be done. It is a same thing with the restrictions of freedom
of movement. It says here clearly, (Spokeswoman referring to Resolution
1531)"the Security Council strongly urges the parties to cooperate fully
and expeditiously with UNMEE in the implementation of its mandate" and
that includes making sure that any restrictions or impediments to the work of
UNMEE are lifted. It is a request by the Security Council.
Q [From Addis]: Is your flight restriction lifted?
Spokeswoman: Not as yet, but let me flag it for you, (operative
paragraph 8 of resolution 1531) it does say that we expect that this is
another one of the issues that needs to be looked at urgently because of the
effects on our operational costs. The Security Council "...urges both
parties once again to establish expeditiously a direct high altitude
flight." It is in there.
For further enquires please contact:
Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainte, Spokeswoman and Chief, Public Information
Or UNMEE Headquarters Asmara, telephone: 291-1-150411- extension 6017
or our tie-line in New York: 00-1-212-963-3779-Ext 6017
or George Somerwill, Deputy Chief, Public Information Office UNMEE
Headquarters Addis Ababa, telephone: 251-1-726895 extension 7104; Mobile: 251
UNMEE Website: www.unmeeonline.org
With the exception of public UN sources,
reproduction or redistribution of the above text, in whole, part or in any
form, requires the prior consent of the original source.
Latest Emergency Updates: Eritrea-Ethiopia
Latest By Country: Eritrea;
Other ReliefWeb documents by: UN
Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea
Source URL: http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/unmee/unmeeN.htm
Home Page: www.reliefweb.int