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ReliefWeb Source: UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)
Date: 18 Mar 2004

UNMEE media briefing notes 18 Mar 2004

UNMEE PUBLIC INFORMATION

A near verbatim transcript of the weekly press briefing chaired in the Eritrean capital Asmara by the Spokeswoman and Chief of Public Information Office, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte', via videoconference linking participants in Addis Ababa and Asmara. Also present in Asmara was the Force Commander Major General Robert Gordon.

MEDIA BRIEFING NOTES - 18 MARCH 2004

POLITICAL

Last week, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Legwaila Joseph Legwaila was in New York where he conducted meetings and consultations on the renewal of UNMEE's mandate, which was extended by the Security Council on 12 March in a unanimously adopted resolution (1531).

On 12 March in Asmara, the Officer- In- Charge (OIC) and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (OIC DSRSG) Angela Kane met with the Special Adviser for the Sudan Peace Process, Ambassador Mohammed Sahnoun and his delegation, who briefed the DSRSG on his consultations in the region and the status of the Sudan peace process.

On the same day in Addis Ababa, Ms. Rosemary McCreery, UN Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Human Resources Management, paid a courtesy call on DSRSG-Addis Ababa, Cheikh Tidiane Gaye. DSRSG Gaye briefed ASG McCreery on the current situation in the peace process.

After his return to Asmara, on 15 March the SRSG received the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, Ms. Rosemary McCreery, who was making a courtesy call on him. After his meeting with the ASG, the SRSG, accompanied by the Deputy Force Commander, travelled to Assab where they attended the handover ceremony between the Kenyan Battalion (KENBATT 11) and KENBATT 13 in Assab. In the afternoon, the SRSG opened the Political Affairs Office (PAO) meeting of field 'presences' at the Sector East Headquarters in Assab.

After his trip to Assab, the SRSG returned to Asmara where he held a town hall meeting for UNMEE staff members on 16 March.

On 15 and 16 March, DSRSG Gaye attended the 4th Ordinary Session of the African Union Executive Council held in Addis Ababa.

MILITARY

General Overview

During the past week, UNMEE conducted 695 ground and 10 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.

The 23rd meeting of the Military Coordination Commission (MCC) took place in Nairobi on 15 March 2004. The meeting was conducted in a positive and business-like manner. Participants reviewed the progress of the Sector MCCs and acknowledged the setting up of the Sector MCC process as an important step. The current military situation and recent incidents in the border areas were also reviewed in detail and discussed. Details of the meeting are contained in a separate press release.

Restrictions of Freedom of Movement

The road Asmara - Keren - Barentu continues to remain closed to all UNMEE movement; these restrictions were imposed on 5 March 2004.

Mine Action

The Slovak Engineering Company---de-mining both mechanically and manually---cleared a total area of 12,310 square metres in the Adi Hakin-Mai Hbey minefield and in the vicinity of the village Sheshebit (8 southeast of Shilalo) in Sector West. Two pieces of MYB-2 igniters, one piece of a rocket stabilizer and one POMZ-2 mine were cleared. In Sector Centre, a detachment from the Company manually cleared a total area of 3,530 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, manually cleared a total area of 4,370 square metres and disposed of two detonators, four fuses and fifteen POMZ-2 mines.

MECHEM de-miners cleared stretches of 40.9 kilometres near Kerkesha and 12.9 kilometres near Shambiko. No UXOs were found.

Don Lieber, a researcher for the Landmine Monitor Report 2004 of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is visiting the Mission area. He will hold meetings with various key representatives of the Mine Action community in Eritrea, including the UNMEE Mine Action Coordination Centre, UNDP's Mine Action Capacity Building Programme (MACBP) and the Eritrean Demining Authority (EDA). Mr Lieber is responsible for the compilation of the section on Mine Action in Eritrea, for the Landmine Monitor Report 2004.

Meetings And Visits

Over 10 and 11 March, the Deputy Force Commander and Chief Military Observer (DFC and CMO) Brigadier General Walid Krieshan visited Sector East and was briefed on the operational activities by the Kenyan Battalion Operations Officer and the Senior Sector Military Observer. He also visited Team Sites Bure and Assab and accompanied their patrols in their respective Areas of Responsibility.

On 12 March, the Force Commander Major General Robert Gordon visited Sector East to bid farewell to the Kenyan Battalion (KENBATT 11). He addressed the peacekeepers of KENBATT 11 at the Assab Camp, and at Points 60 and 44.

On 15 March, the Special Representative of the Secretary General Legwaila Joseph Legwaila and the Deputy Force Commander and CMO Brigadier General Walid Krieshan attended the handover ceremony between KENBATT 11 and KENBATT 13 at Assab.

Troop Rotation

Rotation of the Kenyan Battalion commenced during the week with KENBATT 11 being replaced, after their one-year tour of duty, by KENBATT 13. A total of 431 peacekeepers have rotated so far and the rotation will be completed later today.

Repatriation of Ethiopian Minor

On 13 March, the Indian Battalion Company Commander at Zela Ambessa organised the repatriation of a nine-year old girl who had accidentally crossed the Southern boundary of the TSZ from Maichea into Eritrea.

Questions and Answers

Q [from Addis Ababa]: Could you tell us if Eritrea has given you any information (as to) when the restriction would be withdrawn or (have) you have talked to them?

Force Commander: The Eritrean delegation at the MCC reiterated the earlier statement, which has already been reported to the media. They are conducting their own investigation-- and I am not sure what this means--their own investigation into our movements along our main supply route and when that investigation is complete we will be informed as to whether the road would be opened once more to us or would remain close forever.

Q [from Asmara]: I would be interested to know what UNMEE's response was to the Eritrean report, which says that they (UNMEE) were concealing the truth, which came out following the MCC?

Force Commander: Yes, I read that piece. I think that was based on Commissioner Abrahaley's dissatisfaction with the Secretary-General's report. I should say that this was not the line that we had received from other government sources in Eritrea who felt that it was an improvement and more balanced and certainly more focused than the last Secretary-General's report. Apart from that, I have very little comment to make on that piece.

Q [from Asmara]: What sort of time frame are we looking at for the Eritrean investigation into the road closure, because I suppose your only hope for it getting re-opened is when that investigation is completed, so do we have any idea when their investigation might be completed?

Force Commander: No, we have been given no indication of how long this process will take. It's not just us who is interested, of course it's the international community generally and particularly the troop contributing nations, who have taken a dim view of these restrictions on their soldiers.

Q [from Asmara]: So is that to say that since you made representations to the Eritreans you have now taking it up with members of the diplomatic community?

Force Commander: No. It's merely to say that inevitably this is an issue coming as it did, just before the meeting of the Security Council, Friends of UNMEE, troop contributing nations of UNMEE, in other words UNMEE week at the UN last week; it was something that they all focused upon.

Q [from Asmara]: Do you have any news on any possible visit by envoys?

Spokeswoman: No unfortunately we have no news of visits by envoys. Not to Asmara anyway.

What I did want to say is that the SRSG will probably be with us [at the Press Briefing] next week. I thought I would let you know that in advance.

For further enquires please contact: Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainte, Spokeswoman and Chief, Public Information Office Or UNMEE Headquarters Asmara, telephone: 291-1-150411- extension 6017 or our tie-line in New York: 00-1-212-963-3779-Ext 6017or George Somerwill, Deputy Chief, Public Information Office UNMEE Headquarters Addis Ababa, telephone: 251-1-726895 extension 7104; Mobile: 251 9 223031. UNMEE Website: http://www.unmeeonline.org/



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