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UNMEE media briefing notes 27 May 2004

Source: UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea
Date: 27 May 2004

A near verbatim transcript of the press briefing held by the Spokeswoman and Chief of Public Information Gail Bindley Taylor in Asmara, via videoconference linking participants in Asmara and Addis Ababa.


On 21 May, the Special Representative Of the Secretary General (SRSG) Legwaila Joseph Legwaila met with Ambassador Koenraad Adam, the Belgian Envoy to Kenya, based in Kampala, Uganda. Ambassador Koenraad Adam had come to present his credentials to the Government of Eritrea as well as to pay a courtesy call on the SRSG. They discussed the current situation in the peace process.

On 24 May, the SRSG left Asmara for Addis Ababa.

On 25 May, the SRSG represented the Secretary General at the inaugural ceremony of the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa.

On 26 May, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers was observed in Addis Ababa. The SRSG Legwaila delivered a message from the Secretary-General and later laid a wreath in memory of those who have lost their lives in the service of the UN. Participants included diplomats, representatives from UN agencies, the African Union, Ethiopian Government and religious leaders.


General Overview

During the past week, UNMEE conducted 650 ground and 9 air reconnaissance patrols throughout the Area of Responsibility (AOR). The general situation in the Mission area remains 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.

In a positive development, agreement has been reached with both Parties to hold the first Sector Military Coordination Commission (SMCC) meeting in Sector East on 9 June.

Restrictions of Freedom of Movement

The Asmara - Keren - Barentu road continues to remain closed to all UNMEE vehicular movement, a restriction that continues to restrict UNMEE's mandated operations.

Mine Action

The Bangladesh Engineering Company de-mined 5,000 square metres along the road Shilalo to Maykokah, 6,000 square meters along the road Shambiko to Point 9 (approximately 4 km south east of Shambiko) and a 29 kilometre stretch of road from the village of Adi Ibrahim to the Awgaro Bridge. Two POMZ-2M antipersonnel mines were cleared.

The Kenyan De-mining Engineering Company, working in the Adi Hakin-Mai Hbey minefield, manually cleared an area of 1,930 square metres. Nine POMZ-2M anti personnel mines, one detonator and one fuse were cleared.

On 18 May, a UXO accident was reported in Tserona in Sector Centre. It was reported that a nine-year old boy was injured in the incident when the UXO exploded, approximately 3 kilometres south of Tsorena. The MACC commercial route clearance contractor, MECHEM assisted in transporting him to the hospital. A Preliminary Investigation Report (PIR) is underway.

The UNMEE Mine Action Coordination Centre yesterday hosted a presentation ceremony in honour of the MACC recipients of the UN21 Award. The awards were presented by SRSG Legwaila at the MACC compound. Invited guests included members of the diplomatic corps, the Eritrean authorities, UN agencies and UNMEE senior staff.

Meetings And Visits

On 24 May, a delegation of 19 officers from the Military and Police Advisory Community of the Permanent Missions to the United Nations in New York, visited UNMEE Headquarters in Asmara. Led by Lieutenant General Uvarov from Russia, the delegation was briefed by the Force Commander Major General Robert Gordon and UNMEE staff on the prevailing situation in the Mission area. Subsequently, in Addis Ababa, they held discussions with SRSG on 25 May.

Return of cattle

On 20 May nine Ethiopian cattle that had strayed into the TSZ the previous day and had been held by the Eritrean Police, were handed over to the Ethiopian administrative representative at Zela Ambessa following the intervention of the Indian Battalion Post Commander at Geleba.

Explosion in Barentu

During the night of 25 May there was an explosion in Barentu (Sector West) in the vicinity of downtown Barentu. There were no UNMEE casualties. The Eritrean authorities are conducting the investigation into this incident; UNMEE remains prepared to assist the local authorities in any way it can in the follow up to this incident.

Questions and Answers

Question (Asmara): About the explosion in Barentu, does UNMEE know if it was an attack... what have you been told?

Spokeswoman: We have not had any further details on the incident in Barentu other than what we have read in the wire reports. I know that the Force Commander has offered the assistance of the Force, that if there is anything they can do to help that they will be willing to do so, but we haven't heard anything so far.

Question (Asmara): Have you changed your security in this area, in Barentu for your staff?

Chief Military PIO: Security arrangements are as usual, as they were before. This was in a public location, in the Barentu town or city and our new Barentu location is far away.

Question (Asmara): But they have been targeted once before?

Chief Military PIO: Whether they were targeted or not was not ascertained. (What we do know is) that it was a small explosion, so we are not sure whether we have been targeted or somebody else was targeted. But there is an UNMO (United Nations Military Observer) Office in the main town, if they were or were not targeted has not been confirmed.

Question (Asmara): I am sure you have received some security reports by the UN Security, how many dead? Did they mention, because I have been told three and some other people talk about a lot more people who have died.

Spokeswoman: We have the same information that you have. We have heard and we have seen reports of more (deaths and injuries,) but there has been no confirmation, so we really have very little that we can say on it as a result, and in fact because it doesn't really concern UNMEE, it's more the Eritreans that you probably would have to pose those questions to.

Question [Addis Ababa]: Could you tell me what UNMEE have in Barentu? What sort of offices, how many people?

[Please note the Spokeswoman has included more information on the Barentu Headquarters than given at the Briefing.]

Spokeswoman: We have our Sector Headquarters in Barentu, the JORBATT contingent is stationed there. We have about 1,400 troops stationed in Sector West as a whole, some 706 military and 67 civilians are in our new Headquarters. We have just moved to a new Headquarters which is a just outside Barentu, some 8 kilometres from where we were before. We also have in Barentu a small Team Site of some 6-8 UN Military Observers. Some of our deminers-- we have the Kenyans and the Bangladeshis-- are based at the new Headquarters. Several of our components have smaller representation there, for example we have a Political Affairs Officer there, we have a Human Rights Officer, a CIMIC Officer and our administrative offices including Movement Control, Logistics, Supply, Security, Transport and Communications. That's about it. But it is a fully staffed Headquarters.

Question [Addis Ababa]: Do you have access into Barentu and out of Barentu quite easily, flying out of Barentu?

Spokeswoman: Yes we do, we never had a problem with that.

Question [Addis Ababa]: Is it just the road between Asmara and Barentu that is closed?

Spokeswoman: The road Asmara- Keren- Barentu, yes. That's our main access road but there is an alternative road.

Question [Addis Ababa]: To Asmara?

Spokeswoman: Yes, it's just that the road is largely unpaved and it takes a much longer time for us to travel on it and that's the difficulty. I think we have said that more than once, that the difficulty for us with the road closure is the fact that it takes long time, twice as long practically, as well as the road being a difficult road because the bulk of it is unpaved creates problems for our vehicles, the wear and tear on our vehicles. But it is a Sector Headquarters, so if you are thinking how big it is, it is a Sector Headquarters so it is a large part of UNMEE.

Question (Asmara): When you are saying 1,400 staff, is it in the Sector?

Spokeswoman: 1,400 troops (spread throughout Sector West).

Question (Asmara): 1,400 troops in the Sector?

Spokeswoman: Yes.

Question (Asmara): Do you know how the Eritrean Authorities reacted to Kofi Annan's letter. I think he sent them a letter last week giving them clarifications about Lloyd Axworthy's mandate. Have you heard anything from the Eritrean's Authorities?

Spokeswoman: No we haven't.

Question [Addis Ababa]: Do you think the situation or the impasse that is occurring on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia will be one of the situations that the AU Peace and Security Commission will be looking into quite seriously?

Spokeswoman: If you read what they have said at the opening (the inauguration of the Peace and Security Council held yesterday) it is something that they are concerned about. I read an article up to this morning in which they have said it is an issue that they are concerned about and certainly will be looking into. And don't forget that we are here because of the AU, so I would expect that they would be very much interested in this issue and what's happening here.

Well, just on this note, I'd like to remind everybody that tomorrow is Peacekeeper's Day, the International Day of UN Peacekeepers and we hope that you will all attend. For us the ceremony starts tomorrow morning at 9:30 am and we are asking everybody to be there by 9:25 am and we are expecting close to 1,000 kids. I hope that you will come and be with us.

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 6017
or George Somerwill, Deputy Chief, Public Information Office UNMEE Headquarters Addis Ababa, telephone: 251-1-726895 extension 7104; Mobile: 251 9 223031.



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