Eritrea + 1 more

UNMEE media briefing notes 07 Mar 2003

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UNMEE PUBLIC INFORMATION
POLITICAL

On 3 March, UNMEE's Special Representative of the Secretary-General Legwaila Joseph Legwaila met with Eritrean Commissioner, Brigadier-General Abrahaley Kifle. They discussed the current situation in the peace process.

On the same day, SRSG Legwaila also received the Commander-in-Chief of the Uruguayan Air Force, Lieutenant-General Jose Malaquin Correa, who came to pay a courtesy call on the Head of Mission. Present at the meeting were the Force Commander, Major-General Robert Gordon and the Director in the Office of the SRSG, Ms Agnes Asekenye Oonyu. The SRSG thanked Lt-Gen. Correa for his country's aviation support and personnel contribution to the Mission. The Uruguayan aviation personnel have taken over from the Italian aviation unit, which was deployed in the Mission for the past two years. The Mission welcomes the Uruguayan contingent, which will provide critical support for night medical evacuations in the Mission area.

On 4 March, the SRSG left Asmara for New York in anticipation of UNMEE's mandate renewal by the Security Council. Ms Angela Kane, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who is based in Asmara, is Officer-in- Charge during the SRSG's absence from the mission area.

MILITARY

The overall situation in the Area of Responsibility remains calm.

De-mining Contingents of UNMEE continued their work in all sectors during the week.

On 26th February, the Kenyan Battalion's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team disposed of twelve 82 mm high explosive mortar shells, two 100 mm high explosive grenades, one rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and one 30 mm high explosive grenade, near point 44.

On 28th February, the Slovak De-mining Team disposed of 21 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, while the EOD Team disposed of one 80 mm anti-tank rocket. On the same day, the Slovak Engineering Company from Adi Quala collected and disposed of the UXO found at the Adi Quala prison gate.

It has been been reported to UNMEE that on 1st March, at about 0700 hours, an Ethiopian Armed Forces (EAF) military truck hit a mine 1 km from the main road between Adi Nebrid and Adi Daro, approximately 30 km north west of Inda Selase. No casualties were reported.

Also on the same day, at about 0800 hours, one EAF Toyota Pick Up hit another mine on the road between Adi Hagery and Adi Awala, approximately 20 km north east of Team site Shiraro. None of the occupants was seriously injured.

On 2nd March, at 0940 hours, Tsorena police found one RPG near Tsorena Hospital. It was disposed of by the Slovak De-mining Company on 5th March. . On 3rd March, the Deputy Force Commander, Brigadier General Peter M Manyara visited Central Sector. On 4th and 5th March, he visited Adi Keyh, Mai Aini, Adi Quala, and Adi Abun Team sites, in the Sector.

The routine rotation of the Bangladesh Engineer Company2 (BANENGR 2) began on 27th February and concluded with the arrival of BANENGR3 on the 4th March.

On 6th March, UNMEE's Force Commander, Major General Robert Gordon visited the UN Military Observers and Sector West Headquarters in Barentu. He also visited the Jordanian Battalion Companies and the UN Military Observers Team sites in Om Hajer and Shilalo.

In all sectors medical assistance continued to be rendered to civilians, including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

HUMAN RIGHTS

The repatriation of 136 Ethiopian civilians by Eritrea, under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross via the Mereb Bridge on 28 February was monitored by UNMEE peacekeepers based in Sector Centre. The group consisted of 66 men, 55 women and 15 children, including four unaccompanied minors who were reunited with their families in Ethiopia.

UNMEE Human Rights Officers conducted interviews with a cross section of the group at Adwa transit camp to find out more about the circumstances of their return. It was discovered that most of them had chosen to return to Ethiopia though a few were repatriated because they did not have valid resident documents. After registration by the Ethiopian authorities, the repatriated Ethiopians left Adwa to rejoin their families in Ethiopia.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

The Force Commander has asked me to tell you that today he is traveling. He is in Sector Center where is going on the inaugural recce flight for the Uruguayan aviation unit who are taking their first flight in the mission area.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: It's about the 2 mines incidents reported on the first of March. Did they happen in Ethiopia?

Spokeswoman: Yes, these incidents happened very deep inside Ethiopia, not even in the adjacent areas. The only reason that we have brought them to your attention in the first place is one, because the MACC (UNMEE Mine Action Coordination Centre) is looking into the incidents and two, because we wanted to be even handed. We have brought you to up to date on what's happening on the Eritrean side we are also bringing you up to date on mine incidents on the Ethiopian side.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: Were these roads often used? Were these mines newly laid?

Spokeswoman: From what I gathered from the Force Commander, these are very much-used roads. I think Arif [Military PIO] wants to say something.

Military PIO: Yes, these are very much-used roads.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: Have they been cleared from mines?

Military PIO: Actually, it's about 32-35 kilometres south of the southern boundary of the TSZ. So, it is well outside the TSZ and deep inside Ethiopia. I am not very sure whether or not this road was cleared by UNMEE. I will check with UNMACC and Force MACC and come back to you.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: You're saying that UNMACC is going to look into this incident is it because they are newly laid or because it's an UNMACC routine procedure?

Military PIO Whenever any mine incident comes to our knowledge, UNMACC sends its Investigation Team to the spot for necessary investigation. When they finish their investigation on this one, once they give us the feedback, then we will be able to give you more details on this.

Spokeswoman: I just wanted to emphasize that this is routine- that MACC routinely investigates mine incidents. Unfortunately they are not here. The UNMACC Officers are travelling. Both Phil and his Deputy are in Nairobi, but he has asked whether you can hold your questions on mines for next week when he will be here.

Q. [Question from Addis Ababa]: First, I would like you to confirm whether all the explosives, which were found, were outside the TSZ, in the Ethiopian territory. And the second one, are they all new or old ones (mines)?

Spokeswoman: We won't be able to tell you whether they are new or not until MACC finishes their investigation, and we have a sense of whether they were new or old. As I said before, yes I can confirm they were deep inside Ethiopian territory, even outside the adjacent areas.

Q. [Question from Addis Ababa]: In that case why were you there, because this was supposed to be the territory under Ethiopia and why were you there?

Spokeswoman: We were not there at all.

Question from Addis Ababa: Why were you there, why were you involved? Because, the Ethiopian army has got their own disposal troops...

Spokeswoman: We were not there at all. Let me make it clear. We were not involved. All we are doing is letting you know- simply because we have informed you when we have had a number of mine incidents on one side- and we just thought to be even handed we would let you know that there have been incidents on the other side as well.

Q. [Question from Addis Ababa]: Were you asked by the Ethiopian military to come and dispose?

Spokeswoman: No, let me make that clear. We didn't go in anywhere. Normally when there are mine incidents, they are reported and we are just reporting on what was reported to us. It is the EAF themselves that reported to us, but we are not involved at all. This is just a normal routine. When an incident happens it is reported to UNMEE and that's all that happened. Arif [Military PIO]

Military PIO: The EAF members reported both these incidents to the UNMO Team site. After receiving the report, our observer's team went to the spot and saw the area of the mine incident. Subsequently, this was reported to MACC. MACC in turn has sent their investigation team and at the moment they are carrying out the investigation. We haven't received their feedback, as they have not yet returned to Asmara after completing their investigation. This investigation is a routine affair. Whenever there is a mine incident, this procedure is followed.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: Maybe it's a question for Phil. I think there was an inquiry around newly laid mines, about these groups of dissidents that are trying to destabilize the Eritrean Authority has the inquiry gone any further?

Spokeswoman: When Phil left he said that there was nothing further. Those were his last words to me. I think when he comes back you can certainly raise that with him.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: Is there still an inquiry to try to find out who did that? Are you still trying to find out?

Spokeswoman: What he said before he left was that UNMACC had investigated (the incident) and he did give you the findings that they (UNMACC) had at the time of last week's briefing. What you may want to ask him when he is here is whether there is any new information. But from the last note he left with me I gathered that there is no new information and we can raise it with him when he comes back next week.

Q. [Question from Addis Ababa]: I would like to ask your opinion concerning these developments two weeks ago, it was inside the TSZ, and now these mines are being planted outside the TSZ on the Ethiopian side. Is this an indicator of tension that is developing in that area?

Spokeswoman: I don't think that I can express an opinion on this. Whatever I would say would be speculative and I don't really want to speculate on this. It is a very sensitive issue. I think we leave it to the experts, the people who are dealing with mine action, if there are issues, to look at it carefully and they are doing so. They are looking at the incidents and trying to see where they could possibly be originating from- but I do not wish to give any opinion on this.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: I think that SRSG is in New York at the moment concerning the renewal of the mandate. When we will know when it will be renewed and for how long?

Spokeswoman: Usually mandates are renewed every 6 months and the timing, for example, how long it will be renewed for, depends of course on the report of the SG and the Security Council discussion and decisions which are based on that report. They will meet early next week and I think by Friday we will hopefully have a sense of what it is happening. We are expecting the Council to have consultations somewhere around the 11th.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: Can you just confirm that the mandate is running until the 15th of March.

Spokeswoman: Yes, that's correct, it is the 15th.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: Just to make sure, you are saying it is renewed every 6 months, so if it is renewed now in March it will not be renewed until September.

Spokeswoman: That would be the normal expectation that it will be renewed now until the end of September.

Jut to remind you that tomorrow it's International Women's Day and on this side we hope to celebrate the day with the National Union of Eritrean Women in a place called Dhankur, which is near Fishai and it's about 2 hours away from Asmara. We are hoping that there will be cultural performances and group discussions on several issues including key issues that are in the Secretary-General's Millennium goals and this includes education of the girl child, HIV/AIDS education and prevention among others and of course poverty alleviation. On the other side I think Rosamond you can share what's happening on the Ethiopian side.

Rosamond Bakari, OIC, Addis Ababa: The Minister of State for Women's Affairs in the Prime Minister's office has organized a panel discussion to which people from UNMEE have been invited to make a presentation. And that will be held tomorrow from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. There will be two representatives from UNMEE attending, one person from PIO and the other from the Human Rights Section.

Q. [Question from Asmara]: I was wondering if you have heard anything new from the Boundary Commission about the demarcation process, if it is still scheduled to start in May, if you have been told anything officially.

Spokeswoman: Not officially, not at this stage.

For further enquires please contact:

Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman and Chief of Public Information UNMEE Headquarters Addis Ababa, telephone: 251-1-726895; Mobile: 251 9 223031 Or UNMEE Headquarters Asmara, telephone: 291-1-150411 or our tie-line in New York: 00-1-212-963-3779