The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the press briefing chaired in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa by UNMEE Acting Spokesperson and Acting Chief of UNMEE Public Information, Diane Bailey, via a videoconference linking Addis Ababa and Asmara.
On the 7th of January, the Security Council met for informal consultations on the Secretary-General's report on Ethiopia/Eritrea of 20 December 2002.
In a statement issued to the press following the consultations, the Council urged both Ethiopia and Eritrea to continue to extend to UNMEE and the Boundary Commission their full cooperation in order to ensure the smooth demarcation of the border. In this regard, Members of the Council welcomed the seventh report of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, in particular the schedule for demarcation.
Members of the Council further urged the two sides "to engage in discussions with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, to address any issues that might arise during the demarcation process in order to reach agreement on their resolution." They also welcomed the release by Ethiopia of all remaining Eritrean prisoners of war on 29 November 2002 under the auspices of the ICRC, as Eritrea did for the Ethiopian prisoners. The Members called on both parties "to resolve all other outstanding issues, including the establishment of a direct high-altitude air corridor between the two capitals."
Members of the Council expressed concern about the likely shortfall in the Trust Fund for the Delimitation and Demarcation of the Border once demarcation begins and called on the international community to contribute "urgently to the Trust Fund in order to facilitate the conclusion of the demarcation process in accordance with the Boundary Commission's schedule."
Expressing further concern about the looming drought in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the implications this could have for the peace process, Members of the Council supported the appeal by the Secretary-General to Member States to "provide the prompt and generous support for humanitarian operations in Ethiopia and Eritrea through the consolidated appeals process and other mechanisms." The statement also expressed the Council Members' strong support for Mr. Legwaila, the military and civilian personnel of UNMEE and the Boundary Commission for their work in support of the peace process and welcomed the new Force Commander for UNMEE, Major-General Robert Gordon.
The overall situation in the Area of Responsibility remains calm.
On the 2nd of January, Ms Aurelia E. Brazeal, US Ambassador to Ethiopia accompanied by Ms Karen Freeman, Director USAID paid a visit to UNMEE Headquarters of Central Sector at Adigrat.
On the same day, a Civilian Contractor (Pilot) was evacuated on medical grounds by UN helicopter from Assab to UNMEE's Level II Hospital in Asmara.
On 4th January, the Jordanian Battalion (JORBAT) conducted Fire Fighting exercises and First Aid Courses for students of Dotaq High School in Barentu.
On 7th January, a delegation headed by Major General Sattler, Commander, US Combined Joint Task force for the Horn of Africa, visited UNMEE Headquarters in Asmara where he was thoroughly briefed about the peace process by the Force Commander Major General Robert Gordon.
On the 8th of January, the Force Commander visited UNMEE Peacekeepers based at Zela Ambessa. He also visited Geleba Post in the area and Alitena Church.
The routine rotation of Jordanian battalions commenced on the 8th of January and will be completed on the 22nd of January when JORBAT-5 assumes its peacekeeping assignment.
UNMEE deminers continued their work in all sectors while the UNMEE Peacekeepers have also continued to provide medical assistance and water supply to civilian communities, including Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] in the TSZ and adjacent areas.
Q and A
Q [from Addis Ababa]: In the briefing notes you mentioned that the Security Council has expressed concern about the likely shortfall in the Trust Fund for delimitation and demarcation of the border. Can you give me a little bit more detail about that? What that shortfall is likely to be? What the Trust Fund is and how much is in it and who contributes to it; and what is required, how much is actually required for demarcation and if that is going to delay demarcation?
Spokeswoman: I will do my best to answer that question. It is estimated that demarcation will cost approximately 7.6 million dollars. The balance in the Trust Fund was, as of a few days ago, 3 million dollars so there was a shortfall of some 4.6 million. Just in the last few days several countries, the U.S. and Norway each pledged 1 million dollars and the EU has promised to give another 1 million which will leave a shortfall of approximately 1.6 million. As you can conclude from what I just said it is Member States who give to the Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established as a way of paying for the process of demarcation and of course if there is a shortfall they may have to interrupt the demarcation process while they appeal for more funds. The hope was that this should not happen and as you can see in just a few days Member States have come forward pledging funds for the Trust Fund. So, so far so good and we hope it continues that way.
Q [from Asmara]: As for the demarcation process, it looks like there are some problems between the Parties. What is MACC doing at this moment?
Spokeswoman: The Mine Action Coordination Center continues to support demining for demarcation. They have also begun - because the Eritrean Demining Agency has temporarily stopped some of its work - they are doing some emergency mine risk education programmes. That's my understanding. Unfortunately, Phil Lewis is not here to answer your questions more specifically. However, demining is continuing in its limited way. There are two agencies that are still here, one commercial one, RONCO and then HALO Trust as well, which is continuing its work. Of course, on the Ethiopian side there is the Ethiopian Demining Agency, EDA I think it is.
Q [from Addis Ababa]: Were there any implications for UNMEE with regard to the closure of the Ethiopian Embassy in Asmara and also the banning of Amharic music in Eritrea? I mean both things seem to indicate that the tensions between the countries are worsening or increasing.
Spokeswoman: I am not sure that tensions are necessarily worsening or increasing, I wouldn't want to characterize it that way. As for any implication of the closing of the Embassy, UNMEE was told by the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that this was part of their internal rationalization. We don't know yet if there are any implications or if there will be any implications for us. Our political affairs department is looking at that question right now as we speak and will provide UN Headquarters in New York with their understanding of any potential implications. Off the top of my head I can't think of any and I would not want to speculate about what those might be. As far as the banning of Ahmaric music in Eritrea, that is an internal matter in Eritrea. I do not see any immediate implications for UNMEE. Maybe for individual citizens who may have enjoyed Ahmaric music, it will be difficult to have to give it up. But for the Mission there are no direct implications so far.