Eritrea + 1 more

UNMEE media briefing notes 4 Apr 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the press briefing chaired in the Ethiopian Capital, Addis Ababa by UNMEE Spokeswoman and Chief of UNMEE Public Information, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, via a videoconference linking Addis Ababa and Asmara. Also present in Addis Ababa was Major-General Robert Gordon, UNMEE Force Commander.


On 29th March, SRSG Legwaila Joseph Legwaila returned to Asmara from Addis Ababa.

On 31st March in Asmara, the SRSG, accompanied by the Senior Management Team, held a briefing meeting with the key supporters of the peace process as a follow up to similar consultations in New York and Addis Ababa, about the current situation in the peace process. The key supporters included diplomatic representatives of France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US.

On 1st April in Asmara, the SRSG met with the Eritrean Commissioner for Coordination with the Peacekeeping Mission Brigadier-General Abrahaley Kifle for an exchange of views on the peace process.


The overall situation in the Area of Responsibility remains calm.

In Sector East, representatives of the Civilian Military Cooperation (CIMIC), the Kenyan Battalion (KENBATT) and residents of the town of Assab held an UNMEE-Assab Friendship Games, scheduled from 24th to 29th March at the port town of Assab. The sports extravaganza included; a football tournament between boys' school teams, with a championship game held at the Assab Stadium on 29th March, a friendship football match between the Assab city team and a mixed UNMEE team comprising UNMOs from Sector East, the Slovak De-mining Company and peacekeepers from KENBATT. A track meet was also held for boys and girls teams from different secondary schools in Assab.

On 27th March, Team Site Assab patrol spotted 13 unexploded ordnances (UXO) approximately 30 kilometres north west of the Team Site and 20 kilometres north of the Temporary Security Zone. The UNMEE Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) along with the Slovak de-mining team will dispose of those UXOs next week.

On 30th March, a delegation of the African Union Liaison Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (OLMEE) led by Brigadier -General Elliot Kamteni, visited Sector West Headquarters, and was briefed by Sector Commander Colonel Mahmoud Mustafa Maqablah and Sector Senior UN Military Observer Lt. Col Adam Hamzah.

The delegation also visited Team Site Badme on 1st April.

A United States Military Observer group led by Lieutenant Colonel Alan Schmidt visited UNMEE from 31st March to 3rd April. They met with all US military personnel assigned to UNMEE and visited the CIMIC sites in Sector Centre. On 1st April, the group called on UNMEE Force Commander, Major General Robert Gordon.

On1st April, the Slovak Engineering Company while proving ( a technical term for de-mining) an area near Geza Medebai, south of Team Site Adi Quala, found and disposed of two 61 mm mortar rounds, one 120 mm artillery shell, one air delivered bomb, three mortar bombs and one hand grenade. On 2nd April, near the area at Enda Gergish, the Company also destroyed three hand grenades and two Rocket Propelled Grenades.

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

In all sectors medical assistance continued to be rendered to civilians, including Internally Displaced Persons. The Force also distributed supplies of bulk water.


The drought in Ethiopia and Eritrea continues to be the main humanitarian issue in both countries. The pledge situation in Ethiopia received a major boost when the United States announced an additional pledge of about 184,000 metric tonnes in response to the Appeal update launched by the Ethiopian Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission and the UN last month. The United Kingdom also announced an additional pledge of 4.5 million pounds for non-food items to support a program in health, water and nutrition. Although these pledges have been welcomed by the humanitarian community, the UN Emergency Unit for Ethiopia recently warned that a new food crisis could emerge because of the lack of seeds for the coming planting season.

In Eritrea the pledge situation remains inadequate despite the renewed appeals from the UN Country Team. As a result of the poor pledge situation, the World Food Progamme reports that only about 45 % of the drought affected population can be covered by food distributions and that the rations currently being distributed account for about 60% of the regular ration.

Questions and Answers

Q [from Addis Ababa]: What steps is UNMEE taking to ensure that Ethiopia doesn't withdraw from the EEBC boundary ruling given a statement on Wednesday?

Spokeswoman: I think the SRSG continues his shuttle diplomacy. He is here (Addis Ababa). He came in today. And he continues to meet with the Friends and Guarantors of the peace process and to speak with both parties and I am sure that we are going to do our utmost to ensure that the peace process continues on track.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: Has there been any sort of increase in shuttle diplomacy, as you put it because of the current situation and because of the observations by the EEBC?

Spokeswoman: I wouldn't say that we have increased our visits because of that; I think we increased shuttle diplomacy some months ago. Since late last year I would say, the SRSG has increased his discussions both with the parties and with the Friends and the Guarantors to ensure that the peace process remains on track.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: I mean presumably UNMEE was aware that the observations report was going to be coming out. I just wonder if they had taken any sort of steps in preparation for that report; where it is going (to state) categorically that Badme had gone to Eritrea. The increase in the sort of diplomacy that the SRSG was doing some months ago, are you are saying it was in readiness for this latest report? Or has anything happened in preparation for this latest report or is it business as usual?

Spokeswoman: No, I don't think we were anticipating that this report would have negative implications or other effects. I think the main thing for the SRSG is to ensure that the peace process continues to make progress, and so anything that he feels may present a hiccup, it means immediately he would like to address that as an issue. We like you, follow the news reports very carefully and yes, we are concerned and as a result we will increase efforts to ensure that the peace process continues and progresses.

Q [from Asmara]: I was wondering if it was possible to know a bit more about the meeting with the supporters here in Asmara: the French Ambassador, Germany, the Netherlands, UK , US. What decisions were taken during this meeting?

Spokeswoman: We don't normally give you the details of conversations between the SRSG and the peace supporters. What we will tell you, it is those discussion were in support of the peace process.

Question from Asmara: Q [From Asmara]: I was wondering if you could comment on the fact that I was told that among the solutions proposed by the guarantors, was that the US proposed that another Badme should be constructed. Is this something that you can comment on or confirm?

Spokeswoman: No, that is not something that I can comment on at this time.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: A couple of weeks ago, Gail, you said you wouldn't say we have reached a hitch in the peace process. Would you now say we have reached a hitch in the peace process?

Spokeswoman: In my discussions with the SRSG, he has not described it as a hitch. He has certainly said that there is reason for concern because we are concerned about anything that will interfere with the peace process running smoothly and obviously, if one party has a problem that does create a situation of concern. And that is how I would describe it right now--- we are concerned.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: But UNMEE has said that the SRSG is still optimistic that this can be worked out?

Spokeswoman: Yes, I would say, he is still optimistic that hopefully, things can be worked out.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: I mean some people might say that we have reached a bit of an impasse. I mean the EEBC has in its report, Ethiopia is saying that it would still require certain alterations to be made. What is the reason for optimism?

Spokeswoman: Because as long as we are here and we are part of the process until someone says to us the process is at an end, that there are no further negotiations we have to continue to believe that there is reason for optimism.

Force Commander Major -Gen. Robert Gordon: And absolute commitment of both parties to the peace process, and what I think is unique, adherence to the Algiers peace agreement...

Q [from Asmara]: Is it conceivable that demarcation could begin in the East with Ethiopia still regarding the Badme decision as unacceptable?

Spokeswoman: The question about when demarcation starts and how is an EEBC question. We would have to wait and see what the EEBC says.

Force Commander: I think it would be fair to say that the demarcation process is an absolute and not a piecemeal process.

Q [from Asmara]: Meaning what exactly?

Spokeswoman: Meaning that it can't be done in bits and pieces.

Q [from Asmara]: So you have to have total agreement about where the line is going to go before you start at any point?

Spokeswoman: I think the Force Commander was making the point that demarcation is a process in itself so that it can't start and stop.

Force Commander: It's an indivisible part of the peace process.

Q [from Asmara]: So, a total agreement has to be reached on both sides about where the line is going to go before it can start at any point, is that right?

Force Commander: You are asking me to interpret what the Boundary Commission's policy is on this is; it's very much a Boundary Commission policy. But I can say that as far as the United Nations and the Security Council policy is concerned, the peace process is very much bound up with the demarcation process. In other words, it's an absolute process.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: The Force Commander said both sides are absolutely committed to the Algiers peace process but they seem now both to have different interpretations of what that is. They both said that they would abide by the decision of the EEBC, but now it looks like Ethiopia is suggesting that the EEBC has misunderstood Algiers. Given that, are you still sure that both sides are committed?

Spokeswoman: I would say that we have to go by their word and they have only recently reaffirmed that the final agreement is final and binding.

Force Commander: I just want to say that we've got to get all this into perspective. We have to go back to where we are; we are coming to a final chapter of a very complicated and emotionally charged process. Both countries fought a particularly unpleasant war and both countries committed themselves absolutely to peace and signed a peace agreement. Since they signed that peace agreement both countries have uniquely maintained an absolute peace between their two countries and both continue to reiterate that they may have difficulties but they are supporting absolutely the peace process. And any difficulties they have, they are determined to overcome by diplomatic and political means. Both countries reiterate that their real enemy is poverty. Now that's the context within which we are operating and that's the context of the optimism that we possibly have about this mission. For our part, why we're here is to help them in this process and to monitor their adherence to the peace agreement. Now in the discharge of that duty we in UNMEE do not see anything on the ground to persuade us that either side are violating or preparing to violate their peace agreement. They do have difficulties and we are going through what the SRSG would call a hiccup in the process. But this is a process that has had a whole series of hiccups, but the end, in our view, is that both countries want this peace and want a border with which they can live to be properly demarcated. Now, for the part of the International Community, Friends, Guarantors and the United Nations, they are here to help both countries in this process. They are absolutely engaged in it. So, we are optimistic because there is a lot of support going into solving this problem and it is only a problem, (as there will be many problems in the future) and we are confident that we will get through this and have a border with which both countries can live.

Question from Asmara: About the financial situation concerning the demarcation, will UNMEE be able to afford for demarcation to start from the Eastern Sector and have to stop and wait for sometime. If that happens what would be the possible economic situation (impact)?

Spokesperson: I think the Force Commander addressed that question earlier, that as far as we're concerned it is one process; the longer it is delayed the more expensive it is. Therefore this is the reason why it is important to look at it as one complete process that starts at a certain time and ends at a given time.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: I just wanted to put this into context if you like; you say you are concerned and it's a hiccup, how does that compare to other hiccups, to when you have been concerned? I mean where are we? Is this the same as all the other concerns and hiccups you've had or is this being treated as perhaps the most serious hiccup that UNMEE have faced?

Spokeswoman: I don't think that we have assessed it in those terms at all; whether this is the most important or the worst hiccup. I think that we have looked at it closely because we are at a very important stage in the process and it becomes an important issue because this phase is a very critical phase. So yes, perhaps in that sense it becomes of larger concern.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: I know you said that you have seen no movement or anything to indicate there will be a violation of the peace agreement. A few people have mentioned to me-- and perhaps to sort of ensure that is not the case-- that there have been redeployment of troops to the Badme area. So there have been no actual changes in terms of numbers along the border, but there have been redeployments around the border to that area? Is that rubbish or?

Force Commander: On which side are you talking about?

Q [from Addis Ababa]: Sorry, on the Ethiopian side. Well either side...but it was mentioned to me specifically on the Ethiopian side.

Force Commander: I can say as a Force Commander in charge of those UN forces who are responsible for monitoring this very situation either side of the border thatwe have seen no signs of what you are identifying as aggressive redeployment. We have seen signs on both sides of training; we have seen perfectly legitimate movement of troops in terms of the support of training and in terms of redeployment. These are two sovereign countries, which have military forces in support of government policy, and we have to understand that. But, as an experienced Force Commander I see nothing that jeopardizes the sanctity of the border and nothing that could be identified as an aggressive posture by either side.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: I just want to make it clear that I certainly didn't say any aggressive posturing by either side, but has there been redeployment to that area whether through training or whatever in terms of numbers?

Force Commander: Well I wouldn't identify it in that area, I mean there is a movement of troops on the Eritrean side backwards and forwards, as there is a movement of troops on the Ethiopian side backwards and forwards. Both nations undertake exercises. Both nations have to train their armed forces; even the United Kingdom trains its armed forces and moves those forces around. This doesn't mean they will be invading France (laughter). [Addressed to a British correspondent]

Q [from Addis Ababa]: If the second round of war broke out, do you think UNMEE could give an ultimate solution?

Spokeswoman: That is a very speculative question and we never deal with speculation. It is also a very dangerous speculation.

Force Commander: Can you say it again?

Q [from Addis Ababa]: My question is, recently the Ethiopian government rejected the final decision of the Boundary Commission. The Badme district is included on the Eritrean side. So, if a second war broke out, do you think that UNMEE could give an ultimate solution?

Force Commander: First, as a point of fact here, I am not clear that Ethiopia has rejected anything at this stage. They have declared they have difficulties with it but they have not withdrawn from the demarcation process. They have not withdrawn from cooperating with the Boundary Commission. Nobody said anything like that. They have said they have difficulties with the decision, difficulties, which the UN, their Friends and the Guarantors of the peace process are now helping them through. As to whether UNMEE has an ultimate solution if war starts, UNMEE is a monitoring organization, monitoring their peace agreement. The soldiers that I have in this Mission, are not here to enforce peace, they are here to monitor peace.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: To completely change the subject. We spoke a couple weeks ago about the cost of having UNMEE here from the start, did anyone of you manage to (get the figures)....

Spokeswoman: No, because at the time you asked, the Chief Administrative Officer had just left the country, but I was told is it is not a very difficult thing to work out.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: And then perhaps also the entire peace process even because we were a bit confused about that figure, $1.3 billion or whatever. Whether that is the cost of the peace process?

Spokeswoman: No, no, that figure you read was the cost of peacekeeping contributions owed to the United Nations. There is a peacekeeping budget to which all member states give their contribution, just as they would to the regular budget. This figure is put in the SG's report as a reminder to nations who contribute to peacekeeping that they owe this amount of money to the peacekeeping budget. So, it is just to remind Member States that you have not paid your dues and you need to.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: Is the SRSG planning to meet with Meles or Seyoum Mesfin at all in the next week or has he last week or early next week...

Spokeswoman: No, he met the Foreign Minister last week when he was here. But I am sure that you know the religious leaders are planning to meet in Nairobi and hopefully the SRSG will attend that meeting.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: Is that meeting anything to do with the sort of latest decision or had that been scheduled for some time?

Spokeswoman: No the religious leaders have been meeting from time to time. No, this was scheduled before the EEBC's most recent comments. They have their own process to keep things alive specifically in the area of confidence building and I think that's what they're trying to do.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: And are relations with...this sounds like a bizarre question, but are relations with UNMEE and the Ethiopian Authorities as normal, you know, there is still sort of communication and all those things.

Spokesperson: Absolutely.

Force Commander: As a matter of fact I'm going to the Ministry of Defence just after this.

Q [from Addis Ababa]: Lastly perhaps, during the meeting with Seyoum Mesfin last week did they give any indication as to where they might be going with this?

Spokeswoman: You know we don't usually divulge what the SRSG discusses with the Foreign Minister. We did tell you that they discussed the peace process so obviously I think that implies that there would have been a very wide-ranging discussion on where we are.

Force Commander: I think we can actually say more than that. I think the Foreign Minister did say that that they continue to engage with the Boundary Commission. They have difficulties with some of the legal arguments of the Boundary Commission, but they are engaging still in the peace process, which also means the demarcation process; it's an indivisible process.

Q[ from Addis Ababa]: A few weeks ago after the MCC meeting Ethiopia and Eritrea both sort of gave an indication they where looking at a joint statement condemning mines and I just wondered if there'd been any progress there.

Spokeswoman: I think the Force Commander can tell you what's happened with that.

Force Commander: The critical part of this is my discussions with one of the partners at this stage and I haven't actually got back to them on it. I'm sure we're progressing satisfactorily on that issue. Moreover, I would like to say that we have not had any mine incidents in Sector West for almost four weeks now, which I see as very positive.

Question from Asmara: I think that the Ethiopians said last week that they wanted things to be done at their own pace and that this had a connection with the war in Iraq also. Does the Force Commander believe that the situation in Iraq has or will have an impact on the peace process here?

Force Commander: I think the impact is that everyone seems to be obsessed with war from watching newsreels of war.

Q [from Asmara] does this mean that you believe that this war in Iraq has nothing to do with the peace process here? No impact?

Force Commander: To answer your question perhaps more seriously, the concern that we might have had was that the attention of the Security Council and the international community would be wholly focused upon the situation in Iraq. We are happy to report that the Security Council, when it met to discuss the situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea, was both very closely focused and absolutely united in their decisions and in their resolutions vis a vis the peace process. Furthermore, the international community, as represented by the Friends and the Guarantors of this peace process, still remain actively engaged; indeed not only actively but also very closely and significantly engaged, to ensure that the parties are helped to come to a demarcation decision. So, to answer your question again, the fear that we might have had has not materialized, everyone is engaged on this.

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