Ethiopia + 1 more

UNMEE media briefing notes 2 Jun 2005

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A near verbatim transcript of the press briefing held by the Spokeswoman and Chief of Public Information, Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainté in Asmara, via videoconference linking participants in Asmara and Addis Ababa. Also present at the briefing in Asmara was the UNMEE Chief- of- Staff Colonel Samuel Nandwa.
POLITICAL:

On 31 May, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Legwaila Joseph Legwaila met with Ambassador Bridgett Oppinger-Walchshofer of Austria in Addis Ababa. They exchanged views on the current situation in the peace process.

On 28 and 31 May, the SRSG presided over the ceremonies in celebration of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, which were held in Asmara and Addis Ababa respectively. He, among other things, delivered the statement of the UN Secretary-General and called on the participants to observe a minute of silence in honour of those peacekeepers who lost their lives in the service of the UN during the past year.

In Asmara, on 26 May, The Director of the Office of the SRSG Bakary Dabo met with the Swiss Ambassador to Egypt, Mr. Charles-Edouard Held, who was accompanied by Mr. Fritz Steinemann, Country Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Eritrea, and discussed the latest developments in the peace process. The Swiss Ambassador is concurrently accredited to Eritrea.

On the same day, (26 May) in Addis Ababa, the UN Secretary-General co-chaired, with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AU), Professor Alpha Omar Konare, the Pledging Conference for the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS). The SRSG, among other dignitaries, attended the Conference, which was held at the AU Headquarters. The UN Secretary-General departed for New York on 29 May via Addis Ababa after completing his visit to Sudan.

While in Addis Ababa, en route to Sudan The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, met separately with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and representatives of the Ethiopian opposition groups, namely the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), who took part in the 15 May general elections. The SRSG and other senior UN officials accompanied the Secretary-General.

MILITARY:

General Overview

The general situation in the Mission area remains militarily stable. There have been no significant changes in troop locations or dispositions. UNMEE conducted 638 ground and 27 air reconnaissance patrols throughout the Area of Responsibility (AOR).

In all sectors, UNMEE peacekeepers continued to provide medical assistance to the local population, along with supplies of bulk water to civilian communities in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and the Adjacent Areas. Approximately 196,000 litres of water was supplied to the civilian communities during the past week.

Mine Action

The Bangladesh Engineering Company, working in Sector West, probed an area of 11,200 square metres along the road Adi Baare to Qui Sherba and 8,800 square metres along the Shilalo to Barentu Road.

The Kenyan Humanitarian De-mining Company, working in Sector West, probed manually a total area of 69,908 square metres in the Sheshebit minefield.

While MECHEM, (the civilian contractor) continued its de-mining operations and manually cleared an area of 14.3 kilometers along the road Dedelala to Shambiko.

Disposal of UXOs

On 31 May, 26 UXOs were destroyed by an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team of the UNMEE Mine Action Centre (MACC) in the general areas of Ayba and Ferasit.

MACC:

The UNMEE MACC participated in the events of the Asmara celebration of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, on Saturday, 28 May 2005. Activities to mark the event included an outdoor fair that catered to 1,000 local school children. The MACC coordinated the display and demonstration of manual deminers (Kenyan contingent), mine detection dogs and dog handlers (Bangladeshi contingent) as well as mine risk education games and a mine garden display (MACC Mine Risk Education Field Teams). The mine action displays were well received, creating a lot of curiosity and interest among the hundreds of local school children as well as heightening public awareness of mine action activities in Eritrea.

Specialist training of twelve Kenyan deminers is progressing very well, as are high priority clearance operations of a 2 million square metre minefield near Shilalo. It is anticipated that this task will be completed by the end of May 2005. The cleared area will be immediately handed over to recently returned Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to enable them to conduct construction, grazing and agricultural activities.

Meetings And Visits

On 28 May 2005, the Force Commander Major General Rajender Singh attended the International Day of UN Peacekeepers Celebrations held in Asmara. The International Day of UN Peacekeepers was observed in all the three sectors.

The Deputy Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, Lieutenant General Mohinder Puri visited UNMEE from 29 to 31 May 2005. On 30 May, the visiting General Officer accompanied by the Force Commander Major General Rajender Singh paid courtesy calls on the Eritrean Defence and Agriculture Ministers and the Acting Foreign Minister. The visiting General officer also visited various Indbatt posts in Sector Centre and the Indian contingents located in Asmara.

On 31 May 2005, the Sector Military Coordination Commission Meeting was held at the Humera Bridge in Sector West. The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and all issues of mutual interest were discussed and resolved.

Questions and Answers

Question (Asmara): I would like to ask two questions please. The first question is whether it would be possible to have an update on the Italian Carabinieri - I understand they left Asmara at least temporarily? And the second question is to ask if it would be possible to get any more details on the nine principles, which I understand were agreed at the 30th Military Coordination Commission meeting in Nairobi?

CPIO: I want to start with the second question first, since I have less (new) information on the second question. The Force Commander feels that he has given all the information that he can at the moment on this question regarding the nine principles. I think it is contained in the last press briefing, in which he mentioned what the broad principles are, and what they cover. He feels that this is a strong statement on the intent of the principles, which is to make sure that untoward incidents do not take place, or are prevented from happening. With regard to the Carabinieri, they have not left. They are in fact still here, and what I understand is that eleven of them left a little earlier than they had originally planned, and twenty-two of them went on leave as of about mid May. There have been some changes in their tasks and in the concept of their operations. This is due to the fact that the Eritrean Government has informed us that the police of Eritrea are in fact patrolling the city and providing security in the city area, and that there is no need for the Carabinieri to duplicate that effort. As a result, we have very slightly modified the duties of Carabinieri to ensure that they do not patrol in the city. However all their other normal investigative and military police activities continue, and UNMEE is in touch with the Government on this, and with the UN headquarters, in order to resolve this amicably.

Question (Asmara): You mentioned the UN Secretary General's meeting in Addis Ababa. Concerning the Eritrean-Ethiopian peace process, did he do anything to persuade or pressurize the Ethiopian Government to accept the Boundary Commission decision fully?

CPIO: My understanding was that he came here really for the pledging conference on Sudan and most of his activities were centered on that. I have not received any information that he spoke about the peace process. But I will certainly double check on that and get back to you.

The Spokeswoman confirms that the only reference to comments made by the UN Secretary-General on the peace process while on his visit to Ethiopia appear in an article by the Ethiopian News Agency, dated 26 May 2005. The article quotes an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that the Secretary-General had said that "Ethiopia's stand to resolve the dispute with Eritrea through peaceful means is commendable."

Question (Addis): Gail, could you please tell us in detail what issues were discussed during the Sector Military Coordination Commission meeting on 31st May?

Chief of Staff: A Sector Meeting was held in Sector West, with the Sector Commander chairing that meeting, and attendees from both sides (though I cannot remember the names). A lot of things were discussed, and a few things came out of it: among them that in the event of any incidents, there must be timely reporting from both sides. Another thing that was discussed was Mine Risk Education (MRE), because apparently there have been mine incidents in that area, and both sides have agreed that they are going to pass on this information, so that the local population understands something about the dangers of mines. In relation to the issue of timely reporting of incidents that may occur in the Temporary Security Zone, (TSZ) the Commanders also apparently agreed that they would be responsible on both sides, for things that happen in the TSZ, if they do not report to us immediately for purposes of investigation. This was a common understanding - that in case anything happens that may create tension, they must report it to UNMEE who would investigate, and come to (some resolution as to where responsibility lies). [They further agreed that any side which is carrying out training that involve live firing would inform UNMEE in advance of undertaking such training.] So that is in general what came out of the meeting (which) was held in a very cordial atmosphere - very friendly.

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 UNMEE Headquarters Addis Ababa, telephone: 251-1-726895 extension 7045.
UNMEE Website: www.unmeeonline.org