The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the press briefing chaired in the Eritrean capital, Asmara by UNMEE Spokesperson and Chief of UNMEE Public Information, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, via a videoconference linking Addis Ababa and Asmara.
On 22nd January, the Special Representative of the Secretary General Legwaila Joseph Legwaila returned to the Mission Area from New York where he attended a Leadership training course for Heads of Missions at Glen Cove, Long Island. After New York the SRSG also attended a seminar in Geneva on "Security Sector Reforms-Relevance to Peace Building." The seminar was organized by the UN Center in Geneva.
The overall situation in the Area of Responsibility remains calm.
On 17th January, a Jordanian Armed Forces delegation visited the Bangladesh Engineering Company, the Slovak De-mining Platoon and the Force Reserve Company, all in Sector West.
On 18th January, Brigadier General Mohommad Zqaili, Director of Operations of the Jordanian Armed Forces, visited Jordanian platoons in Omhajar, in Sector West.
On 22nd January, Force Commander Major General Gordon visited Barentu, where he received a comprehensive briefing on de-mining from the officials of the Bangladesh Engineering Company. The Force Commander also visited the Company's platoon at Shambiko where he witnessed demining activities.
On 22nd January, the first rotation group of the Indian Battalion (INDBATT -- 2 departed for New Delhi, while their replacements arrived in Asmara.
On the same date, the Jordanian Battalion (JORBAT) completed its rotation.
Demining activities by UNMEE contingents continued in all sectors during the week.
The UNMEE Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) continues to coordinate road clearance activities in preparation for the demining support project for demarcation. The commercial contractor UXB is continuing to clear roads in the Western Sector of deep buried mines and Unexploded Ordnances (UXOs). UXB's contract was renewed for a further six months, starting in January 2003.
The Force Mine Action Centre (FMAC) has been created by combining the Force Headquarters Mine Action elements and the MACC Operations Section. Tasking orders have been produced by the FMAC for 17 new clearance tasks to be undertaken by UNMEE Force demining elements in the Temporary Security Zone.
Meanwhile, the Programme Manager of the MACC Mr. Phil Lewis will visit Addis Ababa next week to hold discussions with Ethiopian authorities on procedural issues concerning demining for demarcation.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Do you, UNMEE, know why the Prime Minister asked to see the SRSG Legwaila this afternoon?
Spokeswoman: No, it's not known why the Prime Minister has asked to see the SRSG, but he has an appointment with the Prime Minister.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Is that usual that when the Prime Minister asks to see the SRSG that he doesn't know what will be on the agenda or is that unusual?
Spokeswoman: The PM has asked to see the Head of the Mission and the head of the Mission will comply.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Have you got any idea though what it might be about or not I mean just why is this all of a sudden happened?
Spokeswoman: The Prime Minister can ask to see the Head of the Mission at any time in the same way that the Head of Mission can also ask to see the Prime Minister if he needs to discuss things with him, so I don't think that there is anything major in this.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: I just wondered if UNMEE were aware when the clarifications had to be in from either side from Eritrea and Ethiopia regarding the maps that were released in December, when the deadline for clarifications is, I think it is, this month, but I am not entirely sure when? I just wondered if you knew?
(On checking on this the Spokeswoman's response is that this is another issue that needs to be taken up with the Boundary Commission.)
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Do you know if any of the Parties are making or requesting any clarifications with regard to the maps?
Spokeswoman: Don't forget that the question of the maps it's not a question for UNMEE. This is not UNMEE's mandate. This is a question that belongs to the EEBC, and you would have to ask them. Yes, we will know the dates of what it's happening, but other than that we are not going to be involved in those discussions. We are providing administrative and logistical support to the EEBC.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Both the Force Commander and the SRSG have said demarcation is scheduled to start in May, is that still the case?
Spokeswoman: I think what they have said is that is, that this is the date that has been projected.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: And that is still the case?
Spokeswoman: At the moment yes.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: I just wondered if you could shed any more light on the story that the woman who works for UNMEE in Eritrea is seeking asylum in Ethiopia?
Spokeswoman: What I can say on that story is, the particular person to whom you are referring, improperly used our facilities to depart from Eritrea to Ethiopia. The incident is under full investigation at the moment and we will not be commenting on this until we have the full facts of what happened. I would also like to point out that the facts in AP story as written are completely fabricated.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: So, you do know some of the facts?
Spokeswoman: We do know some of the facts at the moment. We have an investigation going on to get all the facts. Until we have all the facts we will not comment any further.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: But you can confirm that a woman called Rosa has sought asylum in Ethiopia?
Spokeswoman: I can confirm that she improperly used our facilities to cross. I don't know what has happened to her since.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: I asked this last week but I just wonder is there any progress on the investigation to the man that was shot at the border?
Spokeswoman: Yes, there has been progress. The investigation continues, but this investigation does not only involve elements from UNMEE, it also involves representatives from the parties and therefore meetings sometimes have not been easy to arrange. What I was told this morning was that progress is being made and we expect that we will soon have conclusions to this investigation.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: What does soon mean?
Spokeswoman: There was no further definitive time frame.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Would it be possible next week to give us an answer to that question?
Spokeswoman: I will certainly seek an answer for you by next week.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: You said here that your UXB contract was renewed for a further six months. Did UNMEE get additional funds because of the shortage of the money for the demining activities or did you get any additional promises or funds for the contract with the UXB?
(After seeking clarification, UNMEE MACC has informed us that UXB was hired since 2000 to clear the TSZ of deep buried mines. It has nothing to do with the Boundary Commission Project except that it will be used partly to assist MACC in its work on demining for demarcation)
Question [from Addis Ababa]: I just wanted to know if it was true that an UNMEE helicopter was forced to land by Ethiopian Troops in Sector HQ in Adigrat on the 22nd, apparently their helicopter had EEBC officials. Is that the case or not?
Spokeswoman: That is another incident that is under investigation as you said correctly it happened in Adigrat. It also involves the EEBC, so we are only partially involved in it because of our logistical support and again we have to get the facts on it first before we put anything out. I wouldn't say that it was forced to land, as my military colleague has just pointed out. It was scheduled to land in Adigrat, there was a problem and we are investigating all the facts surrounding what happened.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: What was the problem?
Spokeswoman: As I have just said to you, we do not have all the facts on this as soon as we have the facts we will let you know.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Did it involve Ethiopian troops surrounding the helicopter?
Spokeswoman: I am not going to answer anything further on this. I have said to you we are investigating it. As soon as we have all the facts then I will be able to answer your questions.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Do you know how many investigations UNMEE are carrying out at the moment?
Spokeswoman: Yes, there are several. There are at least three.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Being the ones that were all mentioned today?
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Following on from Damien's point, would it be possible to know next week when the three investigations are likely to be completed and when you will let us know what the facts are in each of the cases?
Spokeswoman: By next week we will have a sense of when things are going to be completed. I know that at least one will be completed within the next few days.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Which one is that?
Spokeswoman: I will just leave it at that.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: It's is a follow up on the issue of the woman who may or may not be seeking asylum I know that you said you would comment once the report was finished. You said there were some facts in the story that were definitely wrong, are you prepared to say what those are?
Spokeswoman: I would say the entire third part of that paragraph that gives a detailed account of how it happened, that entire paragraph is incorrect.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Are you referring to the paragraph that suggested...
Spokeswoman: I am referring to the AP story. The last paragraph of the AP story that gives an account of how this person got from point A to point B, that entire thing is incorrect.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: A question on demining support project for demarcation I was wondering if Phil is there, could he answer...
Spokeswoman: Unfortunately Phil is not here. But he is always very willing to answer questions. If you give me the questions he will certainly answer them even in today's briefing, because he is always very helpful to us that way.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: I just want to know when it's scheduled to start and if it doesn't start on the right schedule will it affect the border demarcation? And if it's late will it affect the border demarcation and how will it affect the border demarcation?
(The MACC Program Manager in response to this question stated that MACC is ready to demine as soon as pillar locations are determined and agreed by the EEBC and the Parties. Clearance activities have already commenced on routes where MACC anticipates it is going to have to work in the future and work has been going on in the TSZ since the April 2002).
Question [from Addis Ababa]: In the Human Rights watch the New York based Human rights watchdog in their annual report released earlier this week they say that Badme is in Eritrea is that correct?
Spokeswoman: You are asking me about a Human Rights Watch report, I think you should really discuss that with Human Rights Watch.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: But now that demarcation is as you said earlier scheduled to start around May, are we in a position where know where all these towns and villages are now?
Spokeswoman: I think that this is a question that you should ask to the people that are laying down the border, not UNMEE.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Would it be possible for UNMEE to organize for someone from the EEBC to come to the next press conference?
Spokeswoman: I was asked that before. The EEBC is an autonomous body, which was put there by the two Parties. I don't think that UNMEE can ask them to come to a press conference to explain things to you. I think that this is something that I have said to you before, questions that you have on the EEBC can be addressed directly to them and have them address you on those.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: I was wondering if UNMEE has any knowledge about schedule or visit of President Isayas to Addis Ababa to take part in the Heads of States Summit, the AU Heads of States Summit?
Spokeswoman: I read it in the press reports of yesterday. There was a report saying that he was going.
If you don't have any further questions I would just like to introduce our new calendar. I hope that you have copies of our new calendar, which for us it is a very special calendar because it was done between six artists from Ethiopia and six artists from Eritrea. It features their work. Our photographer Jorge Aramburu is here and he can probably tell you a little bit more because he did most of the legwork, meeting the artists, getting them to give us their paintings, which he photographed and we have now put these photographs together in our calendar, which also features proverbs on peace both in Tigrynia and in Ahmaric and we are hoping that as many people as possible will get it in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. Distribution has started and Sammy is the point man in Addis, so you can get your copies from Sammy. This calendar was really produced for the people of both countries, so that's where we would like it to end up, in their homes, in their schools, in their institutions as much as you can help us to publicize it, we would appreciate it. I hope that you all have copies of it. I have one here that I can show you. This is the first one (painting). This one was done by the Ethiopian artist and the way we have done it is, we have done is we have one painting from Ethiopia, one from Eritrea for every month. You can also see the proverb is on the top of it. Jorge is there anything you want to add?
Official Photographer, Jorge Aramburu:. I guess the only thing to add is that personally it was a fruitful experience to meet the artists of both countries and to work with them separately and together and to have come up with this final project. As Gail said, I hope that through this calendar it will be possible to bring the people of these two countries, with the proverbs of peace some kind of reconciliation and contribute to lasting peace.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: How much did it cost to produce?
Spokeswoman: It was just over $20,000, about $23,000.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: How long did it take to do?
Spokeswoman: I think we started in November.
Jorge Aramburu: If you can elaborate on the question, because when you ask how long it takes to do the calendar is that the printing or is that the all production of the calendar.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: The whole thing?
Jorge Aramburu: Well, it was thought out somewhere around mid-year last year and it was brought to the attention of UNMEE and then we had to seek the approval, so we started about July, August and the final product just came out.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Is there any reason that it goes January to January rather than the Ethiopian and Eritrean calendar, which goes September to September?
Spokeswoman: No, there wasn't.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: And finally, how many copies did you produce and how would the people of Ethiopia and presumably Eritrea as well get a hold of them, if they can?
Spokeswoman: We have produced around 10,00 copies, 5,000 in each country. We are distributing them ourselves through the Outreach Centre staff. They are taking them most of the time to Government Ministries, to hospitals, to schools, to other institutions here and we hope the same thing will be done in Addis. We have given them to shopkeepers, just about anybody in the country because we really did it for them.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: The proverb in November, reconciliation is vulnerable like eyesight, as a glasses wearer, I would like to know what do you think that means?
Spokeswoman: It's interesting the proverbs. I wouldn't want to explain the proverbs only because of the way in which we went about obtaining the proverbs. First we asked people both in Eritrea and in Ethiopia to give us proverbs that people were most familiar with that talked of peace and we got several. We chose the ones that were most appealing to people and what you see are some of the ones that were appealing to people in both countries.
Jorge Aramburu: If I may add to this, sometime translation doesn't do justice to the language that it has been translated from. In this case we have been seeking the expertise of some Ethiopians and Eritrean artists not only in the painting world, but also in the poetry and writing business and they say that these translations are very, very difficult to do. For them, as Gail was saying, the meaning is very difficult to translate from the original language. I think it's more for people to understand it the way they read it.
Spokeswoman: I think the idea is that you take from it what you want. In large measure what we wanted to do here was to highlight the theme which is peace and to take that theme from the indigenous populations and that's what we have done.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Sorry I'm a bit late; I was told here that the demarcation process will start in May.
Spokeswoman: This is the estimated date.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Earlier we were told that it may take place in February, why is it pushed to May, what are the factors that pushed this demarcation from February next month to May? Do you get me?
Spokeswoman: I don't know where you got the impression that it was going to be in February and it was moved from February to May. The people who are most familiar with when demarcation will start are the people at the EEBC, the estimate that has been given is May. It is the best guesstimate at this time.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Can you tell me any development with regard to MCC meetings; I mean when will the next MCC meeting be held?
Spokeswoman: The next MCC Meeting will be held in Nairobi on the 29th of January. Right now the agenda is being discussed.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Are UNMEE aware of any sensitisation programs by the Ethiopians or Eritreans with regards to territory being transferred with demarcation?
Spokeswoman: I think that you will have to ask that question to both parties.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: No, I am not asking what can be done, I am just asking if you UNMEE are aware of what they have done.
Spokeswoman: I will have to inquire on that and get back to you.
Question [from Asmara]: I think that according to the Boundary Commission's plan is that the border is going to be demarcated within 3 months, from May up to the end of June in the Western Sector buffer zone and from June to July the central part of the buffer zone and from July to the end of August to the eastern part of the Temporary Security Zone. When the Boundary Commission formulated this plan, did they consult with UNMEE?
Spokeswoman: I feel like a stuck record sometimes on the Boundary Commission because I cannot answer questions on the Boundary Commission. The only question I can answer on the Boundary Commission is where their work coincides with UNMEE's and that is in two areas: logistical support and administrative support. Those are the only two areas that I can discuss in anyway when it comes to the EEBC. Other than that I cannot answer questions on the Boundary Commission.
Question [from Asmara]: Why don't you try to call the representative of the Boundary Commission to attend the Press conference?
Spokeswoman: You can ask the Boundary Commission to hold a Press Conference because there area number of questions that you as journalists need to put to them directly. I don't think it's our task to do that.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Unfortunately Gail I hate to interrupt but I have actually done that and they say they don't give press conferences to the press.
Spokeswoman: Okay so I think you have your answer, there is nothing that we can do.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: Would it not help, a lot of the journalists here and myself very much included because as you know and everyone else knows the whole process of demarcation is extremely complicated and extremely sensitive and it would be very helpful for the journalists here if they could have some kind of discussion that can give us some kind of ideas on what is happening and then journalists are not going to make mistakes if at all journalists ever do and with that, I mean it might be nice if UNMEE could perhaps put that to the EEBC because if UNMEE are doing it you have a lot more clout than individual journalists ringing up and for some of us it's very expensive to be ringing Holland and to be ringing New York and stuff and we don't have the large budget that UNMEE have.
Spokeswoman: I don't know why you think that UNMEE's budget includes being able to write letters or call on your behalf. It's not part of our mandate, I think you have to be pro-active about it as a journalist yourself.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: I thought part of your mandate was keeping us informed?
Spokeswoman: Absolutely, we keep you informed of UNMEE's activities. The EEBC is an entirely different operation and you have to approach them directly.
Question [from Addis Ababa]: But don't they share an office with you?
Spokeswoman: They don't share an office with us; we provide logistical and administrative support. Part of that is to provide office space. That's it.
For additional information please contact:
Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Acting Chief
of Public Information
UNMEE Headquarters Addis Ababa, telephone: 251-1-726895; Mobile: 251 9 223031
Or UNMEE Headquarters Asmara, telephone:
or our tie-line in New York: 00-1-212-963-3779