YOUSEF HAMDAN, CHIEF OF PUBLIC INFORMATION
Welcome to today's briefing. I'm happy to announce that Mr. Ishmael Diallo who is the Chief of Civil Affairs Section is here with us today. He will give you a briefing about the important work the Civil Affairs Section is doing throughout the country. Civil Affairs officer Abiodun Bashua is also here. And they both will be ready to answer questions you might have about Civil Affairs. Also here is Francesca Fontanini, Public Information Officer of UNHCR, and the military spokesman Maj. Ali Yusuf. But first the news with Masimba.
Masimba Tafirenyika: SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT TO VISIT SIERRA LEONE
Under-Secretary-General Olara A. Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, will visit Sierra Leone from tomorrow, 22 to 28 February to assess the status of war-affected children in the post-conflict, peace-building phase. The visit is a follow-up to previous missions to the country undertaken by the Special Representative in 1999 and 2000, during which he proposed an action plan for the nation's children.
Since the Sierra Leonean conflict ended in January 2002, considerable progress has been made in advancing the protection and rehabilitation of children. An ambitious programme for the demobilization and reintegration of some 7,000 child ex-combatants has made significant progress, with some 97 per cent of them reunified to date with their families and communities. Child protection has been well-integrated into the peacekeeping mission, UNAMSIL, with the presence on staff of child protection advisers and ongoing training of peacekeepers in child rights and child protection.
Two initiatives that were proposed by Under-Secretary-General Otunnu in 1999 in his "Agenda for Action for the Children of Sierra Leone" - the National Commission for War-Affected Children and the Voice of Children, a radio station run by and for the children - will be inaugurated during his visit.
Children and the youth were severely affected by the decade-long conflict in Sierra Leone. They were forcibly conscripted by fighting forces. They were displaced internally or into neighbouring countries as refugees and were deprived of education and basic health care. They were subject to sexual exploitation and abuse, and were also used as forced labour in the extraction of natural resources. Some of these problems persist, while new challenges, such as an upsurge in the phenomenon of 'street children,' have arisen.
During his stay, Mr. Otunnu will address these and other challenges for Sierra Leone's children in meetings with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and government ministers and officials, senior staff of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone and the UN Country Team, child protection agencies, children and civil society representatives. The Special Representative will also make field visits to Koidu, Bo, Daru, Makeni and Magburaka.
FRESH FIGHTING IN LIBERIA SPARKS NEW FLIGHT OF REFUGEES SEEKING SAFE HAVEN - UN
With large areas of western Liberia now reportedly in the hands of rebels, some 30,000 people driven from their homes are in a desperate attempt to reach the Liberian capital of Monrovia, and, according to the United Nations refugee agency, perhaps thousands more may be headed to neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The Liberian refugees fleeing to Sierra Leone will join about 6,000 others driven by fresh fighting over the past week, according to a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "This has caused alarm in Sierra Leone, which is just recovering from a painful, decade-long war itself," Peter Kessler said in Geneva.
An inter-agency mission dispatched over the weekend reported that large areas of western Liberia have fallen under rebel control. "In Monrovia at the weekend, we had reports that the rebels have pushed to around 20 kilometres outside the city," said Mr. Kessler. "However, by yesterday, we were told that government forces had repulsed the rebels and the city was calm."
Mr. Kessler said however that events throughout the West African region had the agency worried. "In Côte d'Ivoire, our offices continue to receive desperate requests from some of the estimated 40,000 Liberian refugees in the area wanting to be evacuated to a safe area or moved to other countries in the region," he said, noting that yesterday's demonstration outside the agency's office in Abidjan marked the third such protest in a week.
Since the conflict broke out in Côte d'Ivoire five months ago, more than 88,000 people have left the country and gone into the eastern part of Liberia, where it is relatively quiet. They include Liberian returnees, Ivorian refugees and immigrant workers.
In other news from Africa, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named Behrooz Sadry of Iran as his Deputy Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr. Sadry, who assumed his functions in Kinshasa on Monday, most recently served as the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Sierra Leone.
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN APPOINTS EXPERT PANEL TO FOLLOW-UP ON LIBERIA SANCTIONS
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, 19 February, appointed four members of an expert panel that will undertake a three-month follow-up assessment mission to Liberia and neighbouring countries to investigate compliance with international sanctions levied against Monrovia.
The appointments were announced in a letter by the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council released on Wednesday at UN Headquarters in New York. The Council had unanimously re-established the expert body late last month, deeply concerned by the situation in Liberia and neighbouring countries, especially in Côte d'Ivoire.
By adopting resolution 1458, the Council asked the Secretary-General to appoint the Panel, which will investigate and compile a report on the Government of Liberia's compliance with the demands contained in resolution 1343, adopted in 2001 in response to concerns about the reported transit of illicit diamonds - which were being traded to fuel the conflict in Sierra Leone - through Liberia.
Along with investigating any violations of the measures referred to in subsequent resolutions adopted by the Council, the Panel was also asked to bring any relevant information collected in the course of their investigations to the attention of the States concerned for prompt and thorough investigation and, where appropriate, corrective action, and to allow them the right of reply.
The Secretary-General says the Panel of Experts, which will be chaired by Atabou Bobian of Senegal, an expert from the International Civil Aviation Organization, will also include Enrico Carisch of Switzerland, an expert in financial links, Damien Callamand of France, an expert from Interpol, and Alex Vines of the United Kingdom, a diamond expert.
UNAMSIL SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE WITNESSES INTER-SECTOR SHOOTING COMPETITION IN MAGBURAKA
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, accompanied by UNAMSIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande, yesterday witnessed the finals of this year's Inter-Sector Shooting Competition in Massambari, just outside Magburaka in the northern district of Tonkolili.
Speaking to the officers and soldiers at the ceremony, the Special Representative said it was a pleasurable event where the peacekeepers could forget for a few moments their principal occupation in Sierra Leone as well as "brush up" their shooting skills which would enhance their performance when they returned home. He said the event was an opportunity for the various sectors of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to interact and improve on the cordial relations existing between and among them.
After several rounds of shooting in various categories including pistol and rifle, UNAMSIL's Sector East emerged as the champions with 1,392 marks while Sector Central came second with 1,334. Sector West was third with 1,277. Ambassador Adeniji congratulated the winners, saying there were no losers, adding that those who did not win should take it as the Olympics where every participant is a winner.
The event was also attended by, among others, all UNAMSIL sector commanders, battalion commanders and the Nigerian Contingent Commander, Brig. Gen. Steve Guar.
In another engagement, Ambassador Adeniji visited the newly inducted 15th Nigerian Battalion (NIBATT 15) in the town of Makeni where the Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Amos Nudamajo, briefed him on how they were settling in. He said they are conducting patrols at all times in all their areas of deployment with "zeal and vigour" and that these patrols are at times conducted jointly with the Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
The Commanding Officer told the Special Representative that his battalion had started providing drugs to the orphanage in Makeni, free medical treatment and HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to local communities. He said very soon they would start supplying water to all hospitals and health centers in their areas of responsibility. Ambassador Adeniji thanked the battalion for its humanitarian activities which he said had become the hallmarks of UNAMSIL's post-conflict peacekeeping.
The Special Representative also visited the Makeni Agricultural Show at the Wusum Grounds where several types of produce grown in the area were on display.
SRSG ASSURES THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION OF CONTINUED SUPPORT
The SRSG, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, has assured members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)'s "continued cooperation and assistance at any time and on every level." He was speaking at the official opening of the permanent secretariat of the TRC at the Brookfields Hotel Complex in the west end of the capital, Freetown.
Ambassador Adeniji said that the international community had for some time in the past been concerned about the slow pace of the take-off of the Commission but was now rejoicing at the fact that things had now taken off, something for which he thanked the Government of Sierra Leone. He said the current state of the TRC went to confirm "the insistence of the international community that this country should claim ownership of the truth and reconciliation process," which indications, he said, were now promising.
The Special Representative said about 1,400 people from all walks of life have so far provided information to the TRC statement-takers. The TRC Chairman, Rev. Bishop Joseph C. Humper told the gathering that preliminary assessments of these statements contained information on "about 3,000 victims who had suffered more than 4,000 violations." He said these included 1,000 deaths and 200 cases of rape and other sexual violations, adding that one-third of the respondents were women, while about ten percent were children.
Bishop Humper said that the statement-taking process would continue until 31 March this year which he said would immediately be followed by the "institutional hearing." He assured the audience that the TRC operations were now "irreversible" as the Commission was determined to put Sierra Leone on the path to national development through healing.
Officially opening the secretariat, Vice President Solomon Berewa said it was a "milestone in Sierra Leone's quest for the attainment of sustainable peace." He said the establishment of the TRC was "a therapeutic forum" for victims of the war to tell their stories and for perpetrators to come forward and confess their misdeeds and ask for forgiveness. According to the Vice President, this would be done with the fullest assurance that the TRC would not exercise any "punitive measures to purge the crime." Rather, he said, the Commission would seek "to heal the wounds of the war by reconciling the victims with the perpetrators."
The ceremony was also attended by, among others, Government ministers including the Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Eke Halloway, who referred to it as "a milestone towards the cleansing of this nation," and the Speaker of Parliament, Justice Edmond Cowan. Also present were members of the diplomatic corps, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance and Stabilization, Mr. Alan Doss, UNAMSIL's Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande and the Registrar of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Mr. Robin Vincent.
UNAMSIL FORCE COMMANDER ASSESSES SECURITY SITUATION IN THE EASTERN AND SOUTHERN PROVINCES
UNAMSIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel Ismael Opande on 15 February visited the eastern and southern provinces of Sierra Leone to assess the security and refugee situation in the region.
In the town of Buedu in Kailahun District, the Officer Commanding the "A" Company of the Pakistani Battalion (PAKBATT 5), Maj. Laique Afzal, informed the Force Commander that the security situation in the area was "calm and peaceful" but expressed concern over the conflict in Liberia. His briefing also included the refugee/returnee situation, which he described as worrying, especially following the recent fighting in Liberia during which more than 5,000 refugees and 2,000 returnees crossed the border into Sierra Leone. These included about 190 Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers who surrendered to the RSLAF and handed over dozens of weapons.
Maj. Laique also talked about the close cooperation existing among UNAMSIL peacekeepers, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) and the Sierra Leone Police. He said that the recent redeployment of the RSLAF throughout the Kissi Tongi Chiefdom had enhanced confidence in the local population.
From Buedu, the Force Commander flew to Mano River Bridge at the border with Liberia where Lt. Edward Lombin Smart of the RSLAF 3rd Brigade briefed him on the current security situation across the bridge, pointing out that a number of refugees had crossed the border since fighters from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) took over the Liberian border areas. After a brief encounter with the LURD forces led by Maj. Alex P Moore, the Force Commander implored them to live in harmony and to treat civilians humanely. Maj. Alex assured the Lt. Gen. Opande that Liberians who had fled the fighting and crossed over into Sierra Leone were free to return to Liberia.
At the Gendema refugee way station, the Force Commander told the refugees that UN agencies and non-governmental organizations would ensure that they were moved to safer places. He however encouraged those who wished to go back to their villages in Liberia to do so as fighting along the border areas had stopped. He also urged the RSLAF and the police to create a peaceful environment for the refugees and returnees.
Before flying back to Freetown, Lt Gen. Opande visited PAKBATT 6 Mechanical Company based in Zimmi in the southern district of Pujehun where the battalion's commanding officer informed him that because of the current security situation across the Liberian border, UNAMSIL peacekeepers were on alert to avoid any surprises. The Force Commander also took the opportunity to visit refugees at Zimmi Way Station and to reassure them of efforts to address their plight.
UNAMSIL DEPUTY FORCE COMMANDER ASSESSES SECURITY AND REFUGEE SITUATION IN SOUTHERN PROVINCES
UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander and Chief Military Observer Maj. Gen. Syed Athar Ali, accompanied by Sierra Leone's Deputy Defence Minister Joe Blell, on 17 February visited to the southern districts towns to assess the influx of refugees fleeing fighting in neighbouring Liberia.
Upon arrival at the Mano River Bridge along the border with Liberia, the delegation was briefed by the Republic Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF)'s 3rd Brigade Commander Col. Samuel Williams, who informed it that about 5,000 refugees had crossed over into the country from Liberia. Among the refugees were 175 soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) who had surrendered, along with their weapons, to the RSLAF. The number of refugees is expected to rise over the next few days, according to an assessment by both UNAMSIL and SLAF troops manning the border.
In his brief statement, Minister Blell urged the local chiefs and RSLAF 3rd Brigade Commander not to allow the inter border batter system of trade to continue as they may compromise security in the area. The local paramount chief requested the deputy minister to provide them with transport to move refugees from the border to camps inside the country to ensure security along the border areas.
The delegation later held a brief discussion with fighters from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) on the Mano River Bridge. Maj. Gen. Athar reiterated the Force Commander's earlier message over the weekend in which he appealed to LURD forces to desist from harassing civilians. In response, the LURD stressed that they were not after civilians but after Liberian Government forces.
Also among the delegation were the RSLAF Chief of Defence Staff, Maj. Gen. Tom Carew and the Commander of the International Military Assistance Training Team (IMATT) Brig. Adrian Freer.
GOVERNMENT OF SIERRA LEONE CONVENES NATIONAL RECOVERY COMMITTEE MEETING IN KAMBIA DISTRICT
The SRSG, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance and Stabilization, Mr. Alan Doss, on 18 February attended the National Recovery Committee (NRC) meeting in Kambia chaired by Vice President Solomon Berewa. It was the first in a series of meetings which will be held in each of the country's 12 districts to review progress made on the benchmarks set out in the National Recovery Strategy, a blueprint on the immediate recovery needs of Sierra Leone and to bring the Government closer to the people.
The meeting provided the Kambia District Recovery Committee (DRC) with the opportunity to hold a dialogue with the Vice President and his delegation that was composed of ministers from local government and community development, finance, development, agriculture, health, education, works and housing, gender and social welfare and the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) and the Sierra Leone Police as well as with other members of the NRC, including representatives from the UN Country Team, the British Department for International Development (DFID), the European Union, the World Bank and international and national non-governmental organizations.
In his speech, Vice President Berewa explained the priority areas of intervention and benchmarks set in the National Recovery Strategy, which the NRC is seeking to meet by the end of the year, including the restoration of state authority; the rebuilding of communities; the restoration of the economy; as well as peace-building and human rights.
In his address, Ambassador Adeniji reminded committee members that one of the principal benchmarks of UNAMSIL was the consolidation of state authority. He noted with satisfaction the committee's decision to hold meetings in the districts because it needed "to come down to the people and see how things are progressing." The Special Representative said such decentralization will encourage DRCs to take their tasks seriously. He urged the people of Kambia to make sure that the decentralization of meetings starts on a good note as this was necessary not only for the good of their district but also the country as a whole.
The representative of the European Union informed the committee that he intended to use some of its funds to address "defaults" in current projects instead of embarking on new ones, while also calling for transparency in how funds were used at the district level. The Kambia DRC provided the NRC members with a progress report of recovery in the district, which also indicated remaining challenges.
The convening of the Committee's plenary session was preceded by site visits to numerous recovery projects throughout the district in Rokupr, Gbalamuya and Kambia town, including health clinics, prisons, amputee camps, rice research station, water works, customs posts, schools and shelters, providing an overview of the status of recovery in the district.
I am pleased to tell you that we'll distribute the latest copy of the UNAMSIL Review. Now I'm happy to invite Mr. Diallo to give you a briefing on the work of the Civil Affairs.
Good afternoon and ladies and gentlemen. I want to say that the Force Commander also answers to the name of Ishmael, his name is Daniel Ishmael Opande, so he's also a namesake. I'm here with you today with the Deputy Chief of Civil Affairs, Abiodun Bashua, who had been in this mission for almost two years now and has a complete view of the situation in this country having worked in the provinces south and east and who is now in Freetown.
I'm not going to make an exposé on civil affairs because I don't know how much you know about civil affairs. I rather answer your questions. I would like to tell you, though, that the Civil Affairs Section in this mission was established in July 1999 and the first staff arrived in Freetown in November 1999. We are now over 34 individuals in the section present in all districts of the country.
The Civil Affairs Section of UNAMSIL has a prime mandate to assist the government of Sierra Leone in the restoration of civil authority throughout the country. And in so doing the section also assists and facilitates for all Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life in the return of normalcy throughout the country. How do we do that? We do that by assisting the government in the physical return of all civil servants in the districts, not only for their physical presence but also for their effective functioning of the services such education, health, etc.
Let me give you concrete examples. Let's take Lunsar. When we moved to Lunsar, we first discussed with RUF and later on assisted the government in going to Lunsar. We accompanied the resident minister to Lunsar to talk to the people of Lunsar. We accompanied the paramount chief to Lunsar to talk to the people of Lunsar. And then we went around to look at the public buildings which had been abandoned. We made an assessment of what is needed to rehabilitate those buildings and facilitated also the return of the offices like the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). This is what civil affairs officers do in the field. They are involved in a wide range of activities on a daily basis. In Tongo the offices of civil affairs are busy having the different youth groups talk to each other and to amicably resolve housing issues and other concerns. I can give you the same examples for Kailahun, Moyamba or Koidu. But again it's better that I try to answer your questions instead of telling you what you probably already know or not interested to know. Thank you.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Q: In places like Kabala, what is civil affairs doing there? Second, you have five mandates, among them is the restoration of government authority in local areas. To what extent have you carried out sustainability programmes where you have carried on this restoration process?
Mr. Ishmael Diallo: What I will have preferred really is to see one or two or three of you come to us and tell us "we you want to go to Kabala for three days, make an assessment for ourselves, by ourselves on how this place is returning to normalcy, how civil authority is functioning." We're ready to help you, facilitate your travel and accommodation there and you come, you look around, make your own assessment, and you write in your paper what you have observed. This will help your readers; it will help Sierra Leone; it will help the government, more than what we're reading in your newspapers.
Before you do that, let me tell you what the civil affairs in Kabala is doing. You mentioned we have five mandates. I'm not sure we have five mandates, all we have is the core mandate, again as I mentioned earlier, is to assist the government in the restoration of civil authority and return to normalcy. But the civil affairs officer de facto is everything, in 24 hours and he does everything. He's involved in helping the judiciary to return there. He comes to Freetown and discusses with banking institutions to reopen or open their branches in the provinces. He's involved in monitoring the Trust Fund project funded by UNAMSIL. He/she is involved in the elections; last year it was the presidential and parliamentary elections, yesterday it was the chiefdom elections, tomorrow it would be local authorities. They're also involved in the exercise to know if there are still small arms and light weapons in the country, and many many other activities.
When you talk about Kabala, everything I just mentioned happened in Kabala. Again we would like to invite you to volunteer to go to any place in this country and we will help you do that. And you come back make your own assessment and report.
Q: I was in Kabala in November. When I went to the civil affairs office there, I was told the civil affairs officer there was relocated back to Magburaka. If it's true what's the reason for the relocation?
Mr. Diallo: It was not true and it's not true. We have a presence in every district in this country. He was probably in Magburaka for one or two days on mission, maybe to cover for his colleague in Magburaka who was probably out of the country.
Q: There's been much extension of civil authority in the country. But let's look at Kono. What is happening with Kono in areas occupied by UNAMSIL military deployment particularly in areas of civil activity like schools? What are you doing about this?
Mr. Diallo: The occupation of premises by UNAMSIL forces was the result of an agreement by the government; they did not just move there and occupy the premises. It's the government who should come back to UNAMSIL and say we need those premises. This happened in Lunsar, Kailahun, Port Loko. It's just an agreement and this agreement can be denounced by the government anytime. The premises will be even returned rehabilitated.
Mr. Bashua: There should be no misunderstanding about this. In Kono district particularly, the UNAMSIL contingents there are located in what could be considered public buildings like schools. If you consider the buildings we are occupying compared with the schools we have rehabilitated, the numbers are much more in favor of the schools we rehabilitated. The buildings the UNAMSIL contingents are occupying right now will be vacated as we come to the drawdown, as we exit. In Kailahun district alone, the UNAMSIL contingents spent $25,000 of their own money renovating the District Officer's office and residence.
Mr. Yousef Hamdan: This is a very important invitation you received from Mr. Diallo. I wonder if you are posted by your news organization only in Freetown or after you discuss it with your editor you may be asked to go and cover the district. We'll be happy for you to do that. Just come to my office or Mr. Diallo's office.
Q: Since you arrive we haven't got that opportunity. This time that you've mentioned it, we'll be happy to enjoy that privilege.
Mr. Hamdan: I assure you will. Because it's very important for you here in Freetown to cover the rest of the country.
Q: For UNHCR, what are you doing so that the current refugee problem won't get out of control?
Ms. Francesca Fontanini: The situation for the moment is under control. It's not only a UNHCR effort. We're collaborating with UNAMSIL, the MILOBs, the implementing partners, operational partners, and NaCSA. We are dealing with refugees coming from official and unofficial crossing points, which is a big effort because there are almost 27 crossing points. We shuttle them from the border areas to Zimmi station which has a capacity of 2,000 people. From there they will be moving on to the interior of the country, to the refugee camps. According to the UN convention the refugees should be at least 50 kilometers from the border.
We are trying to speed up the process and increase our capacity. The current capacity is up to 7,000; by three or four weeks the new camp, which is located in Kenema district, will be able to accommodate 17,000 refugees. According to our figures from the Sierra Leone immigration officials, we have just received 7,058 so we can still accommodate 10,000 more people. Thanks to the operational partners, the situation is under control for the moment. In terms of medical screening, the more vulne