YOUSEF HAMDAN, CHIEF OF PUBLIC INFORMATION
Good afternoon. Welcome to today's briefing. This week we had the opportunity to see you twice, because many of you were able to attend last Wednesday's press conference with Michael Douglas. We would give you more information of that event. Major Shekari (military spokesman) is busy with some other engagement but Major Mutti is going to answer questions you might have. I see also that in attendance is Mr. David Hecht of the Special Court.
Masimba Tafirenyika: UN CONTINUES REPATRIATION OF LIBERIAN REFUGEES AS HOSTILITY MOUNTS IN CÔTE D'IVOIRE
As the very volatile situation in Côte d'Ivoire persists, the United Nations refugee agency is continuing its emergency repatriation of Liberians and is planning new public awareness campaigns focusing on respect for asylum seekers.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on 4 February that it has helped more than 1,500 Liberians return from Tabou in south-western Côte d'Ivoire to Liberia amidst the growing hostility they face from the local population.
UNHCR said it is also looking into repatriating Liberians stuck in villages further afield from Tabou, although it would require additional resources such as trucks and minibuses, as well as information to ensure that returns are voluntary. The transit centre in Tabou has been rehabilitated and fitted with a new water system and generator in order to accommodate refugees.
Meanwhile, in Abidjan where UNHCR already cares for over 1,000 refugees, mostly Liberian and Sierra Leonean origin, the agency said it is very concerned about the continued destruction of shantytowns. "Over the past week, we have received reports of armed men bursting into at least two poor districts at night, threatening residents and setting houses on fire," UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie said in Geneva.
UNHCR is planning an awareness-raising campaign throughout Côte d'Ivoire, calling on the local population not to blame refugees for the current turmoil. Local artists will be hired to produce radio, television and street theatre shows explaining the particularly vulnerable situation of Liberian refugees. The campaign will also involve the production of T-shirts and posters.
UNAMSIL SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HANDSOVER SCHOOL IN KENEMA
The Special Representative of the Secretary General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, on 4 February cut the tape to officially open a five-lecture room building at the Eastern Polytechnic in Kenema. The building was constructed with funds provided by UNAMSIL while the polytechnic itself was the implementing partner.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ambassador Adeniji said UNAMSIL's involvement resulted from the urgent need to repair the damage done by the war. The SRSG lauded the dedication of the Principal of the Polytechnic, Dr. Sandy Bockarie. Dr. Bockarie, the SRSG said, demonstrated sufficient dedication to be worthy of UNAMSIL's trust. "He has not disappointed us," he said.
The SRSG recalled the proposal written by the principal which was approved by UNAMSIL. He disclosed that the Principal fulfilled his part of the obligation by completing the project on schedule and efficiently.
He said it was remarkable the institution implemented the project without resorting to outside contractors. This consequently reduced the total cost while affording the students and staff the opportunity to put into practice what they are learning in the classroom, the SRSG emphasized.
He disclosed that more students could now be admitted into the Polytechnic with the additional building adding that over the next five years about 1000 additional graduates would have been produced. He called on students of the Polytechnic to see the new facility as a challenge, and assured of UNAMSIL"s support in the Sierra Leone's post-war development plans.
The SRSG also thanked the Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Polycarp Azigie, who accompanied him to Kenema, for facilitating the release of five lecturers from Nigeria for the Polytechnic under the Nigerian government Technical Aid Corp program. He said more lecturers would be coming later.
Speaking earlier, Dr. Bockarie said some ex combatants including females would be using the building. "The most effective and efficient reintegration model is one that encourages ex-combatants to go to school," the Principal said.
He thanked the SRSG for his commitment to the school and said he had offered more than his fair share of commitment to our cause. "Even though he is a civilian, the SRSG has contributed so much in bringing an end to a military war," he said.
The Minister for Eastern Region Sahr Filli Faboe had earlier reminded the SRSG of the chieftaincy title that was bestowed on him a week ago. That title, the minister said, meant the whole people of the East now look up to him for direction.
The SRSG and his entourage which included UNAMSIL Chief of Civil Affairs Ismael Diallo were then given a tour of the new building. Deputy Director of Education South, Paul Joe Lappia represented the Minister of Education. Also present at the ceremony were the Polytechnic Council Chairman, Prof. Nat. G. Kuyembeh and Mayor of Kenema Town Council, Chief Brima Kargbo.
SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE COMMISSIONS PROJECTS IN PORT LOKO
The SRSG, Ambassador Adeniji, yesterday, 6 February, commissioned two schools undertaken by UNAMSIL peacekeepers in the northern town of Port Loko.
At the Port Loko Teachers College, where he commissioned a three-classroom block built by Nigerian Battalion (NIBATT 12) peacekeepers, the Special Representative said the gesture "does not just reflect an African tradition but is also the best tradition of the expanded concept of peacekeeping operations organized by the UN."
Describing the building as a worthy legacy, the Ambassador Adeniji said Sierra Leone needed all the contributions that can make it elevate itself from its rank at the bottom of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)'s Human Development Index. He acknowledged that friends of Sierra Leone such as NIBATT were ready to help but admonished Sierra Leoneans to make their own contributions.
He thanked officers and men of NIBATT 12 for the project and said the building would open more opportunities for students who would not have been admitted for lack of space.
UNAMSIL Sector West Commander, who is also head of the Nigerian contingent in Sierra Leone, Brig. Gen. Steve Guar, earlier stressed that the job of a peacekeeper was not just to keep peace but also to maintain it. Maintaining peace, Brig. Gen. Guar added, involved winning the minds and souls of the people. He said it was the desire of Nigeria to see Sierra Leone stand again and promised that in-coming Nigerian battalions would follow the tradition of their predecessors.
The Commanding Officer of NIBATT 12, Lt. Col. Audu Baba, said the gesture was their token of appreciation to a college that has hosted them for nearly a year. Lt. Col. Baba traced the history of the relationship between the Teachers College and the Nigerian battalions and disclosed that Nigerian troops from the Economic Community for West African States' Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) had stayed in the college before UNAMSIL moved in.
The Principal of the College, Ibrahim Bangor, expressed appreciation to NIBATT and promised that the building would be used for its intended purpose. While commending NIBATT 12, the principal said "it takes people with courage to lay their lives for other people." With increasing school enrolment, Mr. Bangura noted that the new building was constructed at the right time.
The Special Representative, accompanied by UNAMSIL Force Commander Gen. Daniel Ishmael Opande, the Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Polycarp Azigie, and other UNAMSIL staff, was taken on a conducted tour of the new building.
Meanwhile, at the handing over ceremony of the Bangla-Sierra Friendship School, Ambassador Adeniji said the Bangladeshi Signals Company (BANSIG 2) had made a noble effort. He told people who had gathered to witness the event that they must ensure that the sacrifices made by the Bangladeshi peacekeepers were not wasted by careless use and vandalism.
The Commanding Officer of the BANSIG 2, Col. Asifu Hossain, said the facilities were their own contribution towards uplifting the standard of education in Port Loko. The Special Representative, the Force Commander and the Sector West Commander later handed over furniture, school uniforms and the school complex, before planting trees in the school compound.
UNAMSIL DEPUTY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HANDS OVER REHABILITATED ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES IN KOINADUGU
The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance and Stabilization, Mr. Alan Doss, yesterday handed over three newly rehabilitated district and local administrative offices in Kabala and a community meeting centre in Affia Village in the northern district of Koinadugu.
Speaking at a ceremony held in the town of Kabala to mark the hand over, the Deputy Special Representative congratulated the people for progress made last year which, he said, included the holding of national elections as well the just completed paramount chief elections. Emphasizing the need to maintain the office buildings, Mr. Doss stressed that "it is what happens inside the buildings that is most important."
The Deputy Special Representative assured the gathering that the UN would continue to assist the district through the rebuilding of district councils, magistrate courts and a communications centre. He also encouraged the people of Koinadugu District to mobilize themselves in support of UN's efforts and urged Sierra Leoneans to be united and learn to settle their political differences peacefully.
The administrative buildings were rehabilitated by the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) with funds provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Community Meeting Centre, which was also funded by UNDP, was rehabilitated through a stop-gap programme that targets demobilized ex-combatants with the Affia Community and Agricultural Development Association as the implementing partner. The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Coordination Section of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) facilitated the project.
Mr. Sidique Brima, the Minister of Local Government and Community Development, who also attended the occasion along with, among others, the Resident Minister for the North, Mr. Alex Kargbo, announced that the outstanding paramount chief elections in the Wara Wara Yangala district will take place shortly.
At a similar function to officially hand over the Community Meeting Centre in Assia Village, Mr. Doss, stressed the importance of the project, explaining that it brings together ex-combatants and other community members to rebuild their community. He expressed the hope that other villages would follow Affia's example.
ACTOR MICHAEL DOUGLAS VISITS SIERRA LEONE TO FILM UN DOCUMENTARY ON CHILDREN
United Nations Messenger of Peace and Academy award-winning actor Michael Douglas left Sierra Leone on Wednesday, 5 February, following a five-day visit during which he filmed a UN documentary on child soldiers and reviewed progress made since the end of Sierra Leone's 10-year conflict. The documentary, a collaboration of the United Nations Department of Public Information and the New York-based RCN Production Company, is part of a 10-series programme on United Nations Themes.
During his stay in Sierra Leone, from 31 January to 5 February, Mr. Douglas visited the eastern diamond town of Koidu in Kono District, where most of the filming was done, and the eastern district of Bo and Port Loko District in the north.
Prior to his departure for Kono District, the American actor, accompanied by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Operations and Management, Mr. Behrooz Sadry, paid a courtesy call on President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah at the Presidential Lodge in Freetown. President Kabbah thanked Mr. Douglas for taking time out from his busy schedule to film the documentary and also to see for himself the current situation in Sierra Leone. He explained that it was important for the world to know the sufferings of children and how the world must play a role in ending the use of children as soldiers. President Kabbah also disclosed that he was a "big fan" of Mr. Douglas and has seen many of his movies.
In Kono, Mr. Douglas was given a briefing on the situation in the area by UNAMSIL's Commanding Officer for Sector East Brig. Gen. Ijaz Awan. The actor said he was impressed by the "tremendous humanitarian and developmental efforts" by UNAMSIL peacekeepers and the non-governmental organizations, adding that he was amazed how the people of Kono have rebounded from the conflict and have begun to rebuild their lives and the district. Mr. Douglas spent the next three days, from 1 February to 4 February, in Kono and remote villages in Bo and Port Loko filming segments of the documentary.
Upon his return to Freetown on 4 February 2003, Mr. Douglas attended a dinner party hosted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, and attended by Government and UNAMSIL officials. Before his departure from Freetown yesterday, Mr. Douglas, accompanied by Ambassador Adeniji and UNAMSIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande, flew to Hastings, about 25kms east of Freetown, to inspect containers of destroyed weapons collected by UNAMSIL during the disarmament period. The weapons will soon be converted into agricultural tools for the ex-combatants.
At a press conference held in Hastings, Mr. Douglas was introduced by the Special Representative as one of the eight UN Messengers of Peace who have devoted their time to issues that affect children worldwide. The actor commended UNAMSIL for its outstanding work in helping bring peace to Sierra Leone, adding that as a UN Messenger of Peace, it was his honour to bring attention to the plight of children.
Thank you, Masimba. I would just like to draw your attention with regards to Côte d'Ivoire. The Security Council at a meeting held this week on 4 February 2003 has adopted a resolution on the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. I just received the text from New York and I would be happy to make copies available after the briefing. With regards to activities of Michael Douglas in Sierra Leone, we have obtained a bio of Michael Douglas if you're interested. We are now ready to entertain questions.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Q: Can you update us on the security between the border of Liberia and Sierra Leone?
Major Kelvin Mutti: Regarding the security of the whole country, UNAMSIL has taken into consideration all the loopholes which will make the peace fragile. On the borders with Liberia, we have a deployment of UNAMSIL troops supported by air patrols and ground patrols almost on a daily basis. To strengthen the Sierra Leone armed forces, we have a battalion deployed in the eastern province to safeguard the border area. Regarding the security situation in Freetown, we have security organizations which works hand in hand with UNAMSIL and Sierra Leone Police.
Q: Do you see the situation in Liberia as a threat to the security of this country?
Maj Mutti: If the borders are left porous the problems going on in Liberia can easily spill over into Sierra Leone. As you are aware, we are still building on the peace that's just been founded.
Yousef Hamdan: If there are no more questions, we hope to see you next week.
UNAMSIL Headquarters, Mammy Yoko, P. O. Box 5, Freetown, Sierra Leone Tel: 232-22-273-183/4/5 Fax: 232-22-273-189