YOUSEF HAMDAN, CHIEF OF PUBLIC INFORMATION
PARTNERS IN PEACEKEEPING CONFERENCE OPENS IN SIERRA LEONE
A three-day conference of the United Nations and troop-contributing countries (TCCs) opened on Wednesday, 3 March, at the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in Freetown. In his opening statement, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, thanked the TCCs and strategic partners for their contributions which had brought peace to Sierra Leone.
He referred to the aims of the conference which among others include the following: to improve the operational readiness of the African infantry battalions in UNAMSIL; to enhance the implementation of the UN Security Council mandate in Sierra Leone; and to identify steps to continue improving cooperation between the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and troop-contributing countries in the provision of logistics. Delegates have been drawn from troop-contributing countries, DPKO and UNAMSIL.
He remarked that a mission could not achieve peace by having sound logistic arrangements alone, but that success depended to a great extend upon the right mandate of the UN Security Council, total commitment and strong leadership and followership which should be responsive at all levels. He paid glowing tributes to the Force Commander, his deputies, successive sector commanders and other colleagues for the success of UNAMSIL in spite of initial lack of logistics or its inefficient delivery.
Ambassador Adeniji said that the conference would offer an opportunity to share ideas on the importance of logistics, the problems involved and how to overcome them. He called the attention of delegates to the withdrawal plans of UNAMSIL in accordance with the Security Council resolution 1436.
The Special Representative said that UNAMSIL's withdrawal plans involves "a risk assessment exercise based on the current and projected security situation" in the country. "It is rigorous in its approach. It does not prevaricate in its recommendations." Ambassador Adeniji spoke about the benchmarking system of withdrawal which UNAMSIL is pursuing, noting that when the benchmarks are not met or previous assumptions regarding the security situation prove invalid, "we are alerted to the problem and our plans are revised accordingly." He said that the Security Council would no doubt wish to take stock the drawdown process, the attainment of benchmarks, and the prevailing security situation before deciding on any adjustment to the timetable for withdrawal and in the final shape of UNAMSIL's exit and successor arrangements.
In his opening statement, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Mission Support in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Michael Sheehan, told delegates that the tasks of the conference were to review progress made thus far in UNAMSIL in order to improve the support provided to African troops and to capture important lessons learned in the process. Participants are also expected to identify the existing gaps that impinge upon the operational readiness of African troops and to chart the way ahead to address these gaps.
Mr. Sheehan reminded participants that in considering improvements, they had to think in terms of what the UN, the troop-contributing countries and other partners can do. This, he said, will also require consideration of the kind of changes, including legislative, that are needed. Mr. Sheehan also disclosed that of this year's top ten troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions, seven of them - Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Guinea - have troops in Sierra Leone.
Other speakers at the morning session included UNAMSIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande and former UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander and now the UN Deputy Military Adviser, Maj. Gen. Martin L. Agwai as well the UNAMSIL's Director of Administration, Mr. Steinar Bjornsson. Later in the day, the delegates visited peacekeepers deployed throughout the country in Lungi, Makeni, Magburaka, Hastings, Masiaka and Makite.
In a related development, UNAMSIL Force Commander and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Syed Athar Ali, held separate meetings with a number of military delegations attending the conference. These included the Nigerian delegation led by Maj. Gen. Samuel Asimota representing the Nigerian Army Chief of Staff, the Kenyan delegation led by the Vice Chief of the General Staff of the Kenyan Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. John Koech, as well as the Gambian delegation led by Chief of Staff Col. Boubaccar Jatta and the Gambian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Mr. Antuman Saho.
Addressing the conference during the closing session the Special Representative thanked the TCCs for having "worked so tirelessly to ensure the success of the conference." He however urged them to pay periodic visits to their troops deployed in missions "to help you appreciate the circumstances under which your troops are operating." This, he said, will also to help boost the morale of troops.
The Special Representative noted with satisfaction the "positive outcome" of the conference, explaining that "it allowed a lot of clarification to be given to a number of suggestions from TCCs and suggestions from UNAMSIL, which would form the basis of action for future peace support to the UN." He said the focus was on logistics for troops and how shortfalls and shortcomings particularly from developing countries could be addressed so that neither the mission nor troops suffer during the conduct of operations.
Ambassador Adeniji also thanked DPKO for taking the initiative to convene the conference which proved "very beneficial." He also disclosed that the TCCs agreed to hold similar conferences regularly.
Speaking to journalists following the conclusion of the conference, the Assistant Secretary-General for Mission Support in the DPKO, Mr. Michael Sheehan, said the UN and the TCCs agreed to have troops in missions who were "fully capable, fully prepared and fully equipped" to ensure successful operations. He said delegates paid particular attention to operations in Africa and drew lessons which will be used in future missions.
"We want to have peacekeeping operations that we can be proud of. We have work to do and we are committed to doing it in the best way we can," Mr. Sheehan said. On UNAMSIL's performance, the Assistant Secretary-General said the mission "has succeeded to date. We were challenged in 2000 but we rebounded in a very strong and clear manner. This [UNAMSIL mission] isn't over yet. We remain very vigilant and very focused."
Several senior UNAMSIL personnel also attended the conference, Deputy Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Syed Athar Ali, and the former UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander and now UN Military Adviser, Maj. Gen. Martin L. Agwai.
UNITED NATIONS ENLISTS PEACEKEEPERS IN SIERRA LEONE IN FIGHT AGAINST HIV/AIDS
In response to escalating HIV rates in Sierra Leone, the United Nations today launched a groundbreaking initiative to raise awareness among its peacekeepers and halt the spread of the epidemic in the country.
"The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is committed to working with our partners to support HIV/AIDS awareness among our peacekeeping forces," Assistant Secretary-General Michael Sheehan said during the launch ceremony in Freetown. "It is crucial that peacekeepers have the knowledge to protect themselves and the communities they serve."
The risk of HIV infection increases during times of conflict, and after more than a decade of civil war Sierra Leone is now confronted with an emerging crisis, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Infection rates were fuelled by the widespread rape and sexual exploitation during the social unrest.
The new joint UN action in Sierra Leone is designed to support national efforts to help the recovering country avoid a full-blown AIDS epidemic. The first step will be to determine what peacekeepers know about AIDS and sexually transmitted infections and their potential role in community outreach. They will then be trained in HIV/AIDS prevention, gender awareness and women's rights.
"Peacekeepers are uniquely positioned to educate communities and prevent HIV infection," said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji. "Armed with knowledge and skills, they can fight the war against HIV/AIDS and reverse the tide of infection."
There are more than 15,000 troops, 250 military observers and around 50 civilian police serving with UNAMSIL from some 37 countries, the largest peacekeeping operation in the world.
The programme will be coordinated by UNFPA, and includes UNAMSIL, DPKO, the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Centre for Migration and Health (ICMH).
GOVERNMENT OF SIERRA LEONE CONVENES NATIONAL RECOVERY COMMITTEE MEETING IN PORT LOKO DISTRICT
Sierra Leone's Vice President Solomon Berewa and the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance and Stabilization, Mr. Alan Doss, led a delegation of the National Recovery Committee (NRC) to the northern provincial district of Port Loko for an assessment of the district's recovery needs.
Speaking at a well-attended meeting at Port Loko Teachers' College, Vice President Berewa who chairs the NRC, said they had gone to the district as part of Government and donors' strategy to visit all districts and assess at firsthand their needs so as to be able to attend to them. He emphasized the resolve of Government and donor partners to help the country recover from the destruction of the war, and to embark on the path of sustainable development.
The Vice President expressed satisfaction at the restoration of Government authority to the district, whose pace he said was very encouraging.
At Malekuray in the Tinkatupa Maka Safroko Chiefdom, where the Deputy Special Representative, Mr. Doss, who is also the Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), led one of three groups of the NRC, the Paramount Chief, Bai Kaman Tonkon, told the delegation that his chiefdom was the least developed in the district. While expressing satisfaction at the presence in his chiefdom of the Deputy Special Representative, Mr. Tonkon said the lack of any health post, farming tools and the poor road network was making life difficult for his people.
Responding, Mr. Doss said the purpose of being in the chiefdom was because "we want to be sure that we come down to you, listen to you and know your problems". He stressed that once these problems are identified, solutions would be sought. He informed the Chief that another phase of the feeder roads project would be started soon in Port Loko district. Mr. Doss said a lot was being done by the Government, donors, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, but entreated the people to be patient, as it would take some time to achieve all the goals of national recovery. He also urged them not to wait for help from Freetown but to take the lead themselves.
The other two groups of the NRC visited Lunsar and Port Loko town and its immediate surroundings to see for themselves the areas' needs.
Following the field visits, the District Recovery Committee (DRC) presented the district's overall priority needs. The chairman of the DRC and also Member of Parliament for the area, Mr. Osman Kanu, told the meeting that the Government and its partners "are working assiduously to ensure recovery in the district."
He said that as a result of the war, some chiefdoms were left with only one primary school and one trained teacher. They lack any secondary school he went on. Mr. Kanu also spoke of the lack of adequate health posts and the poor road network, which he said had rendered some chiefdoms inaccessible. He said even in those areas where a few health posts existed, there were no trained health workers or drugs.
Mr. Kanu said food self-sufficiency was needed but could hardly be attained with the current agricultural situation in the district. He called for the empowerment of farmers, which he said would enable Port Loko district feed three-quarters of the entire country.
The delegation of the NRC included Government ministers and their deputies, including from the ministries of health, education, economic planning and agriculture, heads or representatives of several UN Agencies, the European Union, DFID, International and national non-governmental organizations.
FORCE COMMANDER REVIEWS MILITARY EXERCISES IN KAMBIA, SWEDISH ARMY GENERAL PAYS COURTESY CALL ON HIS DEPUTY
UNAMSIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande visited the northern district of Kambia on 6 March to review a two-day security training exercise organized to test the effectiveness of the Force Headquarters reserve.
The exercise involved the "B" Company of Ghanaian Battalion 6 based in Lungi and the Sierra Leone Police. The Officer Commanding the company briefed the Force Commander on the security situation in the area and the aims and objectives of the security training exercise.
Later in the day, addressing the recently deployed peacekeepers of the "B" Company of the Nigerian Battalion 16 based in the area, Lt. Gen. Opande commended them for their performance since joining the mission in February this year. He urged them to continue the good record set by their predecessors so that the peace in Sierra Leone could be sustained. The Force Commander also expressed satisfaction with the existing cooperation between the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) and the Sierra Leone Police.
Meanwhile, the Commanding Officer of the Swedish Army Command and Staff, Brig. Gen. Hakan Espmark, today paid a courtesy call on UNAMSIL's Deputy Force Commander and Chief Military Observer, Maj. Gen. Syed Athar Ali, at his offices in Freetown. The commanding officer is in the country at the head of a three-man delegation to familiarize themselves with the security situation in Sierra Leone.
The Deputy Force Commander welcomed the delegation and informed its members that Swedish military observers were doing "a wonderful job" with UNAMSIL and contributing immensely to the mission's peacekeeping and peace-building activities. He said since UNAMSIL's military observers were drawn from more than 30 countries, they were obliged to cooperate fully in order to achieve the Mission's objectives.
On the status of internal security, Maj. Gen. Athar said that the situation had greatly stabilized apart from the external security threats posed by continued fighting in neighbouring Liberia. He stressed that the Liberia conflict is one of the benchmarks of UNAMSIL's adjustment, drawdown and withdrawal plan and remains a major cause for concern. He said recent offensives by the rebel Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) had resulted in large movements of refugees and returnees crossing over into Sierra Leone. These, he said, also included Liberian Government soldiers who surrendered to the RSLAF.
The Deputy Force Commander stated that the forces surrendering were especially those whose lines of communication and re-supply routes have been cut off, forcing them to cross over into Sierra Leone in search of food. He also informed the delegation of the Government of Sierra Leone accomplishments to date in restoring its authority throughout the country, but also indicated that a lot still needs to be done. Maj. Gen. Athar assured the delegation that his teams of military observers were closely monitoring and reporting on these activities on a daily basis.
UNAMSIL DEPUTY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE AND JAPANESE AMBASSADOR VISIT PROJECT SITES IN KONO
The Japanese Ambassador to Ghana and Sierra Leone, Mrs. Kazuko Asai, accompanied by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance and Stabilization, Mr. Alan Doss, on 1 March visited project sites in the eastern district of Kono funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Japan.
Officially launching the Kuyedondoya Carpentry Training Centre at Yengema which caters for some 65 ex-combatants, the Japanese Ambassador said her country was interested in the development of Sierra Leone hence the donation of more than US$3million in May last year towards its rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Citing her native country, which she said had once been destroyed by war but had now been rebuilt and is among the most developed in the world, Mrs. Kazuko Asai said that Sierra Leoneans should not despair. She said the rebuilding of Japan was accomplished largely by the people of Japan themselves and encouraged Sierra Leoneans to rebuild their country.
Speaking at the launch, Mr. Doss, who is also the Resident Representative of the UNDP, thanked the Government and people of Japan for contributing to the UN's Human Security Fund. He said the Fund was important for the rebuilding of communities as it was for the reintegration into society of the former fighters.
He said the ex-combatants were both victims and perpetrators of the war and should help rebuild the communities destroyed by the war. While appealing to the locals to accept the former fighters into their midst once again, Mr. Doss called on the ex-combatants to make the best use of the project as "this opportunity may never come back again."
He said the Human Security Fund is a good scheme for Kono and other districts in the eastern province, but added that "donors cannot do everything." "The locals too are needed," he said. He went on to say that he was looking forward to the day when Kono people would be as rich as the land was with minerals.
The delegation also visited the Ansarul Islamic Primary School at Simbakoro just outside Koidu where two six-classroom structures with an office, a store, a hand pump and a public toilet are being constructed with funds from the Human Security Fund. The buildings are part of five project sites with nine buildings in the Kono district being constructed by World Vision International with funds from the Human Security Fund. The others are at Koquima, Sedu, Kwakor and Yardu.
Speaking at Simbakoro where several children had lined up the streets to welcome the delegation, Mrs. Asai said children are the future of every society and full of tremendous potentials. She however said these potentials could only be tapped with good and quality education.
The delegation also visited the Koidu Government Hospital where Peace Winds, a Japanese non-governmental organization had constructed a hand pump. The head of UNAMSIL's Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Coordination Section, Mr. Mitonga Zongwe also accompanied the delegation.
NIGERIAN PEACEKEEPERS DECORATED WITH UN MEDALS OF HONOUR
The SRSG Ambassador Adeniji, and UNAMSIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande, on 28 February decorated 1,464 Nigerian peacekeepers, including 84 officers, with United Nations medals of honour.
Addressing the gathering at a colorful ceremony held at the Hockey Pitch Wilberforce Barracks in Freetown, the Special Representative said that Nigeria's record in peacekeeping operations was "highly acclaimed". He said the country's role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone, which goes back to the days of the Economic Community for West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), has earned it special gratitude in the hearts of Sierra Leoneans.
Ambassador Adeniji urged the officers and soldiers of Nigerian Battalions 13 and 14 to protect this legacy jealously which their predecessors worked hard to attain. He advised the peacekeepers to live up to the expectations of good conduct which had earned them the medals. UN medals are awarded to peacekeepers who complete 90 days of service without committing an offense.
After the medal parade, guests were entertained with some traditional dances and cultural performances. There was also a tug of war match between the Nigerian contingent and soldiers from the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), which was won by the Nigerian team.
The Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Polycarp Azigie, UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander Maj. Gen. Syed Athar Ali, the UN Deputy Military Adviser and former UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Martin Agwai, and several senior UNAMSIL military officers also attended the medal parade.
Mr. Yousef Hamdan: I'd like to welcome Ms. Kula, the social development officer at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, who will also brief us on the activity of the ministry with regards to International women's day. But before we turn to the International Women's Day, let's give the floor to Major Yusuf, our Military Spokesman.
Maj. Ali Yusuf: Let me take this opportunity to debunk the story in The News today. This story that came out is misleading. The commanding officer of PAKBATT 4 in Zimmi successfully completed his tenure in this mission and has returned to Pakistan. The said reporter stated that the said officer collected some amount of money and refused to do the work. It is not so. The said reporter even said he attempted to call the office, the phone kept ringing and nobody picked up. If you have any problems, you come to us and we give you a reply. It does no good for the peace of this country for you to go into the press and publish something like this. We all know all the efforts the peacekeepers made in this country toward the peace we're having now. Let me also mention the humanitarian activities of the various battalions and contingents are purely the contingent's responsibility. UNAMSIL headquarters does not contribute anything. Last week, the Bangladeshis made repairs on Magburaka road. They also constructed a school in Port Loko. There are many such activities which the peacekeepers have done in this country. Thank you.
Mr. Hamdan: Thank you, Major. I hope that message is clear. The story is particularly repugnant because it doesn't even have one side of the story. There are no sources there. It claims that it attempted to contact the Public Information Section at number so-and-so and they put a number and then corrected it by hand, which is supposed to be the switchboard. And I don't know any journalist here in Freetown who does not know the number of the Public Information Section, which shows you the malicious intention to tarnish a battalion. It is especially repugnant because that particular battalion and all the contingents in Sector East have been funding all the humanitarian projects that they are doing out of their own pockets. It is so unfounded that nobody paid money from any source not even the UNAMSIL accounts in order for them to complete those projects. They did all these projects and continue to do so as well as any other contingent from their own money. So there is no room for misappropriation of funds. I hope that you keep that in mind when you report on this. We will demand a retraction of this false and malicious article from that newspaper. Now let's turn to something more serious, International Women's Day. I'd like to give the floor to Theresa from the Human Rights Section.
Ms. Theresa Kambobe: I'll just give a brief of what the International Women's Day is and then I'd ask Kula to talk about some of the activities that had been lined up which has already been happening in Sierra Leone. I'll let her talk about the function we have today at Mammy Yoko which has been organized by UNIFEM.
I hope all of us know what International Women's Day is. It's normally observed on 8 March worldwide. I'd like to believe that we're part of the global village. We observe it in Sierra Leone as well. It's an occasion marked by women's groups where they commemorate women's experiences, women's achievements. Women used this day to reflect on what they have done and to look at the way forward. The UN General Assembly celebrates this day to recognize that peace and social progress require the active participation and equality of women and to acknowledge the contribution of women to international peace and security. To the women of the world, the occasion is held to review how far they've come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. This is very relevant to Sierra Leone, a country which went through 10 years of war, and we all know what the women and children of this country went through.
When we are talking about issues of inequality, we just don't talk from without, we talk from statistics and it's important for you to know that women are the poorest of the poor. If you look at some of the statistics in Sierra Leone alone, you'll find that the illiteracy rates are higher for men than for women; for men it's around 38%, for women it's 19%. It definitely doesn't show us that men and women are equal in Sierra Leone.
In recent decades, much progress has been made. We had participation of women in presidential politics. Women's access to higher education and proper health care has increased. Their participation as paid labor force has grown. Legislation that promises equal opportunities for women and respect for their human rights has been adopted in many countries. But much more needs to be done especially in Sierra Leone. We have a lot of women participating as policy makers in Sierra Leone. Today we're told that more women are participating as cabinet ministers in parliament, but since women constitute the majority of this country, there should be more women participating at that level.
So we cannot therefore claim that all women have the same rights and opportunities as men. The majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor are women. On average, women receive about 30% less pay than men for the same work. Everywhere, women continue to be victims of violence. We all know what happened to women during the war. Rape and domestic violence are significant causes of disability and deaths among women of reproductive age worldwide. I will not continue to catalog the statistics. I just wanted to give you an idea that equality is very farfetched for the time being.
International Women's Day is being celebrated under the theme "Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals". In Sierra Leone the theme is "Women Prevent HIV/AIDS: Care for those Affected", also one of the millennium goals. I hope that all of us remember what the millennium goals are. These were goals agreed upon in September 2000 when 147 Heads of State and government met and agreed to a ground-breaking set of time-bound and measurable goals and targets. There are eight millennium goals and they deal with issues of poverty and hunger, universal primary education, promoting equality between women and men, reducing infant mortality, reducing maternal mortality, reversing the spread of diseases especially HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability, and creating a global partnership for development. These are issues we're grappling with in Sierra Leone today. We are trying to ensure that we mainstream gender in all these activities. Mainstreaming gender means that when we're talking about health, we all must look at how it is impacting on women and men differentially. Thank you very much.
Ms. Kula: I'm here to discuss with you planned activities for the International Women's Day celebration. We have set up a task force comprising line ministries, civil society groups and UNAMSIL. We agreed that our national theme will be "Women Prevent HIV/AIDS: Care for those Affected". Why did we decide on such a theme? HIV/AIDS is a pandemic at a global level and as such, having attained peace in Sierra Leone, we realize that the sustenance of peace would depend on a large scale on a healthy national population. Looking at the trend of HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone, it is but realistic that we face the fact that HIV/IDS is a reality, and as such women stand the greatest risk of transmission. Therefore we will call on women to stand together and prevent this pandemic. I'll now go over the calendar of activities.
On 1 March, there was a football match. We decided it was as good a forum to bring out sensitization messages concerning the issue. The ministry and its partners put out messages intermittently while the game was ongoing. Then they distributed condoms during half-time. Our second activity was the feeding of HIV victims and other vulnerable groups on 2 March. On 3 March, there was a public hearing on violence against women. It was quite interesting, a sort of rehearsal for the TRC. It was the first time in the history of our country when women and girls publicly announced that they were raped or gang-raped. Following that we had a public lecture on the theme conducted at the national stadium. We had a group of students from various schools and members from civil society groups. A lot of issues were raised on HIV/AIDS.
On 5 March, there