Sierra Leone

UNAMSIL Press Briefing 14 Feb 2003

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YOUSEF HAMDAN, CHIEF OF PUBLIC INFORMATION

Welcome to today's briefing. Let me first announce with sadness that today is the last briefing we have with our military spokesman Major Shekari who has spent one whole year with this mission. Let me take the opportunity to express our appreciation and thanks to Major Shekari for his hard work and excellent service throughout the year. And I am sure you would all join me in wishing him the best of luck and the best of success on any new assignment he is going to take on. At the same time let me welcome Major Ali Yusuf, who's going to be the military spokesman as replacement for Major Shekari. Both Major Shekari and Major Yusuf are here with us and they would be happy to entertain your questions. Let me first ask Masimba to give you the news items for today.

Masimba Tafirenyika: HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN CÔTE D'IVOIRE RISKS FURTHER DETERIORATION - UN ENVOY

The humanitarian situation in Côte d'Ivoire is extremely serious and risks further deterioration unless the parties on all sides of the conflict moved quickly to implement the peace accord signed two weeks ago in Paris, the top United Nations envoy for the crisis in that country said yesterday.

Having just returned from her five-nation assessment mission to West Africa, Carolyn McAskie told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that although President Laurent Gbagbo issued a statement accepting at least the spirit of the Linas-Morcoussis Agreement, "we are currently waiting to see if the rebels will in fact take that as full implementation of the accord and come to the table."

"At the moment, they are not yet accepting to come back to the table," said Ms. McAskie, the Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy for the Crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. "We are very concerned about the breakdown of society in the country, and my sense is that even should the peace accord suddenly jump into life, it would take months if not more than a year to stabilize the population and the country."

Recalling that her mission - with stops in Liberia, Guinea, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali - also examined the effects of the Ivoirian conflict on neighbouring countries, Ms. McAskie said the fighting has been characterized by attacks on so-called foreigner nationals of other West African countries living and working in Côte d'Ivoire. "Those people, some of whom have lived and worked in Côte d'Ivoire for generations, have now fled because of the fighting," she said, adding "we're talking about 200,000 or 300,000 people, and the numbers are growing."

Ms. McAskie said that even in Government-controlled areas, life was not very easy for Ivoirians. "The current attitudes on the Government side are not acceptable," she said, recounting troubling incidents highlighted in the report of the recent fact-finding mission to the region by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. Those included attacks on shantytowns, harassment by police and harassment by young vigilantes who had been authorized by the Government for "self-defence" of certain areas.

After such a brutal conflict and serious tensions that spread through the whole West African region, there was no guarantee that people would just go back to their homes, she added. "We'll have to help the country reconstruct a lot of its services." She said the funding is not where it should be and she will shortly be making a humanitarian appeal for more donor support. Follow-up on the economic impact of the crisis will also have to be undertaken.

UNAMSIL AND SIERRA LEONEAN ARMY CONDUCT BORDER PATROL IN KAMBIA DISTRICT

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) on 8 February conducted their first joint border patrol in the northern district of Kambia along the border with Guinea. The patrol is an initiative of UNAMSIL's Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande and the RSLAF. It was the first significant operation of its kind involving UNAMSIL and RSALF forces in that border area of the country.

A platoon of the Kenyan Battalion (KENBAT 8) peacekeepers based in the town of Masiaka, and a platoon from the RSLAF's Force Reconnaissance Unit jointly planned and conducted the patrol, which lasted for three days.

The joint border patrol was a great success and it exemplifies a mutual cooperation between UNAMSIL and RSLAF.

PAKISTANI HEAD OF MILITARY INTELLIGENCE VISITS UNAMSIL

The Director-General of the Military Intelligence of Pakistan, Maj. Gen. Tariq Majid, yesterday completed a three-day visit to Sierra Leone during which he visited Pakistani peacekeepers serving with UNAMSIL deployed throughout the country.

During his stay, Maj. Gen. Tariq visited various projects being undertaken by the Pakistani contingent in support of Sierra Leone's humanitarian and developmental needs. In the eastern district of Kono, he visited the Koidu Community Centre, the Women Skills Centre, the Ansarul Islam Mosque and the Pakistani Friendship School in the town of Yengema, just outside Koidu, where he addressed the school's faculty members and the students.

The Director-General told local residents that the Pakistani contingent would "leave no stone unturned" in working towards the welfare of the Sierra Leoneans, adding, "We intend to do for you much more than what we are doing at the moment."

In his series of addresses to Pakistani peacekeepers, Maj. Gen. Tariq urged them to maintain the highest standards befitting a professional army and to assist their Sierra Leoneans brothers and sisters in consolidating their hard-won peace. While in Hastings, east of Freetown, he also took the opportunity to celebrate the Eid-ul-Adha with the peacekeepers on 11 February during which he was joined by the Commander of the Pakistani Contingent and UNAMSIL Sector East Commander, Brig. Gen. Muhammad Ijaz Hussan Awan in praying for the unity and well being of Sierra Leoneans.

Before flying back to Pakistan, the Director-General paid a courtesy call on UNAMSIL Force Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Opande at his offices in Freetown. The Force Commander expressed his satisfaction on the performance of Pakistani troops in peacekeeping operations and their initiatives in launching various humanitarian projects throughout the country.

Yousef Hamdan:

Let me add briefly two items I received from New York Headquarters this morning. The first one: The Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette launched yesterday the decade for literacy for all. I have a copy of the statement made by the DSG.

The second item: The Secretary-General is very keen on strengthening the cooperation bet the UN and civil society around the world. Yesterday, he announced that he will put together a panel of eminent persons on relations between the UN and civil society. The panel is to be headed by the former President Cardoso of Brazil and will have eminent members from Mali, Mozambique, the Philippines, South Africa, Colombia, India, Jordan, Hungary, the US, Sweden and Iran. You'll get a copy of the text before you leave. Now I'd like to open the floor for any questions.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:

Q: Can you brief us on the situation in Liberian border?

Major Galadima Shekari: I'm sure you are aware of the hostilities across the border on the Liberian side. There's been an influx of refugees fleeing from the trouble spots. What UNAMSIL and RSLAF is undertaking is a stretch survey of the border area to identify specific areas that the insurgents could use to cross over to Sierra Leone. The aim is to ensure that does not happen. Now we have said time and again that although it's the responsibility of RSLAF to secure the borders of Sierra Leone, for as long as UNAMSIL remains and has a well-armed, well-equipped Force, we want to assure you that we will not fold our arms and watch the security of this country be interfered with or threatened. It is in this regard that the joint UNAMSIL-RSLAF patrol was considered necessary. This will let us know the trouble spots and the appropriate action to be taken to curtail insurgent influx.

Mr. Yousef Hamdan: The refugees are moving naturally from trouble spots and the UNHCR with the help of UNAMSIL vehicles and trucks taking care of the refugees who are crossing the border.

Q: Can you give us a figure on the number of refugees?

Maj Shekari: The report we got from MILOBS in the field is that hundreds of refugees are fleeing from trouble spots in Liberia.

Q: What are the necessary modalities that have been put in place to ensure that these refugees are safe?

Maj Shekari: UNHCR has a responsibility to secure refugees fleeing trouble spots anywhere. The UNHCR itself cannot venture into the trouble spots but whoever has managed to cross into safety, it's the responsibility of UNHCR to rescue them to the nearest refugee camps in the country which they have been doing through the years.

Q: I would like to take this opportunity to call on one of my colleagues, since we have our very good friend, a man who has worked with us, a very very simple man whom we've been told is going. Whenever we wanted to meet him, he was ready to talk to us. I want to call on Mr. Clarence Roy Macaulay to give a speech on behalf of us here.

Mr. Clarence Roy Macaulay: First of all I must say that it came as a shock to learn about the departure of Maj. Shekari, especially since there'd been no advance information that he's leaving. I hope it's not part of the adjustment, drawdown and withdrawal plan. Anyway we take comfort in the fact that there's been a replacement. Now the role played by Maj. Shekari... He's been a very, very useful tool for many of us, I can say this freely. He knows the rule of briefing pressmen - you have what you say officially, and you have what you say unofficially; what is official is attributed, what is unofficial is unattributable. At the same time, for us journalists there are times we need to go behind the official version to get the reality on the ground. In that respect, he's been very, very useful and helpful to many of us.

You were a journalist. No wonder we had very little difficulty in dealing with you. I must say that we have appreciated the role you have played in conveying the military aspect of UNAMSIL to us. You really acquitted yourself well not only as a UNAMSIL spokesman in general but as a Nigerian military personnel in particular. I personally take note of the role each country's troops play in the mission. So rest assured that you're leaving the mission having distinguished yourself well as far as we journalists are concerned. And it's only left for us to wish you well in your next assignment. I hope you're not going to the Gulf under a new mission. Anyway, on behalf of my colleagues I wish you well and hope that someday we meet again. Au revoir.

Maj. Shekari: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I must express my sincere appreciation to all of you for the noble job that we have shared together, one complete year today. Soon as a leave here, I concede the responsibility of military spokesman to my dear friend and colleague who is also a trained journalist. He was the spokesman for the Nigerian premier military institution in Kaduna, the Nigerian Defence Academy. Like I said to the chief this morning, he's certainly coming here on merit. I want to assure you he will not only fit into the shoe but improve on its beauty.

Now on professional ethics, I want to please prevail on the gentlemen of the press to be cautious at times in our reporting. Drawing from the example in Nigeria, one small press report that an editor could otherwise overlook can spark up a very great disturbance; the result you may be familiar with. If it requires clarification, come to us because whatever is on paper is what the ordinary man in the street takes as the truth. Whereas it is easy to print, it's not easy to retract a story because various interpretations would be given: is it that the person who wrote it is under pressure to deny it? Is it that the people who are being reported are now being ridiculed? We don't want a situation where the peace that we had fought so hard for will be jeopardized by a small newspaper report. I look forward to meeting some of you anywhere else, anytime. Thank you very much.

Mr. Hamdan: Thank you Maj. Shekari. You could tell he is a professional journalist because he appreciates the noble role of the press in society and I'm sure you will respond to his appeal that you do respect your important role. Now I'll ask our new military spokesman to say a few words.

Maj Ali Yusuf: I wish to take this opportunity to introduce myself to all of you and just to reemphasize what Maj. Shekari has said. Journalism is a noble profession and each and everyone of you have a noble duty to your country. When reporting on security matters, one has to be careful because you have to take into consideration the implication of what you're writing on. UNAMSIL has been known, even before I came here, for the good work they've done here. I wish all of us will work together to keeping this good work. I wish you all the best in your professional duties as journalists. And I wish to assure you at our end we will give you the full cooperation. But bear in mind that apart from reporting you are doing a professional duty as journalists and journalists are always known to be noble and they're always gentlemen.

Mr. Hamdan: Until next week I wish you all a very good weekend and a good week ahead.

UNAMSIL Headquarters, Mammy Yoko, P. O. Box 5, Freetown, Sierra Leone Tel: 232-22-273-183/4/5 Fax: 232-22-273-189