A near verbatim transcript of the press briefing held by the Spokeswoman

and Chief of Public Information, Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainté in Asmara, via videoconference linking participants in Asmara and Addis Ababa. Present at the briefing in Asmara was the UNMEE Chief-of-Staff Colonel Mohammed Iqbal.


On 20 October, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG)/Addis Ababa, Azouz Ennifar, met separately with the US Chargé d’Affaires and the Director of the African Union Conflict Management Division. They exchanged views on the peace process.

On 21 October, in Asmara, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, conducted interviews with both the BBC World Service and UN Radio on the current situation in the peace process.  On the same day in Ethiopia, the DSRSG/Addis Ababa met with the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General of the President, Staff-Management Coordination Committee (SMCC), and separately, with the Head of the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

On 23 October, in Asmara, the SRSG, the Eritrean Acting Chief Representative of the Commission for Coordination with UNMEE, the UN Country Team Resident Coordinator in Eritrea, and UNMEE Senior Managers attended a football match between a local team and an UNMEE/UN Country Team squad in observance of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations.

On 24 October, in Asmara, the SRSG and UNMEE Senior Managers participated in a joint ceremony with the UN Country Team marking the UN’s 60th Anniversary. The simple observance was attended by among others, members of the diplomatic corps, Ambassador Ghirmai Gebremariam, Director-General of the Americas, UN and International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, as well as religious leaders, local NGO’s including the Chairperson of the National Union of Eritrean Women and members of the National Union of Eritrean Youth. On the same day, the DSRSG/Addis Ababa and UNMEE staff also took part in a similar event in Ethiopia, held in collaboration with the UN Country Team and the Economic Commission for Africa. The Acting Director-General of International Organizations and Economic Cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, Ambassador Mihretab Mulungeta, on behalf of the Ethiopian Government, addressed the gathering expressing solidarity with the UN on its special anniversary.  Earlier in the day, the DSRSG/Addis Ababa also participated in a panel discussion between UN Heads of Agencies, on the subject: “The Millenium Development Goals: Empowering the Poorest of the Poor”.   

On 25 October, in Asmara, the SRSG met with the Ambassadors of Egypt, Yemen and the Charge d’ Affaires of Sudan. They exchanged views on the current situation. On the same day, the DSRSG-Addis Ababa met with the Ambassador of India in Ethiopia, with whom he also exchanged views on the current developments in the peace process.

On 26 October, the DSRSG-Addis Ababa met with the Ambassador of Canada in Ethiopia with whom he exchanged views on the current situation in the peace process. On the same day, the SRSG traveled to Addis Ababa where he met with the Charge d’Affaires of the American Embassy and held discussions on the current developments in the peace process.



General Overview

The restrictions imposed by the Eritrean Government on UNMEE helicopters and night patrols inside the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) are continuing. Despite these restrictions, the general situation in the areas currently covered by UNMEE troops—that is, the continued monitoring of the remaining posts and camps in the Temporary Security Zone and Adjacent Areas–remains militarily stable. UNMEE conducted 815 ground patrols throughout the Area of Responsibility (AOR) in the past week. Meanwhile, the process of vacating the 18 remote camps and posts is in progress.

In all sectors, UNMEE peacekeepers continued to provide medical assistance to the local population, along with supplies of bulk water to civilian communities in the TSZ and the Adjacent Areas. Approximately 266,900 litres of water was supplied to the civilian communities during the past week.

Mine Action

No demining operations were carried out during the past week.

Meetings and Visits

In the past week, The Force Commander, Major General Rajender Singh, visited Sectors West and Centre. He also paid an official visit to the Addis Ababa Headquarters.


The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) continue to evaluate various possibilities for putting in place upgraded medical support in the field to enable demining operations to recommence at the earliest opportunity. UNMEE Headquarters is also working on upgrading medical support within the TSZ to ensure appropriate medical support can be provided in the event of any medical emergency. Currently, all operational demining activities remain suspended until further notice due to the Eritrean Government’s decision to prohibit all UNMEE helicopter flights. This restriction prevents the possibility of a helicopter medical evacuation in case of an emergency involving a demining accident in the field. No demining or unexploded ordnance (UXO) disposal operations have been conducted in the Mission since 5 October 2005.

Selected members of the recently arrived Kenyan Demining Company are continuing their training in the use of mine detection dogs and mechanical demining equipment under the instruction of the MACC civilian contractor, MECHEM. The training is taking place in a designated area at Shilalo in Sector West.

Two UNMAS consultants arrive in the Mission area on 28 October 2005 to carry out an ‘Implementer Analysis’ review of the UNMEE MACC programme. By examining the realities on the ground, the review will present options for future field-based mine action programme implementation–both in peacekeeping and non-peacekeeping environments–taking into account the need for cost-effectiveness, accountability, coherence, timeliness and flexibility. This analysis exercise was recommended in an audit performance of UNMAS carried out by the Office of Internal Oversight Service in 2004, which recommended the implementation of a “comprehensive cost-benefit analysis,” in regard to the role of UNOPS in supporting UNMAS field-based activities, versus the possibilities of utilizing peacekeeping missions or UNMAS itself to perform such services.


Questions and Answers

Question (Asmara): I have heard that the Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Anan, has sent a letter to the Security Council calling [on them] to put pressure on Eritrea to lift the ban. So what is the response of the Security Council to Mr. Anan’s call? Is there any final communiqué?


CPIO: As far as I know, the Security Council was expected to hold consultations yesterday. I have not seen a read-out on that, so at this point in time I do not even know if the consultations did in fact take place. We will check with New York as we usually do every day and find out whether there was a read-out or [whether] anything happened yesterday.

The Spokeswoman confirmed that the Security Council did hold consultations yesterday and a draft resolution addressing the situation in Ethiopia/Eritrea has been introduced.  No action however, has yet been taken on the draft.

Question (Addis): You said that the process to evacuate the troops from the 18 posts is in progress. How many soldiers are going to be evacuated from these posts?


Chief of Staff: As you know, we have decided to evacuate 18 posts and 1 Team Site. The evacuation will be a gradual process because we cannot leave those areas all of a sudden and just leave those UN properties behind. So those [outposts and a Team Site] are being phased out but, if you want to know the total strength [to be withdrawn], it will ultimately be something like approximately 300.

Question (Asmara): When you say “the general situation in the areas currently covered by UNMEE troops,…” can we say that the areas covered represents 40 percent of the whole TSZ?


CPIO: Yes, at this stage, that’s correct—40 percent that we can monitor and see what is happening.

Question (Addis): What social implications will the evacuation of the contingents have on the people of the surrounding areas—non-political, social implications?


CPIO: Those were basically remote areas in which we had patrols, but not necessarily where we were doing any humanitarian work, for example. So in terms of social impact, there will be no social impact, I think. For the soldiers, [UNMEE’s withdrawal from the remote outposts and Team Site] will make their lives a little safer because we are moving them into larger groups–in Companies–where they will be a little safer than they would have been in remote areas where we cannot reach them easily.  


Question (Asmara): I have a question for the Chief of Staff. Did I hear correctly that there were only 300 people working in those 18 posts?


Chief of Staff: I said that was the approximate [figure], not the final one. Once those posts are evacuated, we can give you the final strength [involved]. But as I said those [remote posts] are being phased out [gradually] because we cannot just walk out of those posts all of a sudden. So, if you just take it mathematically, 300 is just an approximation; [the strength involved is] likely to be more.

Question (Addis): On the press briefing notes today, you said that Azouz Ennnifar met with the African Union Conflict Management Division. My question is, has the African Union decided maybe to have a meeting on the situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia because it hasn’t happened so far?…

CPIO: Not that they have signaled to us. No. They are one of the Witnesses to the peace process and, if you recall, the SRSG has made several appeals for reengagement of the Witnesses [in the process.] So I think that appeal is also to the African Union and we await a response.

Question (Asmara): I understand there was a second incident where a Kenyan peacekeeper required medical evacuation but was unable to get it [is that correct?]… The second question is, could you give us an update on the positions of the various troop contributing countries where they stand on this issue specifically in terms of talks of withdrawing [from the Mission area]?


CPIO: Maybe I will take the last question first. I think, if you read the Secretary General’s notes to the Security Council, it is clear that both India and Jordan have expressed concerns about the safety and security of their peacekeepers here and they have met with the Council themselves and have expressed their concerns, which is reflected in the Secretary General’s letter to the Council. I think this is why he is hoping that the Security Council will respond to his appeal because it will be very serious for us if both India and Jordan withdrew.

Please note that the comment inadvertently attributed to the Secretary-General by the Spokeswoman as having appealed to both the troop contributing countries of India and Jordan to give the UN more time to resolve the helicopter issue before considering withdrawal of their troops, is incorrect and has been deleted from the briefing transcript.

Question (Asmara): Can you give us any kind of timeframe in terms of Security Council discussions, resolutions…?


CPIO: The Security Council is the master of its own affairs and we really have no control over its schedule. I think with the letter from the Secretary-General, my expectation is that they will meet soon. As to the first question, yes we did have a second Kenyan deminer who had to be medically evacuated because he had a medical situation that was extremely urgent. We appealed to the Eritrean Commissioner for Coordination with the Peacekeeping Mission asking him since we could not use our helicopter, if we could be allowed to use the Keren-Barentu road. We did not receive any response. We were told we could speak with the local authorities on whether or not we could use the Barentu-Keren road which would have been easier for the ambulance to bring the soldier here. The SRSG has also informed the Eritrean authorities, in light of the fact that they will not allow us to use our helicopters in an emergency–because he had asked previously whether we could be allowed [to use our helicopters] if we gave enough lead time notification in the event of medical emergency. We have not received a response to that request. The SRSG has therefore since written to inform the Eritrean authorities that under the Model SOFA, they do have responsibilities towards the Mission in the event of an emergency to undertake medical evacuation using their own air assets. And to date, again, we have not received any response. So in the case of this particular soldier we had to use the road that we normally use, which is a horrific road, and bring him by ambulance here. He arrived at midnight and, very luckily, was saved by the Jordanian doctors but it was a touch and go situation for him.

Question (Asmara): On the position of the Kenyan contributors, you mentioned India and Jordan but have the Kenyans said anything?


CPIO: As yet, the Kenyans have not said anything; but we are concerned that both of the medical evacuations (by road) have involved the Kenyans, so I do not think it would be a surprise if they expressed some concern as well.       

Question (Addis): About this Kenyan deminer, can you tell us what his condition was– what the extremely urgent condition was? Is that midnight last night when he arrived? And you said in your comment that you were told by the Commissioner to speak to the local authorities about using the Keren-Barentu road.  I am assuming they (a) either did not respond or (b) said no, which is why you brought him by the other route..


CPIO: I think it happened on Sunday (he took ill on Sunday) and he arrived at midnight on Monday. He had a hernia that was about to rupture. In terms of the question of whether we waited, we waited as long as we could wait because we were told it was a medical emergency. We did not receive a response; therefore, we had to go ahead.

Please note the corrected date above of the evacuation of the Kenyan deminer.

Question (Addis): Just a follow up, could the Chief of Staff tell us the size of the Indian, Jordanian and Kenyan contingents at present?

Chief of Staff: The Indians will be approximately from 1,000 to 1,100 and the Jordanians–who are also a contingent, a battalion–will be around 900 plus and the Kenyans–they are a company–and they should be approximately 250.

Question (Asmara): On today’s briefing I have noticed that different personnel and Ambassadors exchanged ideas about the current developments in the peace process on different occasions. Besides pushing [with regard to] these restrictions, what’ s being done on the ground to implement the main goal of UNMEE, which is facilitating peace or the peace agreement? Can you brief us about what is being done?


CPIO: As you know, whenever the SRSG is in Addis he briefs the Ambassadors on what is happening on the ground and, on this occasion, he will meet with them [as usual], specifically [yesterday] with the Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy. I am sure it is to brief the Charge on what is happening on the ground in the current situation. The DSRSG in Addis Ababa is new and he has been meeting several Ambassadors because the post was vacant for some time and he is just really getting to know the Ambassadors on that side and letting them know what is happening on the ground. That is basically what is happening with those meetings. As far as our mandate is concerned, I think the SRSG continues to speak with those who he hopes will be useful in helping to facilitate the process–that is, key members of the International community. I think he continues to do his best to address them at every possible turn to express his concern that the Witnesses be reengaged, that we look again at the situation of the peace process where we are and where we hope to go. But we are not the people [to move the process forward]. All we can do is, as you said to facilitate. We cannot move the process forward. The process has to be moved forward by the Parties, the EEBC, and the influential friends of both sides who can persuade them to move the process forward.

Question (Addis): I have two questions. One is for Colonel Iqbal: can you tell us at what stage is the process of vacating these camps? You said that approximately 300 troops would be taken out. Have those 300 already left or is that the total size? How close are you to vacating them?  And the second question is for Gail: you just said that the UN can’t push the peace process forward as you are reliant on the Witnesses, of the Algiers Agreement, the international community, etc. Do you think President Isaias’ comment that the UN  is effectively irrelevant now in terms of the peace process is justified?


Chief of Staff: The reasons for vacating those isolated posts is [that] those [posts] were under-strength. So the main criteria for the vacation of those posts is to [move the troops to] a relatively safer area where they can be grouped in larger sizes—this is [reason] number one. And number two, [this is our way of] addressing the issue of medical evacuation [in case of emergency, in the light of the helicopter ban issue]. About the time frame [for the withdrawal of troops], we have issued the instruction and the process is now going on, on the ground. The appreciation is also ongoing [as to] how they can be regrouped and we are in liaison with the civilian administration when they can evacuate their equipment or accommodations. So the final date [for completion of the phaseout of troops] has yet to be fixed, but we are in the process now. The process has started.   


Question (Addis): Perhaps I didn’t make it too clear. What I am trying to find out is that as of today, where are we at? These 300 troops you are talking about–have they all been pulled out? Is that the total number of troops that have been pulled out? When do you think this process of vacating these posts would be completed?   

CPIO: I do not know if I can make it clearer. What he is saying is that the 300 plus troops will not be withdrawn immediately altogether, all at once. They will be withdrawn gradually and that process has started already. The total number is 300 plus, because he is saying he will not be able to give you the exact figure until the withdrawal has been completed.

Question (Addis): Can you tell us when exactly this process started?

CPIO: It started immediately when the order was given. We will check the date and get back to you.

The Spokeswoman confirms that the instructions were given to the Force 17 October 2005 and took immediate effect.

Question (Addis): And can you tell us where these peacekeepers are from? Which particular contingent? Are they all Kenyan/Jordanian/Indian contingents?


CPIO: They’re a mixed group. The Chief of Staff said they are basically Jordanians and Indians in that group. On your other question, I think I want to differentiate between the UN and UNMEE because the question that I was asked by the journalist on this side was about UNMEE, not the UN, and there is a difference. Now we are talking about the UN as a body which is represented by the Secretary General. I think the Secretary General has responded to the remarks [of the Eritrean President] in his response to the letter of President Isaias, and he has in fact called on the Security Council “to exert its maximum influence” to avert further deterioration of the situation and to ensure that the restrictions imposed are lifted. He has also asked them to address what he calls “the underlying causes” of the stalemate–including those related to the Ethiopian position on the decision. So I think it is clear from the Secretary General’s statement to the Security Council what the UN is doing.    

Question (Addis): Presumably, UNMEE agrees with President Isaias that the international community, the African Union, the Guarantors of the Peace Process are not doing enough, which is why the SRSG is asking them to do more. Would that be a correct interpretation?

CPIO: The SRSG has said on several occasions that he has appealed to the Witnesses of the peace process to re-engage in order to move the peace process forward. So I think we can say that that is what he has said–that he feels more could be done by these main stakeholders.

Question (Addis): My first question may be answered by the Military staff. Is there any possibility that UNMEE can monitor the evacuated posts other than the helicopter patrol? And my second question is: can you “monetize” or give a monetary value to the difficulty created by the restrictions; does it cost UNMEE any additional budget?


CPIO: I do not think we have put a dollar amount on what it costs UNMEE, but I am sure there are costs. [particularly related to the helicopters not being in use] I think the costs that are most apparent are the risks that we run of somebody not being evacuated on time, and dying because of this situation. I think that is the largest risk that we run and that is more important than whatever [costs] we may be incurring. Risking of the life of any peacekeeper, I think, is much more important and that for us is [a] key [consideration] at the moment. In terms of whether we can monitor, yes we can still monitor some of these [remote] areas from our current positions. I think the Force Commander made this clear, he said that it would be extremely difficult and we could not do it on a regular basis. The Chief of Staff has more to add.  

Chief of Staff: After the helicopter ban, we have increased our vehicle patrolling. We have vacated those [remote] posts, and the basic aim of closing down those 18 posts is the safety of the contingent members, so that they can be grouped in a larger fashion. But from those [new] locations, the posts we have vacated can still be monitored. But [with the] helicopters, the monitoring capability would multiply.

Question (Addis): But the vehicle movement is restricted to the main roads…

Chief of Staff: No, our movements are not restricted on the main roads. We can move within the TSZ anywhere.

Question (Addis): What more do you think can the international community do?


CPIO: What the International Community can do has been made clear by the Secretary-General. He has given them the challenge to meet to make sure that, one, the ban is lifted and, two, that he appreciates at the same time that the stalemate has caused some frustration and he has said in his letter that it would be “imperative” for the Council–and I think the word imperative is key–as the main principal organ interested with international peace and security, to address the underlying causes of the stalemate. He has called for both “concerted and resolute action” by the Council. I think that is a major challenge to the Council right now, and I do not think there is anything else that I can add to that at this point in time. I think we have to wait and see how the Council responds.

Question (Addis): I was actually thinking outside the Security Council; the African Union and perhaps the diplomatic community here and in Asmara, what can they do? What can the African Union do? What would UNMEE like to see the African Union doing that they are not doing now?

CPIO: The SRSG has said that so many times now, that his feeling is that the Witnesses should re-engage [in the process]–that they should meet, that they should talk, and that they should find some ways of coming up with ideas that can move the process forward. He has said that on several occasions, and I do not think I can add to that. Whenever he has met with the diplomatic community on both sides he has reminded them of his appeals and his hope is that, now that they are looking at the current situation, that perhaps they will be galvanized into action.

Question (Asmara): As a follow-up to that, what do you think are the obstacles to[the Witnesses’] re-engagement to this further talking?


CPIO: I have no idea what the obstacles are. I think you have to ask that of the International Community and the AU–what do they see as an obstacle [to re-engagement in the peace process]?


For further enquires please contact: Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainte, Spokeswoman/CPIO, Public Information Office, UNMEE Headquarters Asmara,

Telephone: 291-1-150411- extension 6O17

or our tie-line in New York:   00-1-212-963-3779-Ext 6144

or UNMEE Headquarters Addis Ababa, telephone: 251-1-726895 extension 7059.

UNMEE Website:http://www.unmeeonline.org

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