Press briefing 13 March 2008.
PRESS BRIEFING TRANSCRIPT - NEAR VERBATIM
13 March 2008
Ali Hamati, Press Officer:
Good morning and welcome to this first press briefing of UNAMID, the joint African Union - United Nations missions in Darfur. UNAMID is a new mission – just 74 days old – for one of the world’s most vexing problems, and amid one of the world’s most challenging environments. Our goals are laid out in
Resolution 1769 of the UN Security Council. They boil down to two main elements: Peace for Darfur, and the Protection of its peoples.
UNAMID has established a press office to work with you on the story of Darfur, its humanitarian plight, and the search for peace. Photos and TV feeds from Darfur are already available on a near daily basis; our English-language website (http://unamid.unmissions.org) is up and running and Arabic content will be following soon. In addition we have telephone numbers for both Arabic and English-speaking
press queries. These are +249 (0)9125 38390 for English; and for Arabic +249 (0) 9125 38389.
Both numbers are already working and the Arabic number will be fully staffed within a week or two.
Adrian Edwards, Director, Public Information:
UNAMID’s current deployment status is at around 25-30 percent. We have more than 7000 troops and 1250 civilians on board. In addition there are over 1,600 police officers from 32 different countries. A priority at this early stage of the mission is to build trust and acceptance by the community, and increase protection of civilians. UNPol (United Nations Police) has been conducting regular patrols and working to develop community policing activities.
UNAMID’s Force Commander, General Agwai, has also been engaged in discussions with the different factions. The latest meeting took place earlier this week (9 March) with SLM/Unity in El Hoosh.
At full deployment, the mission will be composed of almost 20,000 troops, more than 6,000 police and a substantial civilian component. At full strength, UNAMID is expected to be the world’s largest peace operation.
UNAMID – together with UN agencies and NGOs – has already begun facilitating the voluntary repatriation of 8,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from El Daein (South Darfur) to South Sudan. The operation, which started last week, is expected to last until the end of April. The IDPs, of Dinka origin, fled to Darfur during the North-South conflict. UNAMID military and police have been conducting patrols and securing their movement.
UNAMID’s Egyptian contingent is starting deployment this week with the arrival of an advance team of 72 people and accompanying equipment. The first company consisting of 158 people is expected to arrive later this month.
As some of you may know, there have been three security incidents of note involving UNAMID personnel since the mission started. The first and most serious was on January 7 when a supply convoy en route from El Fasher to Um Baru, Tine, and Kutum, was attacked by Government forces. The second was an incident on March 8 in southern Darfur when a night patrol from Shaeria Force experienced gunfire in the Salam area. There were no casualties and UNAMID has received an explanation and apology. And the most recent was on 9 March when a joint UN mission to Jebel Muun had to leave the area because
of fighting in the vicinity.
UNAMID takes any attack on our personnel extremely seriously. And indeed the Secretary-General himself condemned the January 7th attack. We will continue to raise all such cases with the parties responsible as they occur.
Questions and Answers
Q: How many casualties were there from these security incidents? And can you comment on General Agwai’s reported remarks that UNAMID will remain for 10 years or more?
A: On the questions of casualties, as you may know, a person was wounded in the attack in January. There have been no UN casualties in subsequent incidents. We are seeing patrols and convoys – not just UNAMID convoys – being stopped.
Darfur presents a difficult security environment and it will take time to build the trust necessary to get about our business. On the question of 10 years or more [Question referring to BBC report following
interview with Force Commander General Agwai], General Agwai made it clear that we are here to achieve our job – however long that takes. We are not unrealistic about the difficulties of working in Darfur but we have a clear mandate which stresses helping Darfur achieve peace and protecting civilians. We are here to do that job and we are not putting a time limit to it right now.
Q: Will UNAMID help Sudanese journalists?
A: Part of the reason we are here today is to aid our understanding of the media’s needs and main areas of interest. The Sudanese media is without doubt one of the most important groups that we hope to be working with. We hope that soon you can come to Darfur to see for yourselves the situation. And we are exploring ways to facilitate that. I can assure you that this Mission has your interests at heart.
Q: (Reuters) We have a report that JEM rebels attacked Government forces yesterday afternoon near El Geneina. Can you confirm that? Can you also brief us on the general security situation in the west in terms of your access in the area and level of security for your troops? Is the Status of Force Agreement – is that running smoothly now?
A: The situation in the west has been very much on our minds over the past weeks and I’m sure you are familiar with the various statements we have made on this [by the Joint Special Representative, Force Commander, Resident Coordinator and Secretary-General]. The situation of civilians remains of great concern to us. Since the March 9th incident in Jebel Muun we have not had access to the area and that
obviously impedes our ability to know exactly what is happening on the ground. We have stressed before our concern at the risks to civilians – and we appeal to everyone to put the interests of civilians first. On the SOFA, it will likely take some time before people are fully aware and can really understand what it means and what its implications are.
Q: [No Translation Available]
A: I am not aware of any UNAMID assistance for people returning from Chad . On the second part of your question, regarding military helicopters: At the moment we do not have the helicopters we requested. But UNAMID is on the ground, it is building itself, and it is in business. That is really what is important to understand. When you come to Darfur, you will see a new UN mission that is growing by the day. We are busy developing our relationships there with all actors so that there is an understanding of our presence. We are not waiting for full deployment to begin our work.
Q: Since there is no access in Jebel Muun, does that mean that the situation in that area is deteriorating? How is UNAMID protecting civilians?
A: The fighting of the past month is clearly a deterioration of the situation in West Darfur and we want that to be reversed. How are we protecting civilians? This is a crucial question for this mission, especially when we are only at about 1/3 of our full deployment. We are adapting and working with the numbers that we currently have. One aspect of protection which rarely gets the attention that it deserves is the work of UNPol. UN police women and men are present every day working amid the communities, and trying to build communal policing. This protection is already happening. There are also the political aspects of protection. We make our views on the need to protect civilians clear to any who will listen. We are putting protection of civilians at the center of our interactions with all players.
Q: The BBC this morning reported that the Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the anti-government factions in Darfur have opened a big market in Chad where property that has been looted from civilians and NGOs are being sold. Can you confirm this? If not, can you form a fact-finding committee to clarify this?
A: We do not have any information about that market nor am I in a position to give a public commitment to what UNAMID might do in response to it. Let’s try to establish the facts about that then we will all be in a better position to act.
Q: Has UNAMID failed to protect people?
A: In every country the foremost responsibility for the protection of civilians lies with the state itself. On UNAMID’s responsibility, people need to understand that peace in Darfur will not come from the blazing barrels of a gun; the solution has to be political. The presence of peacekeepers in Darfur is intended to assist that process.
Q: [Not audible / Regarding meeting between General Agwai and faction leaders]
A: At the moment we are looking at trust-building meetings but I do not have furtherinformation at this time.
Q: Shouldn’t the UN mission be on the border with Chad? What about the SOFA?
A: Our mission acts in accordance with UN Resolution 1769, which exactly defines what we can or cannot do. The SOFA agreement is in effect. Now we have to move from ‘agreement’ to ‘implementation’. It will take time and we are not yet at a point where we can give you a complete assessment of how well it is working. In general, we are having good cooperation.
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