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Middle East: Annan announces members of fact-finding team on Jenin refugee camp

Middle East: Annan announces members of fact-finding team on Jenin refugee camp

Kofi Annan and Martti Ahtisaari at today's press briefing in New York
Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland, will head a fact-finding mission mandated by the United Nations Security Council to develop accurate information regarding recent events at the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced this morning.

In addition to Mr. Ahtisaari, who served in various high-level UN posts over the course of his career, the team will comprise former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata and Cornelio Sommaruga, former President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). General Bill Nash of the United States will serve as Military Advisor while Thomas Peter Fitzgerald of Ireland will be the team's Police Advisor.

"The fact-finding team will start its work without delay," Mr. Annan told a news conference in New York. "It will first assemble in Europe this week and then travel to the region as quickly as possible."

The Secretary-General said the parties should assist the team in gathering information. "I expect the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate fully with the team and provide full and complete access to all sites, sources of information and individuals that the team will consider necessary to meet in the exercise of their functions," he emphasized.

Mr. Ahtisaari, who was present at the Secretary-General's news conference, declined to speculate on the team's work, but stressed that members would "go after all the necessary information."

Asked about the criteria for the selection of the team members, the Secretary-General said he had tried to put together a team with considerable experience. "The members of the team are highly respected and independent," he noted. "I hope that I have put together a team that everyone would accept as competent and the best that we could have put together."

Asked about Israel's position, Mr. Annan said the country's authorities had pledged to cooperate with anyone he dispatched to look into what happened in Jenin, and that they said they had "nothing to hide."

To a question on why military and police advisers were accompanying the team, the Secretary-General stressed that the team had nothing to do with his recent call for sending a multinational force to the region. Rather, he said, "it is important to have someone who understands how military campaigns are mounted to be able to guide and work with the team… for them to have an appropriate understanding of what might have happened." The police advisor, he added, could consider issues of crowd control and related matters.

On the timetable for the team's activities, the Secretary-General said it was too soon to predict how long the work would take. "We first have to go to Jenin and then determine what needs to be done and make an assessment of how long it will take," he said, adding, "We would want to get the facts as quickly as possible."