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UN's Jenin fact-finding team set to be in Middle East by week's end - Ahtisaari

UN's Jenin fact-finding team set to be in Middle East by week's end - Ahtisaari

Martti Ahtisaari speaking to the press
A United Nations fact-finding mission initiated by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and welcomed by the Security Council to develop accurate information regarding recent events at the Jenin refugee camp is expected to be in the Middle East by the end of this weak, the head of the team said today.

"We have started our work," Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland, told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York. "We are heading today to Geneva with those team members who are coming from here. And I expect to meet the rest of the team in Geneva during the day tomorrow."

Mr. Ahtisaari, whose appointment as head of the team was announced by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday, stressed that he was focusing on the job defined by the Security Council resolution 1405.

"I have been asked to look into the whole Jenin question," he said. "What that will require, I will do whatever is needed. And what is, I think, more important at this moment is that we have been assured of the full cooperation of the Israeli authorities."

According to Mr. Ahtisaari, the mission was planning to start out by meeting with the Israeli authorities and then with the Palestinians. "Out of sheer courtesy I should perhaps start with the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister and continue from there," he said. Asked about a meeting with Chairman Yasser Arafat, he said, "I'm sure that that will be in the cards."

During his encounter with the press, Mr. Ahtisaari was accompanied by one of his team members, retired United States General Bill Nash, whom the Secretary-General described as a military adviser when he had named some members of the mission at a news conference on Monday. Asked about the reported complaints by Israel that General Nash was not a full member of the team, Mr. Ahtisaari stressed that the role of the General "is going to be crucial in the sense that we are dealing primarily with the Ministry of Defence."

"When I met the Secretary-General for the first time, before we heard of any complaints, I told him that I'm a very inclusive manager… so my idea is to have both General Nash and Commissioner [Thomas Peter] Fitzgerald [the Police Advisor] as part of my team, and indeed the others who are joining me as well."

For his part, General Nash, who has considerable experience working in conflict areas, said he was "deeply honoured that the Secretary-General has demonstrated confidence in me to ask me to participate in this mission, and I look forward to serving him and President Ahtisaari."