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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Blast at Hotel That Houses U.N. Headquarters

Aired August 19, 2003 - 10:10   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are getting word that Sergio Vieira De Mello, a U.N. special representative to Iraq, was among the many people wounded in this blast. Here's a picture of him right here. De Mello is a 55-year-old Brazilian, a long-time U.N. hand. He was tapped to be the U.N. high commissioner for human rights in September of 2002. He was founder of the U.N. mission in post-war Kosovo and the regional humanitarian coordinator for the Great Lakes region of Africa. He is among the wounded. We're going to follow on his condition.
Also Ronnie Burke, U.N. producer. He's in New York. He joins us now to give us an update on the headquarters here, what exactly takes place in the headquarters, and also possibly anyone else that may still be inside?

Ronnie, what do you know?

RONNIE BURKE, CNN PRODUCER: Kyra, it's a little bit chaotic right now at the U.N. headquarters only in terms of the flow of information. They're in meetings waiting to get feedback from people in Iraq from the headquarters there in Iraq. Fred Eckhart, the U.N. spokesman, told me that he was -- Sergio was wounded. They weren't certain how badly he was wounded, but that he is being given water and appears to be conscious. There's another report on the wires that he may have been pinned down by wreckage. We don't know. We're waiting for more information.

Sergio is -- everybody calls him at the U.N., is extremely well liked, as you said, a long-time U.N. diplomat, very sophisticated, but able to put on a beautifully tailored suit and get in Army fatigues and go into East Timor, the most difficult regions of the world -- Kosovo. He's a very accomplished diplomat. This is a big blow for the U.N.

PHILLIPS: Tell us, Ronnie, about the U.N. headquarters here in Baghdad. Kind of give us a feel for the type of employees, the type of operations that take place inside this building, and why possibly a suicide bomber or a car bomb in this area attacking this building would make such an impact on the reconstruction of Iraq.

BURKE: Well, the U.N. is looked at as the bridge between the external community and the U.S. forces. I mean, this is something that a lot of U.N. members, a lot of countries have wanted to increase, the prominence and the respectability of the mission, so they say. They want the U.N. to play a stronger role there. This has always been the case among the diplomats, to make it less of a U.S. operation, and more of an international operation. The U.N. has provided that sense of legitimacy for a lot of members of the U.N.

And in this case, an attack on the U.N. headquarters is setting that whole momentum back. I think Kofi Annan wanted to be more involved in helping with the reconstruction of Iraq and rebuilding of Iraq, and this is going to set it back even more.

PHILLIPS: Ronnie Burke, our U.N. producer there in New York, giving us a bit of perspective.

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