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U.N. Press Conference in Baghdad

Aired August 21, 2003 - 08:04   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back to Baghdad. A lot of breaking news out there today. Chemical Ali has been apprehended by U.S. authorities.
This, apparently, is a press conference under way near the U.N. headquarters.

Let's listen.

ROMERO LOPEZ DA SILVA, U.N. SPOKESMAN: It's too broad of a question. You know that the perimeter was being protected by a platoon of coalition forces. So I don't understand, really don't understand the question.

QUESTION: The Americans want to beef up security and the United Nations said no, we don't really need it.

DA SILVA: I'm not aware of such an exchange.

QUESTION: Are you going to release your numbers here now?

DA SILVA: No more than the colleagues that have to go for medical or stress trauma counseling arrangements. We were about 300 in Baghdad on Tuesday. We will be about 200 in Baghdad as of Saturday on words and we have colleagues coming in as we speak, arriving now to start that process of rotating staff.

The secretary general said these will not deter the U.N. and we intend to continue as we were doing.

QUESTION: How many of the staff here have actually said that they wanted to remain? What is the rationale after such a big explosion?

DA SILVA: I take it it's mainly, it's a mixture, no? But some of it is dedication, commitment to this country and these people. Some of it is emotional motivation resulting from the incident. It's the people being driven by the incident. And we need to be very careful and manage those cases very careful, and that's what we are trying to do with the trauma counselors and the staff counselors.

QUESTION: What is it going to mean to have 150 less people here in terms of over running programs like...

DA SILVA: Not as dramatic as it stands. What we are doing, obviously it impacts on our productivity. What we are doing is fundamentally moving out of Baghdad temporarily administrative support functions, which we can perform from Amman or from Larnaca, where we have large bases without necessarily having them in Baghdad and having, and we keep in Baghdad what we call in the U.N. jargon the substantive staff, meaning program staff so the program delivery continues. It's the administrative support to us that slows down a bit.


DA SILVA: I'm sorry, I was getting a question from your colleagues. We have two missing from the U.N. Now, you know Canal was an open building. We don't know how many visitors we had inside the compound and this is why the engineers which are undertaking the removal of the debris are doing it in a way that we are able to retrieve if we find the remains of colleagues and visitors that we were not aware of.

QUESTION: So you don't still know how many people were underneath that rubble?

DA SILVA: We don't, cannot give you an exact figure. We have two colleagues, colleagues, we have two missing.

QUESTION: Can you tell us where you were at the time and what were you doing?

DA SILVA: I was inside the building. I was having a meeting. My building -- my office is across the corridor from where the blast took place, so the office collapsed. Myself and the colleague that were with me, we survived. We have minor, minor injuries.

QUESTION: How concerned are you about security now?

DA SILVA: We always operate in risky situations. We normally entrust our security, personal security, to the relation we build with the people we attempt to serve. So incidents like this one are really not part of our platform, of our framework of work. You cannot have a U.N. operating as normally U.N. operates if you want to protect ourselves from these kind of incidents. We will always remain a soft target and we are conscious of that. But that's the way we operate.

We are an open organization. We need to facilitate the access of everybody who wants to speak with us. We cannot create a divide between us and the people we attempt to serve. OK?

QUESTION: So you're in Afghanistan...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last question.

QUESTION: ... how would you compare the safety that you were basically operating under in Afghanistan and what you've been going through here? Is this a much more dangerous place?

DA SILVA: No, it's a different context. It's a different context. Until Tuesday, I didn't feel, notwithstanding the incidents we had on the road to Hillah, notwithstanding the incidents we had in Mosul, I felt we were not a target. I felt we were always at the risk of being at the wrong place, wrong time, of being a target of opportunity.

But I never felt personally or still being threatened. And I intend to continue along those lines as we were before last Tuesday.

QUESTION: Do you want to...

QUESTION: Are you going to ask for other or more American protection in the new headquarters?

DA SILVA: I don't think so.

QUESTION: It will be the same American amount of protection? It will be the same thing?

DA SILVA: I cannot give you exactly, because I still don't know what is going to be the next compound, how big is going to be the next compound. But I don't expect a presence of coalition forces bigger than the presence we had before.

QUESTION: Why not?


QUESTION: Are you bringing in U.N. soldiers to protect you?

DA SILVA: We have not discussed yet that option. Basically, it's not that we have anything against the coalition forces, responding to your question. But you do realize that the presence of coalition forces does intimidate some of the people we need to speak and work with. As I said, the United Nations is an open organization. We serve 27 million, if that's the figure, or 24 million, if that's the figure, of Iraqis. We are not here to serve a special group. So we are open to all the Iraqis and some of the Iraqis feel intimidated by the presence of coalition forces around our perimeters.

QUESTION: What's the latest on the investigation? Is there anything more you can share with us in terms of...

DA SILVA: No, no, no. That's being undertaken by the relevant agencies. It's not in my purview.

QUESTION: What is the motive? What do you think the motives are of the attack?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) type of immunity of the U.N. has been lifted, in a way. Do you think it's now a new era in how you're going to work?

DA SILVA: You know, Rym, I have been so busy getting this place organized, getting ourselves ready to resume operations on Saturday, I had no time to think those things through. But my immediate approach or response to you is we will always remain to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) (AUDIO GAP)

HEMMER: All right, we lost that picture there, a U.N. spokesperson right outside the headquarters there in eastern Baghdad. Rym Brahimi and a handful of other reporters taking their turn trying to get some questions in there.

A bit of new coming out of there, including this whole idea that two U.N. staff members are still listed as missing and whether or not they are inside that rubble is unclear, but that operation does continue.

This is videotape that came in just about 15 minutes ago. This is inside the U.N. headquarters. You can see the damage, not nearly as extensive in this part of the building as we've seen on the exteriors from a lot of the other videotape we've been watching now. But obviously quite a pounding for that building, both inside and outside of the bombing two days ago.

A bit of other news right now. You heard the question about whether or not coalition forces or the U.S. Army would give more security to the U.N. if they could reach an agreement. It was reported two days ago that members of the U.S. infantry division, the 4th I.D., had come into that area and give more protection. But it appears, based on what that spokesperson is saying there in Baghdad, that a lasting coalition security presence will not be the case.

The U.N. has stated quite clearly that they do now want Iraqis to make a connection between the U.N.'s mission there and what the U.S. military mission is in Iraq.

And also this whole issue about U.N. staff members, 300 as of Tuesday. The indications are now Saturday that number will drop about 33 percent, down to about 200.

Let's bring in Jane Arraf right now and try and pick up some more information from Baghdad -- that surprised me just a bit, Jane.

Have you heard about the numbers declining for the U.N. staff members that work there in Iraq?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, it's clear they will decline. At one of the hotels that U.N. people stay in today we saw a stream of people with their suitcases heading out to the airport. Now, U.N. staff members here have been told that obviously anyone who wants to leave, doesn't want to come back to Iraq after this horrifying incident, will not have to.

But the thing about numbers is we have to remember that a lot of the U.N. people are local staff. It's not clear whether in that reduction of numbers they were talking about, all of the people leaving -- it's not clear whether that number means as many people are leaving as we think, because, in fact, a large number of U.N. staff here are Iraqis.

But the interesting thing seemed to be that they were saying, the spokesman was saying that they will be operating a lot of these programs, it sounds like, from long distance, in Larnaca, Cyprus, and in Amman, Jordan. He had been saying that they would move the administrative functions to those places and essentially keep the top people outside of Iraq and let the program directors here run things -- Bill.

HEMMER: Jane, in a word or two here, we're watching some videotape inside the U.N. headquarters. What has been the U.N. mission in Iraq since the end of what the U.S. president considers military combat operations back on the 1st of May?

ARRAF: It's been a changing role. You'll recall that during all of the period under Saddam Hussein, after Iraq started selling oil under the Oil For Food program, it was the U.N. that was in charge. There were no diplomatic, no Western diplomatic missions here for the first few years.

That changed towards the end of the late '90s, but the U.S. certainly was not involved here, nor was Britain.

So the U.N. had a massive role here politically and in terms of the humanitarian program. It was responsible for food, medicine, pretty well everything.

That's changed somewhat, but it still has a huge impact, particularly in areas that haven't been receiving a lot of attention, haven't received a lot of aid. It has ongoing programs in terms of education, in terms of rebuilding schools, water and sanitation, almost every aspect of humanitarian life here. And it had been engaged in those.

It will continue those programs, clearly, but something has got to change when they're talking about moving their top people outside of Iraq and not having them come back -- Bill.

HEMMER: Jane Arraf in Baghdad, thanks, our bureau chief on the scene there.

A lot of news out of Iraq today. We'll get back to it in a moment.


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