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United Nations Daily Highlights, 03-08-21

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From: The United Nations Home Page at <> - email:






Thursday, August 21, 2003


Secretary-General Kofi Annan met this morning with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, with whom he discussed the security situation in Iraq and what needs to be done to strengthen security and continue UN operations following Tuesdays bomb attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.

They also discussed Liberia, where, the Secretary-General said afterwards, we are making progress, both on the political and the military front, and reviewed the situation in the Middle East, to ensure that the parties stay on track with the implementation of the Road Map.

Asked by reporters afterward about any expanded UN mandate in Iraq, the Secretary-General said that, regardless of the differences that existed before the war, the stability of Iraq should be in everyones interest. He said it was possible, given an amount of work and negotiations, to achieve a consensus in the Security Council on Iraq, warning that an Iraq that is destabilized, an Iraq that is in chaos, is not in the interest of the region or the world, and we do have a responsibility to ensure that.


The Secretary-General spoke with UN staff in a special meeting this morning to share the sorrow and shock experienced at the United Nations since the Tuesday bombing. He said that the images of UN colleagues being carried out on stretchers from the Canal Hotel, and the memories of the friends that have been lost, have left the UN staff bewildered and numb.

He said, We, whose work is so wrapped up in the tragedies of others, now face one of our own. The ache in our souls is almost too much to bear.

The Secretary-General told the staff in Baghdad, Your work has been a source of great inspiration to all of us, and most of all to the people in Iraq.

Books of condolences in memory of the UN staff who died in the attack will be placed on the second floor of the General Assembly building, for the diplomatic community to sign, and in the south lobby of the Secretariat building, for UN staff to sign. Another book of condolences will be available for visitors to the United Nations and the public at large in the visitors lobby of the General Assembly building.

[Asked about whether insurance was provided in the case of the Baghdad attack, UN Security Coordinator Tun Myat later said that the United Nations had the appropriate hazard insurance.]


The Secretary-General on Wednesday briefed the Security Council in closed consultations about the Tuesday bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad, and told them that the bombing marked one of the darkest days in the history of the United Nations.

He told the Council that an intensive review to determine what is required to ensure the security of UN staff in Iraq has begun, but added that it is equally essential that a general environment of security be created in Iraq.

The Security Council then adopted a Presidential Statement in a brief formal meeting, unequivocally condemning the terrorist attack and its perpetrators, and expressing its deepest admiration to all the UN personnel who had lost their lives or been injured in the service of the UN and the Iraqi people.

After the Council meeting, the Secretary-General attended a candlelight vigil in honor of the staff who had died or been injured in Baghdad and told the gathered staff, Sometimes it seems as if it were a dream, and we would wake up; I wish it were. But the best way to honor the UNs fallen and wounded colleagues, he added, is to continue the work they had begun, with the clear determination to do what the UN is in Iraq to do.


The UN Security Coordinators Office says that, as of midday, 22 people are believed dead from the attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad. [Security Coordinator Tun Myat later said that the death toll had risen to 23 when one of the injured had died.]

The breakdown is as follows 18 bodies have been identified, including 10 UN international and five national staff. Two other bodies have not been identified, and another two people are missing and believed dead.

Earlier reports mentioned the figure of 23, but it was learned that one staff member who was believed dead was indeed alive and had made contact with her family.

Work continues to identify both international and local staff who may have been killed.

Asked about an earlier assessment of security in Iraq by UN Security Chief Michael McCann, the Spokesman said he had nothing to suggest that any assessment by McCann had been inadequate. Although the security threat was deemed to be Iraq-specific, he said, security concerns have been heightened throughout the UN system.

Asked about reports that Sergio Vieira de Mellos plane had been shot at in Iraq in the weeks prior to the attack, the Spokesman said he had seen the report but was unable to confirm it.

Asked to compare the toll in Baghdad with the one suffered in the 1996 attack in Qana, Lebanon, the Spokesman said the latter was an attack on a UN compound where the victims were Lebanese refugees, in which some 100 Lebanese people died. In Baghdad, he said, what was unusual was that it was an attack on a UN headquarters facility, with a high toll of UN casualties.


The Security Council this morning began an open meeting on Iraq. Council members heard briefings by the ambassadors of the United States and the United Kingdom. Council members responded to the briefing with statements.

Consultations on Iraq are scheduled this afternoon at 3:30.


Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the acting head of the UN operation in Iraq, briefed the press in Baghdad today to inform them that, with some UN personnel traveling outside Iraq for medical treatment or stress counseling, the total staff numbers, which were at about 300 at the time of the Tuesday bombing, will be at about 200 as of this weekend.

More staff will be rotated into the country as others come out, and he affirmed that, although administrative support may now be handled outside Baghdad, the core work the United Nations is doing in Iraq will continue.

Asked about security concerns in Baghdad, Lopes da Silva said that the United Nations is an open organization, and cannot be divided from the people that it serves, which entails a certain level of vulnerability. He said that he was unaware of any exchange, however, about any UN refusal to accept a stronger US security presence.

Asked how the United Nations would do its work with staff being pulled out, the Spokesman said that some personnel would be rotated in to replace those who are departing. In addition, the UN system is exploring whether some staff could work outside of Iraq, with the World Food Programme, for example, discussing moving some of its administrative functions elsewhere.

The Spokesman noted UN facilities nearby, including Amman, Jordan, and Larnaka, Cyprus, which could be used as alternative sites for non-essential work.

In terms of office space in Baghdad, the Spokesman said that the Canal Hotel was rendered unusable by the bombing. The United Nations was looking into having some staff work at a nearby tent city, while others might be moved to a recently-vacated UNHCR facility where the lease had not expired.

Asked about Lopes da Silvas comments regarding his lack of knowledge of any U.S. offer for security being rebuffed by the United Nations, the Spokesman added that the United Nations has no record of any exchange with the U.S. authorities of an offer of security that had been turned down. He noted the Secretary-Generals comments that the United Nations would have to reassess its security in Iraq and would need the coalitions help.


The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the sharp escalation in violence in the Middle East. While recognizing the right of Israel to live in security, Israel does not have the right to resort to extra-judicial measures, as it used today in the Gaza Strip.

The Secretary-General calls upon the Government of Israel to exercise restraint and to halt its current military actions, so as to enable the Palestinian Authority to take the necessary steps to bring extremist groups under control and ensure the truce continues. He urges the Government of Abu Mazen to act rapidly to that end and expresses his strong concern at the announcement that Hamas has renounced the truce.

The Secretary-General continues to believe that security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians can best be achieved through the political process set out in the Quartets Road Map.


The Secretary-Generals Special Representative in Liberia, Jacques Klein, today met with an 11-member UN assessment team, which had just arrived at the airport.

The team was dispatched by the Secretary-General, who has been asked by the Security Council to submit recommendations for the size, structure and mandate of a UN force to support a transitional government and to assist in the implementation of a comprehensive peace agreement for Liberia.

On the humanitarian front, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) went on a mission Wednesday beyond Monrovia to get a clearer picture of displacement and humanitarian needs in areas outside the Liberian capital.

UNHCR joined an inter-agency mission to Tubmanburg, a town about 50 kilometers north of Monrovia, where an estimated 20,000 people have been displaced amid the recent fighting. UNHCR says the displaced have been surviving mainly on cassava leaves and palm cabbage, and are in desperate need of food, health care and sanitation. The local hospital is empty, with all the medicine and equipment looted. Makeshift medical facilities have been set up at a nearby church.

The World Food Programme continued distribution to some 9,000 displaced persons, bringing the total number of people reached with food aid this week to 45,000. UNICEF and its non-governmental partners continued their operation to chlorinate some 3,000 wells around Monrovia.

In Monrovia itself, security is still problematic, with daily reports of looting, carjacking, rape and burglary.


WHO/FAO TEAM TO PROBE POTENTIAL PRESENCE OF SARS: A team of experts from the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization has been sent to China to assist the Chinese Government in designing further investigations into the potential presence of the SARS coronavirus in animals and its transmission to humans. The experts will present their findings today to the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Science & Technology.

BUDGET: Saudi Arabia today completed payment on its $7.5 million dues to the regular budget, becoming the 99th Member State to pay its dues in full for this year.


In the Spokesmans Office, we waited with dread for news of our colleague, former Spokeswoman for the Secretary-General Nadia Younes, who was serving in Baghdad as Sergio Vieira de Mellos chief of staff.

Her name was on a list of people who were to have attended the meeting Sergio was having at the time of the explosion. Officially, she was listed as missing yesterday, but no one had heard from her in 24 hours.

That no one would hear from Nadia for 24 hours was unthinkable. She had exuberant friendships. Her throaty laughter could be heard three offices away. And one of the things that endeared her to everyone was that she could find a funny angle to any story.

As External Relations Director the World Health Organization, she had a hand in coming up with the name for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The doctors at WHO wanted to call it Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Nadia added the Severe. Its redundant, she quipped, but we couldnt call it ARS.

She could also laugh at herself. As Kofi Annans Chief of Protocol, she once introduced the President of Burkina Faso to the Secretary-General as the President of Burundi. The Secretary-General, of course, knew the difference and warmly greeted the President. Once Nadia was out of the room, she roared with laughter. Do you realize what I just did? she laughed, eyes wide with mock terror.

Reporters may remember the years she spent in the Spokesmans Office as deputy to Spokesman Francois Giuliani under Javier Perez de Cuellar and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. And perhaps they were lucky enough to attend one of the ad hoc and raucous after-hour gatherings in that office.

Among her many assignments was one as Spokeswoman for Bernard Kouchner when he was head of the UN Mission in Kosovo. A local staff member who used to drive her around remembered how much she liked to listen to a Puccini aria while in the car to help her relax. The driver has sent an audio tape of that aria, Nessun Dorma, sung by Pavarotti, to some of her closest her friends around the world, as his message of condolence.

Yesterday, we received confirmation that Nadias body was retrieved from the wreckage. To her family and to all her friends, and particularly to her colleagues here at the UN, the Spokesmans Office sends sympathy, but also, to Nadia, a salute of respect.

  • The guest at the noon briefing was UN Security Coordinator Tun Myat, who discussed security conditions in Iraq.

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    Tel. 212-963-7162 - press/media only

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    All other inquiries to be addressed to (212) 963-4475 or by e-mail to:

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