11 April 2003

Emergency Relief Coordinator Voices Sorrow Over Death of ICRC Staff Member in Iraq; Also Expresses Concern for Missing NGO Staff

NEW YORK, 10 April (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) -- In a statement today, Kenzo Oshima, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, expressed his sorrow at the news that Mr. Vatche Arslanian, a delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was killed in Baghdad while carrying out his duties on 8 April. He extended his sincere condolences to Mr. Arslanian's family and to the Red Cross as they cope with their terrible loss.

Paying tribute to Mr. Arslanian and the work being done by humanitarian personnel in Iraq, Mr. Oshima said, "Mr. Arslanian's death underscores the dangerous circumstances in which aid workers bring assistance to people in need, and the bravery they exhibit in so doing". Concerned with the plight of all civilians placed at risk by military actions in Iraq, Mr. Oshima called on all parties to the conflict "to strictly abide by their obligations under international law to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel".

Mr. Oshima also noted with concern that two humanitarian personnel from the non-governmental organization (NGO) Médecins Sans Frontiers are missing in Iraq. The statement said that Head of Office of Médecins Sans Frontiers' for Iraq, Mr. Francois Calas, and Ibrahim Younis, a logistician, have not been heard from since they disappeared in Baghdad on the evening of 2 April. He called on the parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian workers the freedom of movement necessary for discharging their mandate.

Access to populations in need remains difficult for humanitarian organizations in Iraq, as law and order have broken down in many areas of the country, Médecins Sans Frontiers has been forced to suspend its operations and the ICRC has just resumed its own after a brief suspension. The United Nations humanitarian organization's aid distributions remain very limited, especially in the centre and south of the country. The United Nations remains concerned at the disruption of food, power, and water distribution systems and the threat that poses to civilians.

For further information, please contact: Stephanie Bunker (917) 367-5266 (New York).

* *** *