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Discussion With U.N. High Commissioner Jose Diaz

Aired August 19, 2003 - 10:14   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, we would like to get some comment from some other people affiliated with the U.N. who may also know quite well this U.N. official there, who may have been seriously, very seriously, injured there in this bombing, in the rubble of this building here in Baghdad.
Joining us on the telephone now is Jose Diaz. He is with the United Nations, and he is in Geneva.

As I understand it, Mr. Diaz, you actually have spent quite a bit of time working with Sergio Vieira De Mello.

JOSE DIAZ, U.N. HIGH. COMM. HUMAN RIGHTS: That's correct. We worked with here in Geneva with Mr. Vieira De Mello. He is, in addition to being the special representative of the secretary general to Iraq, he's also high commissioner for human rights based here in Geneva.

HARRIS: What can tell us Geneva has to say about this building being targeted and these U.N. representatives being targeted?

DIAZ: We're just deeply shocked and outraged by this despicable act today in Baghdad. We're looking at the information as it's coming out of Iraq, and it's hard to express just how the shock and sadness that we're feeling right now. These are our friends and colleagues, people we work with on a daily basis, and people who are there in Iraq solely to help people who have been suffering from years of oppression. That is their only aim, and this act is hard to understand and to be condemned by the whole international community.

HARRIS: I understand and I hear you when you say this sort of act may be hard to understand. But at the same time, I'm sure you've been watching the headlines over recent months and seeing that the number and the escalating aggression I should say of attacks against U.S. troops by some of these insurgent troops.

As a matter of fact, please stand by, Mr. Diaz. We understand that some U.N. officials are speaking right now at the U.N. in New York. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To convince the Iraqi people that the United Nations is acting in their welfare and for their welfare, and that we are a presence that is designed to help them come back to normalcy.

Thank you. HARRIS: That was the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations there, pretty much expressing the same thing Jose Diaz is expressing.

And, Mr. Diaz, are you still with me right now?

Mr. Diaz, let me get back to the question I was about to pose to you. You've been watching the headlines over the past months and noting these escalating attacks against the U.S., these guerrilla attacks as they have been called. Did you not have any suspicion, or has there not any talk at all amongst the U.N. representatives that perhaps something like this might happen to U.N. installation there in Baghdad or throughout Iraq?

DIAZ: Well, unfortunately, that was -- that is a very real possibility, it's something that we're very aware of, not only in Iraq, but a number of other places. The question of security of U.N. and international aid staff working in very dangerous areas around the world. So that is always in the front of our minds.

Of course, that doesn't diminish the impact of when something like this happens. We prepare as much as we can. We do everything possible to prevent and to minimize these sorts of incidents, but they do happen. It's terrorism. And countries around the world have been affected by it, and now the U.N. is being targeted I think. It will make our work in Iraq a lot harder, but I think we're going to persevere and continue to assist the people of Iraq.

HARRIS: Let me ask you about that. In your view, what does this do to the efforts by the U.N. to help the people of Iraq? Does this require the U.N. now to be more careful, to pull back, not necessarily dig in as deeply right now, to be a bit more cautious from here on out or what?

DIAZ: I think it will make us be a bit more cautious, something like this always do, but I think any determination as to how security will be modified will be taken by the U.N. security officials.

But of course, it will make our work more difficult. We'll have to be more careful now how we do that work, but I think we will keep at it. The people of Iraq deserve it, and we won't be deterred by these sorts of terrorist incidents.

DIAZ: Jose Diaz, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, thank you very much. We appreciate your time, and we'll let you get back to what we know is going to be a very busy and a very sobering day for you.


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