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UN Staff Marks Baghdad Bomb Anniversary with Security Demand - 2004-08-19

United Nations employees marked the anniversary of the Baghdad bombing with a demand for better security. The fear of further attacks hangs heavy as the world body anticipates a greater role in Iraq, and other world hot spots.

Teardrops streamed down the faces of U.N. staffers as they walked silently around the circular driveway outside the New York headquarters building. Many wore black ribbons to honor their fallen comrades.

Jacob George of India carried a sign saying "Never let it happen again". He said the days when the world body can consider its blue flag a shield of safety are over.

"In the past, it was considered neutral, but today we cannot be completely neutral, we have to be neutral, but there are people who consider us as not neutral. So we have to have better security in the field," he said.

Leaders of the U.N. employee staff union organized the march. The union has been sharply critical of the world body's top administrators for failing to address what an independent panel last year called a "dysfunctional security management system".

Most participants in the silent march expressed broad agreement with that conclusion. Many expressed the feeling that, one year after the Baghdad attack, the world body and its employees are no less vulnerable to terrorists.

But as U.N. information officer Walter Pinn explained, staff members have little choice but to live with the danger. "We cannot live in a bubble," he said. "To quote the famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King who once said 'we all must live together or perish like fools'".

Another employee, who identified himself only as Ahmed, from a West African country, said the United Nations must work hard to ensure it is seen as neutral by all sides in conflict. Otherwise, he said, the lives of its employees will be always in jeopardy.

Earlier in the day, the rarely-used Trusteeship Council chamber was filled with employees and families of victims, for a memorial service for victims of the Baghdad bombing. The audience, linked by video hookup to Geneva, heard Secretary General Annan say he genuinely believed the war in Iraq could have been avoided.

Several staff members commented that Mr. Annan's remarks weigh heavily in view of decisions he must make in the coming weeks and months on whether, and when, to order U.N. staff back to Baghdad in large numbers.

As they filed out of the chamber, colleagues of the victims agreed that the one-year anniversary observance was almost as painful as the original loss. Benon Sevon, director of the Iraq oil-for-food program, perhaps summed up the feelings best when he said "It's tough, very tough. I knew them all".