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Interview with Polly Brennan, UNICEF Global Landmines Coordinator

NEW YORK, 21 August 2003 - Polly Brennan is the UNICEF Global Landmines Coordinator, based in New York. She was on mission in Baghdad and was at the UN headquarters Tuesday 19 August when the attack took place.  She suffered a shrapnel wound in the arm, for which she has undergone surgery, and numerous other cuts and bruises.

Polly spoke Thursday evening from a US military tent-hospital in Kuwait, where she is being treated with 10 other UN colleagues who are suffering from an array of wounds.

“We are thinking most of all of the families of those killed and injured, and there is a lot of sadness,” she said. “Our hearts are heavy for the family and friends of those who didn’t make it.

“We’re in the first stages of shock, amazed that we are in one piece. One of the people here was sitting just metres away from [a deceased UN colleague]. It was such a lottery, those who made it and those who didn’t.

“We had had a meeting with Chris [Klein-Beekman, the UNICEF staff member who was killed in the attack] and a group of people just an hour before, on [the subject of] unexploded ordnance and landmines, and it was such a great meeting. He was so full of ideas, and I wanted to find him afterward to tell him how much I appreciated what he had to say, but I didn’t have time.”

“I was in the Mine Action Coordination Centre [in the Canal Hotel, UN headquarters in Baghdad] when the window exploded. It was so confusing, debris everywhere, dust, people screaming. I made tourniquets for the wounded, one from my shirt, and one from the cord of my UN identification card. There was so much glass and debris that everyone was covered in blood, so you couldn’t really tell who was wounded badly and who had light wounds. I stumbled out of the wreckage with [a UN colleague], and made my way to the medical tent of the Swedish Rescue Committee. It was very confusing.

“I was evacuated by a truck to a military clinic, then by helicopter to a military triage unit in Baghdad. There were about 50 people wounded there, some lying under trees. Then we were evacuated to another military facility which might have been near Tikrit. We would come together with one group of wounded, and then be separated and sent to another place. We held hands and tried to comfort people. One guy looked really grey, with a face like marble, and we just tried to keep him from slipping into unconsciousness.

“I’ve got multiple lacerations to face, legs, arms, back and skull, with a lot of glass fragments, and a deep hole in the crook of my elbow. I had surgery Tuesday afternoon.

“We take heart from the statements from the Secretary-General. Everyone here is so glad that it is not for nothing, because the work has to go on. We had been with Sergio [Vieira de Mello, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Iraq, who died in the blast] the day before, and he had told us that the UN has to keep the Iraqi people at the forefront of  our minds. So we continue to think if the Iraqi people.”

“The US military have been fantastic, really kind. They’ve taken great care of us.”

*  *  *

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York e-mail: 
aironside@unicef.org (1-212) 326-7261

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media, New York e-mail: 
gweiss@unicef.org   (1-212) 326-7426





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