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ICRC staff member missing in Baghdad after being hit by gunfire

09-04-2003 News Release 03/26

Geneva (ICRC) – A staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) based in Baghdad has been unaccounted for since Tuesday afternoon at about 5.30 p.m. local time.

He is feared to have been seriously injured when the ICRC vehicle he was travelling in and an accompanying vehicle were hit by gunfire.

Two ICRC staff members who were with him at the time were able to escape and reach the ICRC offices, where they raised the alarm.

The ICRC has so far been unable to approach the area where its staff member was last seen; delegates who tried to rescue him had to turn back because of the ongoing fighting. There is at present no news of his whereabouts or condition.

The exact circumstances of the incident are not known and it has been impossible to establish whether the ICRC team was caught in a crossfire or came under direct attack. The two vehicles were clearly marked with large red crosses visible from a distance.

The missing staff member, Vatche Arslanian, is a 48-year-old Canadian who is in charge of logistics for the ICRC in Iraq. He has been working for the ICRC for over three years, most of the time on loan from the Canadian Red Cross. He has been part of the ICRC's team in Iraq since 17 July 2001 and has played a key role in efforts to deliver urgently needed supplies, in particular to hospitals and water-treatment plants.

ICRC delegates and local staff have been unable to move about in Baghdad since this morning. Given the chaotic and totally unpredictable situation in the city, getting from one place to another involves incalculable risks.

The ICRC is deeply distressed by its inability to rescue its staff member and by its temporary i nability to pursue its emergency assistance for those in need. The ICRC team in Baghdad will continue to assess the situation and will resume its activities if and when possible.

The ICRC firmly and insistently appeals to all belligerents to grant safe passage to all vehicles and staff working under the red cross and red crescent emblems and to allow them to perform their live-saving tasks.

 Further information:  

 Antonella Notari, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 22 82 / ++41 79 217 32 80  

 Nada Doumani, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 27 56 / ++41 79 244 64 14  

 Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 29 30 / ++41 79 217 32 26  

 Roland Huguenin, ICRC Baghdad, tel. ++873 761 845 610