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Ministry of External Affairs Official Spokesperson briefing on the situation in Lebanon and compensation claims of Gulf War 'Untraced Claimants'

New Delhi
July 19, 2006 

Official Spokesperson: Good Evening. I will touch upon two or three issues that I have and then I will request Miss Sarita Bali, Joint Secretary (Special Kuwait Cell) who is here today to come and speak to you on issues relating to the compensation of victims of the Iraq-Kuwait war 1991, so there some time-bound issues relating to compensation which we need to get into the press. She has very kindly agreed to come here and talk to you about that.

Before we go there, just an update on the issue of possible evacuation of Indians from Lebanon, on which we have been getting several questions. As you know there are four Indian navy ships, which should be reaching Lebanese waters right now, and they will be berthing in the harbor as soon as they get place. As you can appreciate, there is considerable congestion building up there. So it might not be immediate, but hopefully soon enough—over the next day or so, they should be in position. And then, they will be moving the people who would want to leave the country. There are about, by present counts, a thousand people, and they will be moving them. You may well ask me if they will be moving them directly into India or somewhere else. I cannot tell you at the moment, but if the numbers remain at 900-1000, it is quite possible that the ships would bring them directly back to India. However, if the numbers are more, then like other countries, there is a possibility that we would be doing the shuttle to Larnaca in Cyprus, from where eventually an airlift would be organized. 

Of course, other countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka—there are requests from them for their citizens also to be put on the ships and that also, space permitting, will be done. This is the update on that issue. 

Secondly, The Iranian Government has informed us that the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr. Manouchehr Mottaki, who was scheduled to come to New Delhi early this morning on an official visit, has postponed his visit due to the situation in West Asia and proposed that the visit will be rescheduled for other, mutually convenient dates. 

Question: Is India applying enough diplomatic pressure to facilitate the docking of our ships? 
Official Spokesperson: All diplomatic steps necessary for ensuring that our ships are given a berth under safe conditions have been taken. 

Question: what are the specific steps? 
Official Spokesperson: Whatever is necessary. We have to talk to the two countries involved, and that is being done. 

Question: What specific steps have been taken by the Indian government to ensure the safety of the remaining Indians? 
Official Spokesperson: the Indian government is not in a position there to take steps to ensure the safety of the people. We have issued an advisory to the people who are there, for instance, in South Lebanon, that they should move from there, and many of them have moved. It is an evolving situation, and the hostilities are taking place there. Naturally it is a dangerous place, so people who are wanting to move, we are facilitating ( their movement). Some people have already moved via Damascus, and now these ships have reached the place. 

Question: So one would presume that the others who are there will not want to move? 
Official Spokesperson: It is difficult to predict, because it is an evolving situation; it depends which direction the situation takes, what perception the people there have of the danger levels. 

Question: Is there any proposal to withdraw the peace troops which are there? 
Official Spokesperson: There are UN peace troops, so this is something that the UN has to take care. 

Question: Apart from Sri Lanka and Nepal, has any other country asked for assistance? 
Official Spokesperson: So far, I only have these two countries on my brief. 

Question: Have we contacted the Syrian government to get them via Syria? 
Official Spokesperson: As I said, some people have already come via Syria. About 100 people or so have already come on the highway from Beirut to Damascus, and have left. 

Question: You said the ships can take only about 800-1000 people. Considering the number of Indians there, will that be adequate? 
Official Spokesperson: I just said that this is the capacity of the ships; if the numbers increase, then we are planning to do a shuttle to Larnaca in Cyprus, from where an airlift will be organized. There is only a certain kind of ships which can go there, through the Suez Canal. 

Question: There is a talk about international stabilization force. What is our view on that?
Official Spokesperson: This is a very rapidly evolving situation, and when there are some matters of concern to us, or matters in which we can contribute, to the international community’s thinking on the subject, then we will. 

Question: The G-8 came out with a strong statement on 7 /11, and only a hour or two later, Mr. Richard Boucher was asking for evidence. Do you think it is a counter-balancing act by the US? 
Official Spokesperson: I think the United States was part of the St. Petersburg statement. So if you see any inherent contradictions in any statements coming out of that, then you have to address it to that government. For us, we see the G-8 statement as a very positive statement which recognizes India’s terrorism concerns and it is a strong statement which lays out the views of G-8, plus the other countries, who have supported it besides G-8, on 7/11 and other matters related to terrorism. 

Question: Any response to Boucher’s statement? 
Official Spokesperson: I do not have a response to it. 

Question: On a separate issue; one of the IFS probationers … (inaudible)… 
Official Spokesperson: I am glad you used the word allegedly, because that means that it is an issue which has not reached a point ... the law has not asked the Ministry to take a view. As and when there is movement in this regard which begins to impinge in legal terms, then we will see under the appropriate rules and regulations, what to do. There are certain rules and regulations, which come into operation once a situation moves from a personal realm into an issue in which the law is involved. Once that threshold is crossed, if that threshold is crossed, then we will take appropriate action under the existing rules and regulations. 

Question: There was this report that private companies are required to take permission from MEA…
Official Spokesperson: I am glad you asked that, because this is another issue on which we have been trying to clarify matters. We have seen those reports, and I want to clarify that these reports are distorted. They have been blown out of proportion, and the essential purport of the Cabinet Secretary’s letter was to reiterate MEA’s existing guidelines, which establish that all communication between foreign governments and diplomatic Missions in India and Ministries of Government of India and State governments will be channelised through the Ministry of External Affairs. This includes invitations to foreign governments, diplomatic Missions in India, or responses to invitations received from foreign governments or diplomatic Missions in India, including for participation in trade fairs and exhibitions. Under these instructions, it is desirable, I underline the word desirable, that private organisations should extend invitations to delegations from foreign countries to visit India, after consulting MEA and MHA. Similarly, they are advised to send delegations to foreign countries, with the knowledge of MEA, so they can be rendered passport and transit facilities, and other assistance if required. Now these are instructions which have evolved keeping in view the requirements of our foreign policy, our protocol, and security interests. These are not meant to act as any hindrance for functioning of our private sector organisations, and we will continue to do our utmost to promote increased collaboration between Indian companies and their counterparts abroad. So the nuancing of what I said is important. 

Question: This is not binding though? 
Official Spokesperson: As I said, it is only desirable. If they need facilities, it is best to consult us. They are advised that before inviting people, please consult us. But the mandatory requirement is for the interaction between the Government and the foreign governments - the governments at the Centre and States, and the diplomatic Missions. So, it is important to get it correct and not to distort it out of proportion. 

Question: The special passports for Bangladesh issued in Northeast India have been withdrawn for the time being. Do you have anything on that? 
Official Spokesperson: From what I understand, there is this India-Bangladesh special passport which used to exist in that area; the existence of that passport, which used to be issued by various offices, and not necessarily by Regional Passport Officers, that is a matter, if I recall, under review and it was felt that perhaps it is best to issue the same passport as is being issued for the rest of the country to travel to other countries. 

Thank You. 

Official Spokesperson: Now, I would invite Joint Secretary (SKC), Ms. Sarita Bali to brief you. 

Joint Secretary (SKC): The United Nations Security Council had established in 1992, a special compensation commission called the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) to provide compensatory funds to the expatriate nationals of several countries, who suffered injuries or losses during the Iraq-Kuwait Gulf War of 1990-1991. 

Among the Indian claimants, over 100 thousand claimants have already been paid a sum of US $ 1 billion in compensation. 6500 claimants have yet to receive their compensation, as they had changed their addresses and did not intimate their new addresses to Ministry of External Affairs. These claimants are called successful ‘Untraced Claimants’. 

A list of these claimants can be accessed on the Ministry of External affairs website, www.mea.gov.in, under MEA Links (Special Kuwait Cell). 

The last date fixed by the UNCC for locating these persons is 30th September 2006, after which their claims will lapse. Keeping view the minimum time required by banks to secure funds from UNCC, the claimants are advised to ensure that their letters intimating their new address must reach SKC Division by 20th August 2006 at the latest, at the following address: 

Ms. Sarita Bali, 
Joint Secretary (SKC & Library), 
9, Bhagwan Dass Road, 
I.S.I.L. Building, 
New Delhi-110001
Ph: 23387012, Fax: 23386953 
Email: jsskc@mea.gov.in

We would appeal to the media to carry this announcement which will enable us to reach these mostly poor, illiterate and innocent Indian victims of the Gulf War 1990-91, many of whom are living in remote areas of India. The modest compensation that has been approved by UNCC will be invaluable for their resettlement in India or elsewhere. 

Question: What is the total amount of compensation?
Joint Secretary (SKC): It would be approximately USD 20 million. 

Question: What is it per individual? 
Joint Secretary (SKC): It would vary from one individual to another. 

Question: How is the compensation calculated? 
Joint Secretary (SKC): There are various categories of compensation. For example, Category A pertains to compensation for travel from Iraq or Kuwait back to India. Category B pertains to injuries or death. Category C pertains to property losses below USD 100,000. Category D pertains to property losses above USD 100,000. Category E is for corporate claims and Category F is for Government of India claims. 

Question: What is the total figure, the total amount of compensation package for India? 
Joint Secretary (SKC): Over USD 1 billion has been paid to over 1 lakh claimants. We are trying to locate 6,500 claimants for whom approximately USD 20 million is lying with the UNCC waiting disbursement. 

Thank You.