UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Thursday it was looking into a media allegation it had withdrawn a security escort for actor George Clooney, a U.N. "messenger of peace," as he visited a lawless area of Chad.
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas cast doubt on the report, saying the U.N. mission in the West African country had no armed military police and relied on others for armed escorts.
In a column published on Thursday, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, who is traveling with Clooney, linked the alleged U.N. move with nervousness in the region over a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of neighboring Sudan.
"Apparently concerned that Mr. Clooney might say something strongly critical of Mr. Bashir ... the United Nations called me on Wednesday to say that effective immediately it was pulling Mr. Clooney's security escort as he traveled these roads along the border," Kristof wrote.
"Now that did seem petty and mean-spirited."
"We are still trying to ascertain the facts," Montas told a regular news briefing, adding that Clooney had gone to Chad in his own capacity and not in his role as a U.N. peace messenger. Clooney is one of 10 celebrities from the worlds of film, music, literature and sport to bear that title.
She said the U.N. mission in Chad had no armed military police and relied on Chadian police and a European Union peacekeeping force in the country, EUFOR, for armed escorts.
"So the U.N. could not provide the sort of security details you are talking about," Montas told a questioner. "So it could be EUFOR.
"EUFOR has been advised of the presence of Mr. Clooney and they indicated that they would be prepared to provide Mr. Clooney with support if required within the area of its operations."
Montas said the U.N. World Food Program had flown Clooney's party to eastern Chad and enabled it to visit WFP project sites in the area, where hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sudan's violence-torn Darfur region are encamped.
She also said she was trying to establish who telephoned Kristof.
The ICC is expected to announce imminently whether it is going to indict Bashir for war crimes in Darfur, western Sudan, where up to 300,000 people have died in a six-year conflict between the Khartoum government and rebel groups.
In his column, Kristof cited anxiety in Chad that Bashir could retaliate for an indictment by using a proxy force to invade Chad. Sudanese and Chadian officials have exchanged accusations of backing rebel groups in each other's countries.
Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Peter Cooney