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UN doing 'whatever it can' to bring aid to Iraqis

UN doing 'whatever it can' to bring aid to Iraqi people, Annan says

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Pledging again that the United Nations will do whatever it can to aid the Iraqi people, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for urgent measures to restore water and electricity to Basra following reports that the southern city may face a humanitarian disaster and urged the parties to the Iraqi conflict to treat prisoners of war humanely.

Answering questions upon his arrival at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan said the major issue today before the Security Council and himself was adopting a new resolution on the now suspended Oil-for-Food programme, which permits Baghdad to use a portion of revenues generated by petroleum exports to purchase food and other relief supplies.

“We should not forget that 60 per cent of them [Iraqis] have been dependent on the oil-for-food programme and this is why the Council and myself are determined to do whatever we can to keep that pipeline open, and the initiative in the Council where they are discussing adjustments to the oil-for-food programme is to make that possible,” he said.

Asked whether the United States and its allies have behaved so far fully in accord with their responsibilities under humanitarian obligations, Mr. Annan replied: “I don’t have all the facts but I’ve heard a report from the Red Cross that the people in Basra may be facing a humanitarian disaster in that they have no water and they have no electricity and I think a city that size cannot afford to go without electricity or water for long.

“Urgent measures should be taken to restore electricity and water to that population.”

Mr. Annan stressed that in times of war, it is the belligerents who are responsible for the welfare and safety of the people and that in an occupation, it is the occupying power that has responsibility for the welfare of the people. “Without detracting from those responsibilities, the UN will do whatever it can to help the Iraqi population and we would want to resume the oil-for-food as soon as possible,” he said. “In these conflict situations it is urgent that humanitarian agencies and actors are given the space to act.

“And I should also remind all concerned that they must respect international humanitarian law.”

Questioned about prisoners of war, the Secretary-General replied: “Prisoners of war have to be treated humanely and in accordance with international law and I think both sides have a responsibility to ensure that this is done and send a message to the combatants that they do have a responsibility to treat the prisoners of war humanely.”

Responding to a question about charges in a letter by Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan delivered on Friday, Mr. Annan said: “I think I can understand the anger, the frustration, the exasperation of Mr. Ramadan and the other Iraqis. Their country is at war and this sort of sentiment and anger is something that is understandable. But of course I am doing my work as Secretary-General working with the Council. The UN or I have no interest in becoming a high commissioner and it is ironic that as a former colonial subject I’ll be accused of being a colonialist.”

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