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Annan concerned by civilian casualties in Iraq

Annan ‘increasingly concerned’ by civilian casualties in Iraq

26 March – Secretary-General Kofi Annan today voiced increasing concern over civilian casualties of the conflict in Iraq, and met with his top humanitarian officials to discuss contingency plans for United Nations relief agencies to return to the country as soon as the military action permits.

“I must say I’m getting increasingly concerned by humanitarian casualties in this conflict,” Mr. Annan told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York shortly before he was due to chair a top-level meeting of UN relief agencies.

“We’ve just heard the reports that a missile struck a market in Baghdad and I would want to remind all belligerents that they should respect international humanitarian law and take all necessary steps to protect civilians,” he added. “Besides, they are responsible for the welfare of the civilian population in the area.”

He said he would discuss with the UN agency heads contingency planning of what should be done once the military conflict permitted. “We will be reviewing the situation, and I think we are all ready, [and] geared up to be able to go back to Iraq and resume their work as soon as the situation permits,” he added.

Mr. Annan said he was confident the UN Security Council would find a solution on adjustments to the now-suspended Oil-for-Food programme, which allows Baghdad to use part of its crude oil sales to buy relief supplies. Some 60 per cent of the Iraqi population depend solely on the programme for their monthly food rations.

Council members held private discussions this morning on ways to adjust operations based on suggestions from Mr. Annan seeking ways to enable the UN to continue to provide humanitarian assistance despite the temporary halt to the programme. Operations were suspended on 17 March when Mr. Annan ordered the withdrawal of all UN personnel from Iraq.

The Secretary-General noted that he had had talks with the five permanent Council members on the matter and was confident they will find a solution. “They are concerned about the Iraqi civilian population,” he said. “They would want to do everything to help them. And they know that the effort is geared at that and they want to put the needs of the people at the centre of all that we do at this stage. So I have no doubt that the Council will come to a satisfactory conclusion on the Oil-for-Food programme.”

Asked about the treatment of prisoners of war, Mr. Annan said: “I think it is important that all parties to the conflict respect the Geneva Convention. POWs should be treated fairly, humanely. They should not be humiliated, nor should they be made objects of public exhibition.”

The UN agency heads who met with Mr. Annan included Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP); James T. Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP); Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Ruud Lubbers, High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Also taking part in the meeting were Kenzo Oshima, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP), which oversees the Oil-for-Food programme.

TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS

New York, 26 March 2003 - Secretary-General's press encounter upon arrival at UNHQ (unofficial transcript)

SG: Good morning.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, concerning your meeting with Condoleezza Rice yesterday, the Americans are saying that they did discuss with you the post-war situation in Iraq. You are saying that you only listened to their views of it. Can you elucidate a little bit on the situation?

SG: We did discuss the humanitarian situation and the issue of the oil-for-food [programme], as well as what lies ahead of us.

Talking about the humanitarian situation, I must say I am getting increasingly concerned by humanitarian casualties in this conflict. We've just heard the reports that a missile struck a market in Baghdad and I would want to remind all belligerents that they should respect international humanitarian law and take all necessary steps to protect civilians. Besides, they are responsible for the welfare of the civilian population in the area.

Q: Mr. Secretary, did you discuss reconstruction with them?

SG: It's too far down the line. We didn't get into that.

Q: What role can UN aid agencies have at this point in the war and what role will the UN have for post-war Iraq, specifically any kind of government aid, anything like that?

SG: Today I am meeting with heads of UN humanitarian agencies this morning. They have all flown in to discuss this situation with me. You know that we did have contingency planning of what we should do once a conflict struck. So we will be reviewing the situation, and I think they are all ready, [and] geared up to be able to go back to Iraq and resume their work as soon as the situation permits. And here I am referring to the military conflict. As soon as that allows them to go in, they will go in and resume their work.

On the question of post-conflict Iraq and what role the UN must play, that is an issue for the [Security] Council to decide. The UN has played such roles in the past. But obviously that is something that the Council will have to discuss, and I will be seeing Prime Minister [Tony] Blair also tomorrow and I am sure this is one of the issues he would also want to discuss with me.

Q: What would you recommend to the Council in terms of what you think the UN's role should be in post-war Iraq?

SG: This is something I would want to discuss with the Council. I am sure the Council members have their own ideas, and we will need to sit and discuss that and decide how we move forward.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the Council will meet this morning to discuss the oil-for-food programme. I wonder how concerned are you that this is becoming more of a political problem than a technical problem, on how to deal with readapting the oil-for-food programme? And what would you like, Sir, to come out of the open meeting, if anything today, that's scheduled for later today on Iraq?

SG: I think on the oil-for-programme I am confident that the members will find a solution. I had lunch with the P5 members [five permanent Security Council members] and we discussed this issue and I am confident that they will find a way out. They are concerned about the Iraqi civilian population. They would want to do everything to help. And they know that the effort is geared at that and they want to put the needs of the people at the centre of all that we do at this stage.

So I have no doubt that the Council will come to a satisfactory conclusion on the oil-for-food [programme].

As for the meeting this afternoon, I expect that Member States will express their views on the conflict and go on record.

Q: Have there been violations of the Geneva Convention in terms of POWs? Do you have any concerns in this area?

SG: I think it is important that all parties to the conflict respect the Geneva Convention. POWs should be treated fairly, humanely. They should not be humiliated, nor should they be made objects of public exhibition.

Thank you.

ENDS

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