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Three-week extension of Oil-for-Food programme

UN official seeks 3-week extension of Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq

The official in charge of the United Nations programme that is the only source of food for 60 per cent of Iraq's population today urged the Security Council to extend it for another three weeks so that supplies already in the pipeline can be delivered.

"In order to enable us to fully utilize the extended period, it is essential that the Council take that decision most urgently," Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP), told the 15-member body in a closed session, according to a text of his briefing.

[Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico, the Council President for April, told reporters after the session that his delegation had circulated a draft resolution that would extend the current operation of the Oil-for-Food programme until 3 June, and that he was hopeful a decision on the "technical rollover" would be taken in the next few days.]

The OIP oversees the Oil-for-Food programme under which Iraq was allowed to use a portion of its oil revenues to buy food and other relief supplies, while the rest was used for reparation claims against Baghdad stemming from its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The programme was temporarily halted on 17 March after the withdrawal of all UN staff from Iraq on the eve of hostilities. The Security Council adopted a new resolution on 28 March giving Secretary-General Kofi Annan more authority to administer the operation for the next 45 days, until 12 May, including prioritizing deliveries and finding new entry ports to speed their shipment.

But Mr. Sevan noted that 11 of those 45 days were lost while the Council's 661 committee, which set up the Oil-for-Food programme, approved the procedures, resulting in a relatively limited number of contracts that could so far be processed - $454.6 million-worth out of a pipeline of some $10 billion.

"Accordingly, the Council may wish to consider extending the provisions of resolution 1472 (of 28 March) up to 3 June 2003," he said. Such a technical rollover would coincide with the end of the mandate of the current phase of the original Oil-for-Food programme.

"An extension of 21 days to 3 June would not only recover the 11 days already lost, but also provide us with the opportunity to utilize additional supplies available in the pipeline," Mr. Sevan added.

With sanctions in force, the Oil-for-Food programme is the only legal way of selling Iraq's oil and France today proposed the immediate lifting of those measures.

"I have proposed that the decision be taken to immediately suspend the civilian sanctions," Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière told reporters earlier Tuesday.

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