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Working with Iraqi people top priority for mission

Working with Iraqi people top priority for UN mission, Annan and envoy say

Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his newly appointed Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, both stressed today that the top priority for the United Nations in the war-shattered country would be to work with the Iraqi people in establishing a sovereign state with full respect for human rights.

Mr. Annan said Mr. Vieira de Mello, who will be taking a four-month leave of absence from his current post as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to serve in Iraq, was ideally suited to carry out the functions ascribed to the Special Representative by the Security Council resolution on the UN's role in the country's reconstruction adopted last week.

"The Council has called on the United Nations to assist the Iraqi people, in coordination with the Authority, in a wide range of areas, including humanitarian relief, reconstruction, infrastructure rehabilitation, legal and judicial reforms, human rights and return of refugees, and also to assist with civilian police," Mr. Annan told a news conference at which he introduced Mr. Vieira de Mello as his envoy.

Mr. Annan said it had been difficult for him to take Mr. Vieira de Mello away from his human rights job, even on a temporary basis, "particularly as human rights has been on top of my own agenda and it is absolutely important to this organization.

"It was not an easy decision but it also reflects the important challenge that we need to take on," he added.

In his own comments to the press, Mr. Vieira de Mello also stressed human rights and Iraqi sovereignty. "The people of Iraq, as we know only too well, have suffered and have suffered enough. It is time that we all - the Iraqis first, the coalition authority and the United Nations - come together to ensure that this suffering comes to an end and that the Iraqi people take their destiny into their own hands as the Security Council resolution calls for as quickly as possible," he said.

"I consider the development of a culture of human rights in Iraq as fundamental to stability and to peace in that country," he added. Respect for human rights "is the only solid foundation for durable peace and for development," he said, and he especially stressed women's rights and "their full participation in the consultative processes, not least the political one, that lie ahead."

Mr. Vieira de Mello, a 55-year-old Brazilian who has spent 30 years at the UN working in some of the most sensitive post-conflict spots like Kosovo, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and East Timor, "has an exceptional and unique experience in running these operations and is also known as a good team builder and a consensus-builder," the Secretary-General said.

"I think he is someone who will hit the ground running," he added.

Replying to questions, Mr. Vieira de Mello said he planned to arrive in Baghdad by next Monday and his first priority would be to make contact with Iraqi society, representatives of the media, of civil society. "There are many Iraqi societies which in their richness have been suppressed brutally for the last 24 years. But they are there, they are there or are returning as we speak and they are my priority," he added.

He said his second priority would be to establish good working relations with the United States-run provisional governing Authority there. His third would be to visit all the provinces "because Iraq is not limited to Baghdad and I think it is important that I pay attention to what Iraqis in all regions and provinces actually feel and aspire in terms of their future," he said.


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