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Envoy Meets Iraqi Governing Cl Visits Syria & Iran

UN envoy meets with new Iraqi Governing Council, visits Syria and Iran

Visiting more of Iraq's neighbours in his efforts to help create a stable, democratic and sovereign country, top United Nations envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello arrived in Damascus today for talks with Syrian President Bashir al Assad.

Following the talks, scheduled for tomorrow, Mr. Vieira de Mello, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative, will then leave for Tehran to meet with Iranian President Mohamed Khatami before returning to Baghdad on Thursday.

On Saturday he travelled to Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Abdullah.

Before leaving for Syria, Mr. Vieira de Mello met with the head of the United States-run provisional authority, L. Paul Bremer, to discuss the building of democratic institutions in Iraq.

He was also received by the new Iraqi Governing Council, which was established on Sunday. Council members told him that they would be looking for UN assistance for a number of problems facing Iraq, notably the issue of refugee return and debt relief. They also said they would be sending a delegation to New York next week.

That delegation would include Akila Hashami, of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, who led Iraq's delegation to the recent conference at UN Headquarters in New York on aid to the country, Adnan Pachachi of the Iraqi Independent Democrats, and Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voiced concern that small numbers of the 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran were spontaneously crossing back home where they faced uncertain situations.

"Our message to Iraqi refugees is to be patient," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told a briefing in Geneva today. Agency officials on the ground in Iraq say the fragile security situation and lack of essential services and functioning civil administration means that the majority of up to some half million refugees and asylum seekers should wait for 2004 and beyond to go home.

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers was scheduled to leave Geneva today on an eight-day, four-country tour to the region that includes visits to the northern, central and southern sections of Iraq.


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