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Insecurity, tardiness phases out UN food program

Insecurity, tardiness deal blow to phasing out of UN food programme in Iraq

The terrorist bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, the resulting drastic reduction in international staff and tardy action by the United States-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) have dealt a major blow to the timetable for ending the Oil-for-Food programme that fed most Iraqis during Saddam Hussein's regime, the UN official in charge of the operation said today.

"Despite the enormity of the tasks involved, the United Nations remained confident, subject to security conditions, of meeting the challenge for an orderly termination of the programme by 21 November," the Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP), Benon Sevan, says in the text of his progress report to the Security Council made available after his briefing.

At another point, however, he warns that without much speedier action by the CPA the difficulties could become insurmountable.

The UN Oil-for-Food programme, which allowed the Hussein government to sell oil for food and humanitarian supplies and served as the sole source of sustenance for 60 per cent of Iraq's estimated 27 million people, is scheduled to be phased out by 21 November and transferred to the CPA under Security Council resolution 1483 of last May.

In his report, Mr. Sevan notes that "handover preparations and best-case scenarios have been undermined by chronic insecurity and the tragic terrorist attack of 19 August on UN headquarters in Baghdad."

The security situation has made previous plans drawn up by the CPA and OIP to verify supplies and equipment already in the pipeline obsolete and new arrangements for inspections, possibly in neighbouring countries, need to be agreed upon.

Because of the "drastic reduction" of international staff in Baghdad, working groups to coordinate the prioritization of deliveries have been unable to meet in most cases and in northern Iraq, the CPA was tardy in moving in personnel.

"After a very slow start, the CPA has finally taken steps to increase its staff capacity for the transfer process," Mr. Sevan reports. "Regrettably, however, CPA's efforts coincide with the heightened insecurity and drastic reduction in the number of UN international staff in the three northern governorates."

The UN Steering Group on Iraq earlier this month authorized the minimum number of 115 UN international staff required for the transfer, Mr. Sevan says. "However, unless CPA increases most expeditiously the number of its personnel involved in the transfer process, the difficulties faced there may become insurmountable irrespective of the number of UN personnel in the three northern governorates," he adds.

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