Top UN Official Urges End to Iraq Trade Sanctions

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The senior United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad urged an end to U.N. sanctions on Iraq, calling them ''a true human tragedy.''

Hans von Sponeck, a German, told CNN television in an interview monitored in Baghdad late on Monday night that the United Nations' oil-for-food program was not meeting the ''minimum requirements'' of the Iraqi people.

The program was set up, with von Sponeck at its head, to ease the hardship of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq for its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

''As a U.N. official, I should not be expected to be silent to that which I recognize as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended,'' von Sponeck said.

''How long the civilian population, which is totally innocent on all this, should be exposed to such punishment for something that they have never done?'' he asked.

Von Sponeck has drawn harsh criticism from the United States and Britain for similar statements he has made in the past.

Press reports have said Washington and London were pushing for his dismissal, but Secretary General Kofi Annan was believed to have resisted and asked him to stay for another year.

''I am...very sorry that two important member governments are questioning my integrity and questioning whether I stay within my bounds,'' he said.

''I Cannot Be Silent''

''The very title that I hold as a humanitarian coordinator suggests that I cannot be silent over that which we see here ourselves.''

Asked if he thought he could keep the job in the face of U.S. and British opposition, he said: ''If I am leaving for the right reasons then I will not regret it, but the moment I am in this job I will do my work as best as I can.''

The oil-for-food deal allows Baghdad to sell $5.26 billion worth of crude oil over six months to buy food, medicine and other supplies for the Iraqi people.

Von Sponeck said the program had ''certainly done some good'' for the Iraqi people but did not ''guarantee the minimum of that a human being requires which is clearly defined in the universal declaration of human rights.''

Last October he urged the members of the U.N. Security Council to separate relief issues for ordinary Iraqis from the more controversial political issues of disarmament.

Iraq, which is under U.N. orders to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, has banned U.N. disarmament inspectors since December 1998 when Washington and London launched four days of extensive air and missile attacks on it for failing to cooperate with the monitors.

Baghdad has since dismissed a new U.N. resolution which could ease the sanctions in return for the return of the inspectors.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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