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UN Oil-for-Food Chief Visits Iraq

Agence France Presse
August 1, 2000

The director of the UN oil-for-food programme, Benon Sevan, started a visit to Iraq on Tuesday for talks with officials of the sanctions-hit state who have called for a review of the humanitarian deal. UN spokesman George Somerwill said that Sevan, a Cypriot national, would also travel to the Kurdish-controlled northern provinces of Iraq during his mission running up to August 17.

In a pre-arrival statement, Sevan said that since the launch of the oil-for-food programme in December 1996, around 1.9 billion barrels have been exported earning just under 29 billion dollars.

But "even with recent improvements ..., the oil-for-food programme is no substitute for the resumption of normal economic activity in Iraq," he said, referring to the sanctions. "However, there is no doubt the situation for many in that country is significantly better than it was when the first oil was exported under the programme," said Sevan.

The head of the humanitarian programme said the UN sanctions committee has now agreed "on a list of parts and equipment which would be approved by a group of (technical) experts" rather than the committee itself. Also under new "procedural improvements", he said, lists have been drawn up of food, health, educational and agricultural products which would not need to be submitted to the sanctions committee for approval.

Iraq, which has been under embargo since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, is authorised to export crude oil under the programme to finance imports of essential goods under strict UN supervision. Baghdad has frequently complained of delays in the arrival of supplies, which have to be vetted by the sanctions committee, and accuses the United States and Britain of blocking its contracts with foreign suppliers.

On July 26, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Iraq planned to review the oil-for-food accord, charging it was squandering the country's resources. "After almost four years of implementation, it is time for a thorough examination of the usefulness of continuing this programme under its current formula," he said.

A third of the oil revenues are siphoned off to pay war reparations for the invasion of Kuwait and to finance UN operations in Iraq. "This programme was accepted by Iraq after more than a year of negotiations with the UN secretary general as a temporary formula to remedy the humanitarian situation in Iraq," explained Ramadan.

"But it has been transformed into an operation to loot Iraqi funds by making deductions for UN funding and for the so-called compensation," he charged.

On the security front of the UN operation, for which Sevan is also in charge, the United Nations has withdrawn all its international observers in southern Iraq but its work will continue with local staffers, Somerwill announced on July 16.

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