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UN 'oil-for-food' scheme for Iraq achieves progress despite obstacles - Annan

UN 'oil-for-food' scheme for Iraq achieves progress despite obstacles - Annan

The United Nations oil-for-food programme for Iraq, which allows Baghdad to use its petroleum revenues to purchase humanitarian relief, has achieved considerable progress in recent months despite persistent obstacles, according to a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan released today at UN Headquarters in New York.

"The effective implementation of the humanitarian programme countrywide continues to face a number of serious difficulties," writes Mr. Annan. At the same time, he stresses that despite all the difficulties encountered and the criticisms levelled by various quarters against the implementation of the programme, it has made "a considerable difference in the lives of the average Iraqi citizen."

The report documents a number of obstacles impeding the programme's implementation, including those related to the distribution plan submitted by the Government of Iraq. The Secretary-General says the plan "has been subjected to hundreds of amendments, starting soon after its approval and throughout a given phase and beyond." He also faults Baghdad - and the UN agencies and programmes involved - for "slow contracting for essential supplies." In addition, Mr. Annan cites the "unacceptably high" level of holds - which stands at over $4 billion - placed by the Security Council sanctions committee on applications for humanitarian contracts.

Implementation of the programme in Iraq's three northern governorates - carried out by the UN on Baghdad's behalf - has been plagued by considerable problems, according to the report. Among other difficulties, the UN has faced "inordinate delays" in getting visas for its personnel. "I call on the Government of Iraq to take all necessary measures in full compliance with the relevant provisions of the memorandum of understanding," the Secretary-General writes.

The "oil-for-food" programme was set up by Security Council resolution 986 in April 1995 as a "temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people." The first oil under the programme was exported in December 1996 and the first shipments of food arrived the following March.