Secretary-General Kofi Annan today voiced increasing concern over civilian casualties of the conflict in Iraq, and met with his top humanitarian officials to discuss contingency plans for United Nations relief agencies to return to the country as soon as the military action permits.
“I must say I’m getting increasingly concerned by humanitarian casualties in this conflict,” Mr. Annan told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York shortly before he was due to chair a top-level meeting of UN relief agencies.
“We’ve just heard the reports that a missile struck a market in Baghdad and I would want to remind all belligerents that they should respect international humanitarian law and take all necessary steps to protect civilians,” he added. “Besides, they are responsible for the welfare of the civilian population in the area.”
He said he would discuss with the UN agency heads contingency planning of what should be done once the military conflict permitted. “We will be reviewing the situation, and I think we are all ready, [and] geared up to be able to go back to Iraq and resume their work as soon as the situation permits,” he added.
Mr. Annan said he was confident the UN Security Council would find a solution on adjustments to the now-suspended Oil-for-Food programme, which allows Baghdad to use part of its crude oil sales to buy relief supplies. Some 60 per cent of the Iraqi population depend solely on the programme for their monthly food rations.
Council members held private discussions this morning on ways to adjust operations based on suggestions from Mr. Annan seeking ways to enable the UN to continue to provide humanitarian assistance despite the temporary halt to the programme. Operations were suspended on 17 March when Mr. Annan ordered the withdrawal of all UN personnel from Iraq.
The Secretary-General noted that he had had talks with the five permanent Council members on the matter and was confident they will find a solution. “They are concerned about the Iraqi civilian population,” he said. “They would want to do everything to help them. And they know that the effort is geared at that and they want to put the needs of the people at the centre of all that we do at this stage. So I have no doubt that the Council will come to a satisfactory conclusion on the Oil-for-Food programme.”
Asked about the treatment of prisoners of war, Mr. Annan said: “I think it is important that all parties to the conflict respect the Geneva Convention. POWs should be treated fairly, humanely. They should not be humiliated, nor should they be made objects of public exhibition.”
The UN agency heads who met with Mr. Annan included Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP); James T. Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP); Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Ruud Lubbers, High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Also taking part in the meeting were Kenzo Oshima, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP), which oversees the Oil-for-Food programme.
of Kofi Annan speaking to reporters