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Annan invites Security Council members to meet with him on Iraq

Annan invites Security Council members to meet with him on Iraq

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited members of the Security Council to meet with him on Iraq on Monday morning, a spokesman for the world body announced today.

Previously scheduled consultations on the situation in Côte d'Ivoire will be held in the afternoon after the Council's formal meeting on "Africa's food crisis as a threat to peace and security," according to the spokesman.

Meanwhile in Amman, the spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq reported that UN experts today returned to Um Qasr to continue their evaluation of water and sanitation requirements.

The team, which went to the area on Friday, has concluded so far that the situation is stable, David Wimhurst told the press. "The food supply appears to be normal but there are water and vaccine shortages, which is a situation that pre-dates the war," he noted, adding that while the hospital in Umm Qasr is receiving 200 to 300 patients per week, it has a three-month supply of most essential drugs.

Mr. Wimhurst also said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday sent its first cross-line convoy, carrying medical supplies, to hospitals in Basra. But ICRC teams can no longer access the towns of Kerbala, Nassriya, Najaf and Hillah, and a convoy carrying much needed medical supplies for Hillah hospital, which has large numbers of war wounded, had to be cancelled. "The ICRC considers the situation in the capital is near critical, with hardly any movement on the streets," he said.

Marteen Roest, a spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that agency has sent its first major convoy into Iraq since the war began. The trucks, carrying 850 metric tons of much-needed wheat flour, crossed the border from Turkey in what WFP called a "test run" of the feasibility of that corridor.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is predicting a "severe deterioration of the health situation during the days to come due to daily bombardment that results in damage of infrastructure and sharp rise in civilian casualties," said agency spokesman Fadela Chaib. "The health workers are overwhelmed by injured and routine work is disrupted."

In another development, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is recommending that a scientific assessment of sites targeted with weapons containing depleted uranium be conducted in Iraq as soon as conditions permit. "Although our assessments to date, under conditions prevailing in the Balkans, have concluded that DU contamination does not pose any immediate risks to human health or the environment, the fact remains that depleted uranium is still an issue of great concern for the general public," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "An early study in Iraq could either lay these fears to rest or confirm that there are indeed potential risks, which could then be addressed through immediate action."

For her part, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy issued a statement urging all parties to protect the lives of civilians. "The scars of war do not easily fade," she warned. "Physical and psychological trauma, fear, and the loss of loved ones continue to plague the lives of those who have endured such horrors."

UNICEF is particularly concerned about reports in the last few days of the use of cluster bombs in densely populated urban areas. "These cruel and clumsy weapons are already reported to have claimed the lives of Iraqi children and their use must end," Ms. Bellamy said.

Concerning the movement of Iraqis, Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR), said that despite reports of heavy fighting around Baghdad and scenes of desperate people leaving the city, there have been no significant refugee outflows into neighbouring countries.

Mr. Kessler also recalled that UNHCR has asked all governments to provide temporary protection to Iraqis. "No one should be returned to Iraq during war time against their will."