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UN humanitarian effort in Iraq picks up pace as security gradually improves

UN humanitarian effort in Iraq picks up pace as security gradually improves

The first major new United Nations food convoy to arrive in Baghdad entered the city today as the international relief effort picked up pace thanks to gradually improving security conditions.

Four days after leaving Jordan, 50 trucks loaded with 1,400 tons of urgently needed wheat flour arrived in the Iraqi capital, according to Maarten Roest, a spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP). He said the cargo was unloaded at the Rasafa Sell warehouse in the city, guarded by troops from the United States.

"Over the past two weeks, WFP has sent a staggering 21,000 (tons) of food by truck from Turkey into northern Iraq," Mr. Roest told reporters in Amman, Jordan. "The success of this corridor, now averaging 4,000 tons per day – is already having an effect on the population; around half a million people have already received wheat flour, which was in short supply due to lack of stocks before the war."

In a sign that education is returning to the conflict-ravaged nation, Geoffrey Keele, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), reported that today in Safwan in southern Iraq, eight primary schools opened for the first time since the war began. "UNICEF delivered 40 school-in-a-box kits to support the children on their return to school," he said. Each kit contains materials for up to 80 children, as well as teaching supplies.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) reported that more than 450 people fleeing armed Iraqi groups and desperately seeking food and other aid arrived Saturday in the remote area on Iraq's western border, requesting entry into refugee camps in Jordan.

"There are now more than 1,000 people currently encamped in the windswept no-man's-land separating Jordan and Iraq at Al Karama, including over 400 children, among them several infants," said Peter Kessler. "Some of the people now stuck at the makeshift no-man's-land site have been waiting for more than two weeks to enter Jordan's empty refugee camp at Ruweished."

The UNHCR Representative in Jordan met senior government officials on Saturday to discuss the plight of those people. UNHCR is asking Jordan to admit them to the refugee camp at Ruweished.

"People arriving at the border said that in recent days there has been an organized campaign by armed Iraqi groups targeting Palestinians living in Baghdad's Bijii and Balediyat neighbourhoods, as well as the Al Huriyah camp, which reportedly shelters people from various nationalities," said Mr. Kessler, adding that UNHCR has no way to verify such reports, which included allegations that Palestinian families were forced from their homes by the armed Iraqis and told if they refused to leave, the men would be killed and the women raped.

Veronique Taveau, spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, reported that in Erbil, 747 ex-Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered to the local authorities have now been able to return to their places of origin.