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Annan discusses enhanced security in Iraq with UN humanitarian chiefs

Annan discusses enhanced security in Iraq with UN humanitarian chiefs

Secretary-General Kofi Annan discussed security issues in Iraq with senior United Nations officials in Geneva today in the wake of last month’s deadly terrorist attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad, stressing the need to balance assistance to the Iraqi people with safety imperatives for the world body’s staff.

“While there was a broad understanding of the need to provide essential assistance, we also clearly acknowledged our moral and legal responsibility towards our staff, both national and international,” Mr. Annan told the press after a meeting of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, a grouping of senior UN humanitarian officials.

“This meeting was an opportunity for us to exchange ideas on where we are and where we go from here following the attacks of 19 August on the United Nations, but also earlier and deliberate killings of ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and NGO (non-governmental organization) workers,” he said in reference to the attack which killed top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others.

“We discussed what security and other measures are necessary for us to continue our work,” he added, noting that everybody stressed their responsibility to help the Iraqi people and not abandon them in their time of need. Since the attack, scores of UN staff have been evacuated from Iraq and redeployed in neighbouring countries.

“We need to find a way to maximize the contribution we are making to the people of Iraq while minimizing the risk to our staff,” Mr. Annan said.

Noting that it was also important that humanitarian assistance be seen as being independent and impartial from political or military process, presently run by the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), he stressed that “we should really try our best to create space for humanitarian actors.”

Asked how he could assure UN personnel on enhanced security measures in Iraq, he said: “The UN staff obviously need protection as everyone who operates in a crisis situation. But we also have to be clear here. The UN cannot be protected, sitting behind fortresses or barracks. Our work is with the people. We need to be able to get to them and they need to be able to get to us. How else do you help provide humanitarian assistance or facilitate political process?”

The new Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, who attended today’s meeting, said: “We feel we have a moral obligation towards the Iraqi people. We are however concerned that we are facing some of the worst security threats in the history of the United Nations.

“There are staff who feel, yes, we are now at some stage of brinkmanship in staying on, we will not be deterred, but we will not either be reckless. And the programmes that we are continuing, lifesaving and essential programmes, are continuing through a core of courageous international staff which is voluntarily there and is committed to stay on, and also hundreds of national staff who are committed to stay on and who do a fantastic job every day and save lives,” he added.

Mr. Annan is scheduled to meet tomorrow with the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council in Geneva in a bid to further define the UN role in Iraq and accelerate the early restoration of Iraqi national sovereignty.

The meeting with the ministers of China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States comes as Washington prepares to submit a new resolution to the Council, which according to published reports would create a multinational force led by the United States and authorized by the UN in an effort to win greater participation from countries unwilling to serve without UN authorization.


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