- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

GENEVA (AP) U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday called on the U.S.-led coalition to respect international law as the "occupying power" in Iraq, drawing immediate ire from U.S. officials.
"I hope the coalition will set an example by making clear that they intend to act strictly within the rules" governing occupations, Mr. Annan told the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
The United States responded that it had not been established whether the coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime was an occupying power under international law but that coalition forces were nevertheless abiding by international conventions.
"We've not only made that clear by our words we've made it clear from day one of this conflict through our actions," U.S. envoy Kevin Moley told reporters. "We find it at best odd that the secretary-general chose to bring this to our attention."
Mr. Annan cited the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1907 Hague Convention, accords that set down the responsibilities of occupiers ranging from maintaining public order to collecting taxes.
Last week, Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy operations director at U.S. Central Command, said the United States did not currently consider itself an occupying power in Iraq.
Rather, he said the coalition was a "liberating force" a category that does not exist in the Geneva or Hague conventions.
In New York yesterday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend until June 3 Mr. Annan's authority to speed additional food and medicine to the Iraqi people.
In an effort to get aid to Iraq quickly, the council on March 28 authorized Mr. Annan to review, for 45 days, nearly $16 billion in contracts already approved under the U.N. oil-for-food program and give priority to those that could be used immediately for humanitarian relief. That authorization would have ended May 12.
Benon Sevan, who runs the oil-for-food program, on Tuesday urged the council to extend the secretary-general's mandate until June 3.
He told the council U.N. agencies had identified more than $450 million in humanitarian contracts that could be transported to Iraq before May 12. Extending the deadline to June 3, Mr. Sevan said, would mean an additional $130 million worth of urgently needed food could be delivered.
The council is divided over when and how to lift sanctions against Iraq. The United States and Britain want all sanctions lifted immediately, but France and Russia support only suspension of civilian embargo.
The current six-month phase of the food-for-oil program, under which Iraq uses oil revenues to buy food, medicine and other supplies, expires June 3. The council's 15-0 vote yesterday will now give Mr. Annan authority over humanitarian contracts until that date.
The program was suspended March 17. The U.S.-led assault began March 20.
Sanctions and in the bargain, the oil-for-food program are linked to Iraq's disarmament. Under council resolutions, U.N. weapons inspectors must certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and long-range missile programs have been eliminated before sanctions can be lifted.
The United States is opposing the return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq and has sent in its own experts.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon yesterday said that instead of the United Nations, the search for banned weapons could be conducted by a country that is not a member of the coalition.
A "number of countries" are ready to take on the task, Mr. Hoon said and maintained the United Nations was not the only body capable of verifying that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction.
"We need independent verification of the discoveries that I'm confident we will make in due course," Mr. Hoon told reporters in Doha, Qatar, after visiting British troops in southern Iraq.
"I do not necessarily believe that it has to be the United Nations that provides that independent verification, but clearly the United Nations could be one of the organizations that does so."

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