- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, March 20 (UPI) — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, expressing hope that the requirements of international humanitarian law will be observed in the Iraq conflict to shield civilians from harm, said that if diplomatic efforts had lasted a little longer, perhaps Iraq could have been disarmed peacefully.

He said despite the "best efforts" of the international community "war has come to Iraq for the third time in a quarter of a century.

"Perhaps if we had persevered a little longer, Iraq could yet have been disarmed peacefully, or — if not — the world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support, than is now the case," Annan said.

"My thoughts today are with the Iraqi people, who face yet another ordeal," Annan said. "I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law, and will do everything in their power to shield the civilian population from the grim consequences of war. The United Nations, for its part, will do whatever it can to bring them assistance and support."

Late Wednesday night he sent a five-page letter to Ambassador Mamady Traor of Guinea, this month's president of the Security Council, with an outline of action needed to be taken by the 15-member panel to insure humanitarian aid to Iraqis domestically and in refugee camps. Most of it dealt with technical changes to the so-called oil-for-food program.

The council was to consider humanitarian assistance and Annan's letter on Thursday, with an eye to drafting a resolution.

Ambassador Sergei Lavrov of Russia said the panel requested the letter two days ago.

"We received proposals from the secretary-general and we will consider that," he told reporters before going into closed-door consultations.

"We have to take care of the Iraqi people not being exposed to a humanitarian catastrophe," said Ambassador Gunter Pleuger of Germany outside the chamber, adding that the council will take up the matter "as soon as possible.

"We are very confident that very soon the international community and the Security Council will be needed again to solve the very difficult questions that will arise in the aftermath of military action and my government, the German government, has said it would be willing to support all efforts for a peaceful rebuilding for Iraq and especially for the immediate needs in humanitarian assistance."

Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan said: "We regret the use of force and are concerned for the welfare of the Iraqi people. I think one of the first things the public has to do is look at how to contribute to insuring humanitarian welfare of the Iraqi people and I think the secretary-general has some thoughts on that and we have to consult on that."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello said in a statement, "My paramount concerns are for the safety and protection of civilians, the provision of adequate resources to the civilian population, and guaranteed access and security for humanitarian workers. Fundamental human rights norms must be respected at all times."

Warning that Iraqi children were "extremely vulnerable," with more than 1 million under the age of 5 malnourished, the U.N. Children's Fund, popularly know as UNICEF, urged all parties to abide by their international humanitarian obligations.

"I urge them to do all in their power to protect children's lives, their health, and their general well-being," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy in a statement.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers urged Iraq's neighbors to keep their borders open to those needing temporary protection and assistance.

The Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency has stepped up efforts to help Iran and Jordan prepare for a possible refugee influx.

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