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Humanitarian flight ends in failure

A controversial flight from Paris to Baghdad, with humanitarian aid and two Swiss members of parliament on board, has been cancelled.

This content was published on September 29, 2000 - 22:16

Ruth-Gaby Vermot (Social Democrats) and Patrice Mugny (Green Party) are returning to Switzerland after failing to reach Iraq.

The flight was due to be the fourth in a week to go to Baghdad to protest against United Nations sanctions against Iraq. Aircraft from France, Russia and Jordan have already defied the embargo.

The association "Children of the World", which was behind the operation, says the sanctions imposed 10 years ago after Iraq invaded Kuwait are causing serious suffering among the population, and should be lifted.

Friday's flight failed, according to the organisers, because the Belgian airline "Brussels International" refused to sign a charter agreement with them.

The 150 passengers from the European world of arts, media and politics were told their flight had been cancelled on Friday afternoon as they were waiting to board the plane.

The aircraft would have left France in open defiance of warnings from the United States and Britain not to break the UN embargo. The organisers of the flight "A Plane for Iraq" considered flying to Baghdad via Rome instead, but eventually abandoned the idea.

"We did think about Rome as an option but that would have meant changing our whole flight plan and a great deal of waiting. We simply didn't have the time," the Swiss member of the House of Representatives, Vermot, told swissinfo.

"I am deeply disappointed. However, we'll try and try again once we get back to Switzerland. We can't just abandon those who need our help so badly," she said. Vermot and her colleague, Patrice Mugny, were planning to visit Iraqi women's groups to discuss their children's health.

The United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, estimates that about 500,000 children have died through lack of food or medicine during the 10-year embargo.

Vermot blames the Belgian aviation authorities for refusing to let their plane pass through Belgium's airspace en route to Iraq.

"It's clear to me that the Belgian charter company refused to sign an agreement with our organisers because of the authorities in Brussels breathing down their necks. Ultimately, the United States government was responsible for this. They are known not to want anybody busting the sanctions against Iraq," she said.

swissinfo with agencies

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