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Swiss urge restart of UN aid programme for Iraq

More than half of Iraq's population survived on humanitarian aid before the war Keystone

Switzerland has called for the immediate resumption of the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq.

This content was published on March 27, 2003 - 12:46

The Swiss ambassador to the UN, Jenö Staehelin, said the aid was essential to take care of the humanitarian needs of Iraqi civilians.

The demand came as the UN Security Council moved closer to approving the swift delivery of humanitarian aid to Iraq, using Baghdad's oil revenues to get food and medicines to millions of people affected by the war.

Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, said he hoped the Security Council would adopt the measure on Friday.

It is estimated that over half the Iraqi population was dependent on the suspended programme, which began in December 1996 to ease the effects of UN sanctions on civilians.

The programme was suspended on March 17 after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered the withdrawal of UN staff from Iraq.

If approved, the draft resolution would give Annan 45 days to make changes to the program in order to make sure health supplies and foodstuffs had priority.

Swiss appeal

Staehelin also echoed Annan's appeal to the parties involved in the war to allow aid agencies to work in Iraq.

Speaking to the UN Security Council in New York, the Swiss ambassador said the conflict countries should ensure that the International Committee of the Red Cross, in particular, had unlimited access to vulnerable people.

He stressed that the warring states were legally obliged to respond to civilian needs under the Geneva Conventions, which protect human dignity during war.

Staehelin appealed to the UN to take the lead in resolving the Iraqi crisis. He said it was time for members of the Security Council to put their differences to one side and to forge ahead with the joint task of re-establishing peace and security.

Neutral Swiss

Staehelin added that Switzerland was disappointed that military strikes against Iraq had been launched without the approval of the world body. His words mirrored those of Swiss President Pascal Couchepin when war broke out.

Last week Couchepin reaffirmed that Switzerland would remain neutral in what he called "a conflict between nations".

The Swiss president also declared that Switzerland would not allow the United States and its coalition partners to use its airspace for the duration of the war.

The ban covers military, surveillance and reconnaissance flights.

At the same time, the Swiss government also decided to suspend all military exports to countries involved in the war.

However, the ban only covers the export of government-owned military equipment to the warring parties. It does not apply to the private sector, which can continue to sell arms abroad, as long as it can prove the supplies will not be used in the current conflict.

Humanitarian moves

Swiss moves to focus on the humanitarian fallout from a war in Iraq began earlier this year.

The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, headed a conference in Geneva on February 15, when international aid experts met to discuss the implications of a humanitarian crisis in Iraq during a conflict.

Now that war is a reality, a follow-up meeting has been scheduled in Geneva for April 2.

Participants from some 30 countries will take part in the discussions and will include the US, which refused an invitation to attend the February conference.

Iraq has been left off the guest list once again; it was not invited to the first Geneva conference for fear that the meeting would be politicised.

However, a spokesman for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which is organising the event, said Baghdad would be informed of the discussions after the event.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Some 60 per cent of Iraqis have been dependent on the UN Oil-for-Food scheme for essential supplies since 1996.
The programme was suspended in March 2003, when UN personnel were recalled from Iraq, shortly before the US-led war began.
The UN has delivered supplies and equipment worth almost $27 billion to Iraq, while another $10.1 billion worth of humanitarian supplies and equipment are in the production and delivery pipeline.
To date, some $44 billion worth of contracts for humanitarian supplies and equipment have been approved.

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