Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 1 News List

UN scales back staff in a messy Iraq

AP , UNITED NATIONS

A British soldier talks to an Iraqi man after troops destroyed an explosive device found on the sidewalk outside an apartment building in Basra on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

More than 30 UN international staff pulled out of Iraq over the weekend after the UN chief ordered additional staff cutbacks due to security concerns, leaving just 50 foreign employees behind, a UN spokesman said Monday.

The number of UN workers in Iraq will continue to fluctuate because "there will be some movements out, and there's going to be occasional movements back in," spokesman Fred Eckhard said at a news briefing.

The UN had 300 international staff in Baghdad and another 300 elsewhere in Iraq before a car bomb on Aug. 19 killed 22 people at the UN headquarters in Baghdad. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan later ordered the number reduced to 42 in Baghdad and 44 in the north.

Annan ordered further cutbacks last week following a second bombing, but did not say how many of the remaining staffers would leave.

In announcing the latest cutbacks last week, Eckhard said the UN's humanitarian work should be able to continue, with limited international supervision, using the 4,233 Iraqis working for the UN.

But Annan has indicated that if security is not improved, he might not be able to allow the return of international staff in the numbers needed to oversee more than the minimum humanitarian needs, and a larger UN role possibly helping with a new Constitution and elections would be out of the question.

The UN Staff Union, representing 5,000 staff members worldwide, has called for suspension of UN operations and the withdrawal of all UN staff in Iraq because of the "unacceptable risks."

Officials running the UN oil-for-food program say the staff cutbacks have made it difficult for them to get ready for the phasing out of the program by Nov. 21.

Benon Sevan, who runs the program that gave Iraqis a lifeline when the country was under UN sanctions before Saddam Hussein's ouster, said the UN would meet the deadline and hand over any remaining activities to the US-led coalition despite the staff cutbacks.

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