Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Security concerns hamper the UN's full return to Iraq

REUTERS , NICOSIA

A top UN official involved in deciding when staff should fully return to Iraq said yesterday it was hard to envision such a move until security improved.

"It is hard to envision we would be able to carry out the full range of activities we would like to do ... until security improves," said Kevin Kennedy, chief of the Humanitarian Emergency Branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Kennedy and other top UN officials were meeting in Cyprus to make a recommendation to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the return of staff to Iraq. Most staff were pulled out after an Aug. 19 attack on the organization's headquarters in Baghdad killed 22 staff and visitors, including the head of the operation, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Kennedy said the discussions would end at the weekend when a recommendation would be made to Annan.

"The security situation is not uniform throughout the country and there are parts where we can work -- more safe and secure than other parts," Kennedy said.

"It is not a uniform picture and we'll adjust operations region by region."

Annan has put two security officials on leave after an independent panel issued a scathing report on safety precautions before the August bombing of the UN offices in Baghdad.

After the August attack, Annan drastically reduced staff in Iraq and earlier this month withdrew the last 20 from Baghdad after a week of violence including the bombing of the Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee for the Red Cross.

About 40 or so foreign staff remain in northern Iraq where it is safer. Some 4,000 Iraqi staff are still on the UN payroll throughout Iraq.

Asked if it was unlikely there would be a full return of staff, Kennedy replied: "I wouldn't say it's unlikely and there are a variety of ways to go back -- longer term, shorter term or visits. We hope to be back as soon as we possibly can."

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