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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 04:31 GMT 05:31 UK

World: Middle East

Annan criticises Iraq aid delays

Iraqi hospitals say there are serious shortages of basic medicines

Delays in delivering goods to Iraq under the oil-for-food programme are hampering aid work, according to the United Nations' secretary-general.

The shipment of about $700m of goods is on hold because some member states are concerned at how Iraq wil use them.

All contracts have to be approved by the UN Sanctions Committee made up from the 15-member Security Council.

BUt UN officials say the delays are hampering the delivery of much needed humanitarian aid to Iraq.

[ image: Mr Annan:
Mr Annan: "Undesirable effect on humanitarian activities"
And Mr Annan said: "These holds are having an undesirable impact on our humanitarian activities.

"I would want to see the UN run a smooth humanitarian operation in Iraq with a capacity to deliver all that the council has approved."

His comments were backed by the UN's Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, who said it was time for committee members to remove politics from the debate and focus on the needs of ordinary Iraqis.

In an interview with the Washington Post Mr Annan accused the Clinton administration of "disrupting" humanitarian efforts by blocking the contracts.

Military concerns

The United States and other countries have raised objections to Iraq importing certain goods, which they say could be used for military purposes.

[ image: Iraq is allowed to export a limited amount of oil]
Iraq is allowed to export a limited amount of oil
A recent shipment of glass-lined steel pipes was barred amid suspicions that they could be used in the production of chemical weapons.

Other imports such as a shipment of musical doorbells have been condemned as merely frivolous.

Under the UN programme Iraq is allowed to sell a limited amount of oil to buy food, medicines and other humanitarian goods, as well as spare parts to rebuild oil installations.

Iraqi hospitals say they are continuously short of even the most basic medical supplies and thousands of adults and children have died of preventable diseases.

Child deaths

Reports from the UN children's fund, Unicef, say that the death rate among Iraq children has more than doubled since international sanctions were imposed nine years ago.

It says the country faces an "ongoing humanitarian emergency".

Baghdad argues such reports prove that sanctions are directly harming its most vulnerable civilians.

But the US and its allies say that Iraqi inefficiency and obstructionism are the real problems and the sanctions are deliberately structured to minimise their impact on children.

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