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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 16:03 GMT

World: Middle East

Oil-for-food deal working 'efficiently'

Iraq has been accused of hoarding medicines that would save children's lives

The United Nations humanitarian programme in Iraq is working, according to Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In a report to the Security Council, Mr Annan said: "The programme has now delivered 12 million tonnes of food and related items that continue to be distributed efficiently through the rationing system".

Under the oil-for-food deal agreed three years ago, Iraq is allowed to sell limited amounts of oil to buy food, medicine and other essentials.

Iraq currently sells $5.2m of crude oil every six months. The money is mean to be spent on alleviating the suffering of Iraqis under UN sanctions.

[ image: Iraq is allowed to export $5.2m of oil every six months]
Iraq is allowed to export $5.2m of oil every six months
Mr Annan's upbeat assessment, ahead of a Security Council debate on extending the programme, contrasts sharply with recent criticism of the oil-for-food deal.

The programme was criticised for being slow, insufficient and inadequate.

Iraq was accused of blocking the distribution of medical supplies, and even of diverting them for sale abroad.

Last August Unicef, the UN's children's fund, reported that Iraqi children under five were dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago.

The report identified an "ongoing humanitarian emergency" which it blamed on the sanctions and the failure of the oil-for-food deal.

[ image: Kofi Annan: Calling for uninterrupted humanitarian supplies to Iraq]
Kofi Annan: Calling for uninterrupted humanitarian supplies to Iraq
The United States and Britain squarely blamed Iraq for the child death rate. They accused Baghdad of hoarding medicines that would save the lives of Iraqi children.

US officials pointed out that the child mortality rate in the Kurdish-run areas of Iraq was falling even though both Iraqi and Kurdish areas were subject to the same UN sanctions and both were covered by the oil-for-food deal.

American officials also widened their criticism to include the implementation management of the oil-for-food deal.

Extension urged

The secretary-general said in his report: "An efficient, effective and equitable programme of delivery and distribution remained the key to fulfilling the humanitarian objectives of the programme."

Mr Annan recommended that the Security Council extend the programme for an indefinite period, "to ensure the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian supplies into Iraq".

The Security Council is expected to take up the secretary-general's recommendation later this week.

'New Iraq resolution'

Senior officials from the five permanent members of the Security Council were scheduled to take part in a further meeting on Tuesday about a new initiative on Iraq.

The meeting comes against a background of reports that a deal is close on a new resolution which all five major powers - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - could endorse.

The draft is reported to provide for the lifting of sanctions against Baghdad in exchange for new mechanisms for monitoring Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

In Baghdad, the official press has called on the Security Council to reject what it called the suspect British-American proposal and lift the present embargo immediately.

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