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Kofi Annan Makes Statement

Aired March 24, 2003 - 09:55   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We go to the U.N. where Kofi Annan is now making a statement that we need to cover, and then we'll get back to you. Let's listen.
QUESTION: Actually cleared the way for the coalition invasion of Iraq?

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: First of all, I think it has to be clear that the U.N. workers were the last to leave. Quite a lot of governments had pulled out their diplomatic stuff before we did because of the impending war. You should recall that the U.N. staff left on Tuesday. And the war was declared on Wednesday. And we normally do remove our staff out of harm's way.

But as I have indicated, they will go back as soon as it is practicable, and we have an urgent work to do in Iraq, and we would want to go back and do our work.

Secondly, the council is today seized about trying to do whatever it can to maintain humanitarian assistance to the Iraqis. We should not forget that 60% of them have been dependent on the oil for food scheme and this is why the council and myself are determined to do whatever we can to keep that pipeline open. And the initiative in the council where we are discussing adjustments to the oil for food program is to make that possible.

QUESTION: One of the more serious accusations from Vice President Ramadan: He accused you of being a colonialist high commissioner. Can you please respond to those angry comments on the air?

ANNAN: I think I can understand the anger, the frustration, the exasperation of Mr. Ramadan and maybe other Iraqis. Their country is at war. And these sort of sentiments and anger is something that is understandable. But, of course, I'm doing my work as secretary general, working with the council and I think that refers to attempts to adjust the oil for food program. What the council is discussing and the proposal before the council is we would want to resume our work as soon as possible, and whichever authority is in charge, at the end of the hostilities, we will work with. We don't know whether it's the Iraqis, if it's somebody else. We need to find a way of working, but we will be working for the security council in accordance with security council resolution covering the oil for food.

And I think this is what provoked his reaction, but unfortunately, he must look at what we're trying to do for the Iraqi people. The U.N., nor I, have no interest in becoming a high commissioner. And it is ironic that a as a former colonial subject I'll be accused of being a colonialist.

QUESTION: If and when American and British troops start to occupy parts of Iraq, will the U.N., when it comes to getting food to the Iraqis, will the U.N. be able to work with the Americans and the Brits in those particular areas, or will it be entirely a British and American responsibility? That's number one.

Number two, the Americans now are talking about their discovery of a suspected site for chemical weapons. Would the U.N. be prepared to send Hans Blix's people to verify such sites?

ANNAN: Let me say that, on your first question, I have made it clear in my discussions with the council and publicly, that in times of war, it is the belligerents who are responsible for the welfare and the safety of the people. I have also indicated in any situation on the occupation, it is the occupying power that has responsibility for the welfare of the people. Without detracting from those responsibilities, the U.N. will do whatever it can to help the Iraqi population and we would want to resume the oil for food as soon as possible.

In these conflict situations, it is urgent that humanitarian agencies and actors are given the space to act. And we will be able to act, using that space, and I should also remind all concerned that they must respect international humanitarian law, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague regulation.

On your second question, the position of the council and the United Nations is that council resolutions are valid, including the mandate for UNMOVIC. They have only been suspended temporarily because it's inoperable given the situations on the ground. The expectation is that as soon as the conflict is over and the situation permits, they will be able to resume their work, just as we are seeking to resume the work, the oil for food scheme.

QUESTION: ... moving to verify these summons (ph) when and if they appear.

ANNAN: I'm saying UNMOVIC still has the responsibility for the disarmament of Iraq. And if the situation permits, since the council resolutions are valid, they will be expected to go back to Iraq and inspect.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied so far that the U.S. and allied forces have behaved fully in accordance with their responsibilities under the Geneva Convention and according to their humanitarian obligations?

ANNAN: Yes. I don't have all the facts, but I've heard a report from Red Cross that the people in Basra may be facing a humanitarian disaster in that they have no water and they have no electricity. And I think a city that size cannot afford to go without electricity or water for long, apart from the water aspect, you can imagine what it does to sanitation. So I think urgent measures should be taken to restore water and electricity to that population.


QUESTION: Sure. I think you alluded to it earlier when you talked about the Geneva Convention, a lot had been made over the weekend about prisoners of war on both sides. I wonder what call...

ANNAN: Can you speak a little bit louder?

QUESTION: Yes. A lot had been made over the prisoners of war on both sides. I wonder what call you have to both sides, both combatants as to how prisoners of war are treated during this campaign?

ANNAN: I think the prisoners of war have to be treated humanely and in accordance with international law. And I think both sides have a responsibility to ensure that this is done and send a message to the combatants that they do have a responsibility to treat the prisoners of war humanely.

Thank you.


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