UNITED NATIONS March 24 —
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Monday of a humanitarian
crisis in the Iraqi city of Basra, where coalition forces were
involved in fierce fighting.
British military officials said troops were engaged in artillery
exchanges with Iraqi troops outside Iraq's second-largest city and
were unable to move through it because of pockets of resistance.
Asked at the United Nations whether coalition forces were looking
after the needs of the Iraqi people, Annan said he was told by the
International Committee of the Red Cross that "the people in Basra
may be facing a humanitarian disaster."
Annan said "urgent measures" needed to be taken to restore the
city's electricity and water supply.
The Red Cross said in Geneva on Monday that the water supply
situation is "close to what we call a humanitarian crisis."
ICRC staff and city authorities have been working to get clean
water to Basra residents since the supply was cut Friday, ICRC
spokesman Florian Staehelin said, adding that pipelines were running
at 40 percent capacity.
The ICRC is one of the few foreign aid organizations left in
Iraq, where it has dozens of local and expatriate workers.
Annan made clear the United States and its allies "are
responsible for the safety and welfare" of the Iraqi people. But the
United Nations was working to resume its humanitarian role there as
soon as possible, he said.
Annan also urged all sides in the conflict to act in accordance
with international laws governing war.
"Prisoners of war have to be treated humanely. Both sides have a
responsibility to ensure that this is done," he said.
The secretary-general also said U.N. weapons inspectors "still
have the responsibility for the disarmament of Iraq" and he expected
them to return to the region.
The United States, which has its own disarmament teams ready to
search for any weapons of mass destruction, has not said whether it
would allow U.N. inspectors to participate in the process.
|Secretary-General Kofi Annan
speaks to reporters about the war in Iraq as he arrives at the
United Nations Monday, March, 24, 2003. Annan said the U.N.
will do whatever it can to help the Iraqi population and the
U.N. wants to resume the oil-for-food program as soon as
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