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April 5, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
U.N. Issues Guide for Humanitarian Aid
U.N. Issues New Guidelines for Humanitarian Aid Workers, Keeping Them Far From Soldiers

The Associated Press


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UNITED NATIONS April 6

The United Nations has issued guidelines to keep humanitarian aid workers as far away as possible from American soldiers, a move that could pacify relief agencies angered by the Bush administration's decision to have the military supervise the operations.

As American forces began distributing water in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, U.S. aid experts warned that military control would jeopardize donations, put humanitarian workers in danger and inject political motives into the delivery of food and medicine.

The guidelines, issued last month and circulated last week, stressed the "operational independence" of U.N. humanitarian action in Iraq, and said aid workers should only contact the military about issues like security, relief convoys and the movements of large amounts of people.

U.N. relief workers should only use soldiers or military vehicles to help deliver aid in "exceptional" circumstances and should avoid publicly socializing with the military, the guidelines say.

"Our intention is to try to run a totally civilian aid operation and that's standard procedure," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Friday. "It's always as a last resort that we rely on the military."

InterAction, a coalition of more than 160 U.S.-based relief organizations, said it can't understand why President Bush changed a World War II-era policy that put relief operations in the hands of civilian government agencies like the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The decision "complicates our ability to help the Iraqi people and multiplies the dangers faced by relief workers in the field," InterAction chief executive Mary McClymont said.

Peter Bell, president and chief executive officer of Care USA, one of the largest international humanitarian groups, said "independence and impartiality" are essential to relief efforts.

Bell said he was concerned military forces could use the aid operations politically to reward certain groups over others. Putting the military in charge would also jeopardize support from international donors who oppose the war, said InterAction spokesman Sid Balman Jr.

The U.N. and American relief groups started lobbying the administration in December to put civilians with expertise in charge of the Iraq humanitarian effort.

But Bush authorized the creation of an Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq under a team of recently retired generals.

After lobbying Congress, relief groups won a provision in separate war bills passed Thursday that say relief and reconstruction funds must be channeled through the traditional civilian government departments, Bell and Balman said.

A senior U.S. official said the government assumes the U.N. and relief groups will lead aid efforts, with the military stepping in in an emergency if workers can't get to a particular area.


photo credit and caption:
An Afghan boy, center, reacts as he carries a box from a U.S. Army truck, background, in village Qalai Nasro, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), southwest of the Coalition Joint Task Force base in Bagram, Afghanistan, Saturday, April 5, 2003. U.S. army personnel distributed humanitarian aid to the village, besides distributing toys for children. Placed strategically on the frontline during the conflict between Northern Alliance and Taliban, the key Taliban stronghold village suffered heavy bombardment from U.S.attacks in November, 2001. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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