U.N. Aide Who Quit in Protest Plans Report on Airstrikes on IraqBy Colum Lynch
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 17, 2000; Page A23
UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 16 - Hans von Sponeck, one of two senior U.N. officials who resigned this week to protest the impact of economic sanctions on Iraq, said today he will present a farewell report on the devastation caused by U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraqi territory.
The career U.N. official from Germany, who is responsible for overseeing the distribution of humanitarian goods in Iraq, infuriated U.S. and British officials by writing a similar report on airstrikes last year. Von Sponeck's decision to revisit the issue before his March 31 departure was viewed by American officials as a parting act of defiance against the allied powers, which have pushed for his removal for months.
In a telephone interview from his office in Baghdad, von Sponeck said he and Jutta Burghardt, a fellow German who is head of the World Food Program in Iraq, resigned after concluding that a U.N. Security Council resolution in December provided false hope that the suffering of ordinary Iraqis would soon be eased.
"I do not want to be associated with a Band-Aid that is inadequate to end the plight of the civilian population," von Sponeck said.
U.N. officials in New York originally claimed this week that Burghardt's departure was coincidental. But she told reporters in Baghdad today that she was quitting in solidarity with von Sponeck. "I fully support what Mr. von Sponeck is saying," she said.
The United Nations and the Iraqi government are at an impasse over the December resolution, which offered to suspend some sanctions if Iraq cooperates with a new arms inspection commission. Iraq has refused to allow the inspectors to return.
Meanwhile, U.S. and British jets patrolling "no-fly" zones in northern and southern Iraq have been responding to antiaircraft fire with almost daily airstrikes.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said von Sponeck's plan to report on the airstrikes underscores his tendency to exceed his authority and to rely on Iraqi propaganda. "He has a habit of reporting Iraqi claims of casualties from the air attacks without having the ability to verify those claims," Rubin said.
While conceding that he relied heavily on Iraqi sources for his previous report,
von Sponeck said U.N. staff workers witnessed 23 of the 99 airstrikes
investigated by his office. He said he personally witnessed three attacks.
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