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Security Council deadlocked on funds for Iraqi pilgrims

Wednesday, March 1 1:57 AM SGT

Security Council deadlocked on funds for Iraqi pilgrims
The UN Security Council was deadlocked Tuesday over how to use revenue from 
Iraq's UN-controlled oil sales to finance the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by 
Iraqi Muslims.

As the council met to resume consultations, about 1,000 pilgrims left 
Baghdad by bus for the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

They clambered aboard 10 buses after a ceremony in which they waved Iraqi 
flags and portraits of President Saddam Hussein.

The five permanent members of the Security Council were divided on a 
proposal by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan which would enable 
the money to be used without being transferred through the Iraqi central 

The council discussed the proposal for several hours on Monday without 
coming to a decision.

It resumed consultations on Tuesday in Annan's presence, but decided that 
further discussions was needed at the level of expert officials.

"There has been no movement towards any kind of compromise," one diplomat 

Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard said the experts would meet on Tuesday 

Officials from Jordan and Saudi Arabia were expected to join the meeting. 
Neither country is a member of the Security Council, but both were part of 
Annan's proposals.

The division within the council reflects the voting on December 17 on 
Resolution 1284, which overhauled the council's Iraqi sanctions policy.

Britain and the United States were among 11 council members which voted for 
the resolution, while France, China and Russia abstained, along with 
Malaysia, which is not a permanent council member.

The resolution notably offered to suspend the nine-year-old sanctions if 
Iraq cooperated with a new UN arms inspection body, known as UNMOVIC.

But it also included a number of measures to soften the impact of sanctions, 
which the UN imposed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

In particular, it removed the ceiling on Iraq's oil exports, although the 
United Nations remains in control of all proceeds from Iraqi oil sales.

Resolution 1284 also exempted pilgrimage flights from the ban on air travel 
to and from Iraq, provided they carry no cargo.

In order to facilitate the pilgrimage, or hajj, the council asked Annan to 
"make the necessary arrangements to provide for reasonable expenses" related 
to the pilgrimage to be met by funds from the UN escrow account holding 
income from Iraq's oil sales.

The arrangements apply also to the vast majority of Iraqi pilgrims who are 
expected to make the journey overland through Jordan.

Annan recalled that the Iraqi government had said it would cost about 2,000 
dollars to finance each pilgrim.

Iraq also said the Organisation of the Islamic Conference had set a quota of 
24,700 Iraqi pilgrims for this year's hajj, although the ministry of 
religious affairs in Baghdad has said only 7,000 were expected to make the 

Annan recommended that the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for 
Iraq give 250 dollars in cash to each pilgrim "to cover local costs inside 

All other expenses would be handed by "designated agencies in Jordan and 
Saudi Arabia," he said.

France suggested that the entire 2,000 dollars be given to each pilgrim, 
subject to confirmation from Saudi Arabia that he made the hajj.

Diplomats said that Russia, China and Malaysia supported the French 
proposal, but that Russia had also suggested paying the pilgrims with 
travellers' cheques which could not be used by the Iraqi central bank.

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