U.N. Rejects Bulk of Environment Claims on Iraq
GENEVA The United Nations on Thursday approved only $252 million of the $50 billion in claims brought against Iraq by its neighbours for environment and health damage from the 1990-91 invasion and occupation of Kuwait.
The demands are the last to be ruled on by the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC), which in 12 years handled $354 billion in claims in the largest ever reparations programme.
In the final batch, six countries -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Jordan, Syria and Turkey -- sought compensation for water, soil and air pollution and damage to forests and cultural monuments from oil dumped or set on fire by Iraqi troops.
However, the UNCC's Governing Council, winding up a three-day meeting, only agreed to pay a total $252 million.
"It is a very small fraction, 0.5 percent of the amount claimed," Mojtaba Kazazi, Governing Council secretary, told a final news briefing.
Jordan was awarded the most, nearly $162 million, followed by Saudi Arabia ($46.1 million), Iran ($27.8 million) and Kuwait ($16.2 million). No claims from Syria and Turkey were approved.
Independent arbitrators, backed by 50 technical experts, evaluated the complex claims and concluded that few proved quantifiable damage directly caused by Iraq.
In a speech to the closed-door council, obtained by Reuters, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Hamud Bidan said: "The outcome would serve as an excellent example of the degree of overstatement adopted by those states."
But Rolf Knutsson, UNCC executive director, told Reuters: "I wouldn't say the claims were inflated. They reflected the impression of claimant countries of the magnitude of damage, which is a subjective matter."
BILATERAL TALKS ON DEBT
Iraq called this week for a halt to the diversion of five percent of its oil revenues into the Geneva-based fund, saying it was ready to negotiate bilateral settlements of the claims.
In his statement on Tuesday, Bidan said he hoped those talks would "bring positive results and lead to reduction or cancellation of compensation amounts awarded to those states."
He urged the council "to suspend withholding (of the five percent) for the time being and to discuss the matter in a future international conference...or leave the matter to Iraq and each one of the states concerned to discuss".
But Kuwait's delegation called for "political support...to ensure uninterrupted payments" to all successful claimants.
Joe Sills, UNCC spokesman, told reporters there had been "no discussion" of Iraq's proposal, adding: "Our process is done and on the books. Whatever is done bilaterally is up to them."
It was the final session of the council, composed of the same 15 member states as the U.N. Security Council, to approve payouts. Those already authorised will take decades to complete at the current payout rate of $200 million per quarter.
In all, the council approved $366.8 million in claims this week, including some $26 million to Palestinians and nearly $80 million to stateless "Bedouns" residing in Kuwait.
Since its launch, the UNCC received $354 billion in claims from individuals, corporations and governments and approved $52.5 billion, of which $19.2 billion has been paid.
The bulk of the "backlog" is owed to Kuwait for lost oil and investment, according to UNCC officials.