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United Nations, 13 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that because of deteriorating security in Iraq he cannot be sure that he will dispatch a large UN team back to the country.
A small UN team is in Iraq to help plan for an interim government to take over on 30 June, and for elections next year. But Annan said today that insecurity has become a major constraint working against increasing the UN's presence in the country.
"For the foreseeable future, insecurity is going to be a major constraint for us [in Iraq]," Annan said. "And so I cannot say right now that I am going to be sending in a large UN team."
Don Senor, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said in Baghdad today that Iraqi insurgents are holding 40 foreign hostages from 12 countries.
Four Italians working as private security guards for a U.S. company were reported missing today and an Arab satellite-television broadcaster reported that they have been abducted. It said the abductors demanded that Italy withdraw its contingent from Iraq. In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said his government will do everything in its power to secure the release of the hostages but that it is not considering withdrawing the Italian mission.
The French Foreign Ministry said today that a French television cameraman has been taken hostage.
Also today, Senor said that U.S. officials believe that Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, alleged to be the mastermind behind al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, is in or near Al-Fallujah, the troubled western city now under siege by Marines.