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UN: Annan Says Oil-For-Food Charges 'Cast Shadow' Over Organization

Kofi Annan (file photo) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the investigation into abuses of the oil-for-food program in Iraq has "cast a shadow" over the United Nations. He vowed at a news conference to act on the report next month of an independent panel led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Annan also expressed concern about ongoing violence in Iraq but said technical preparations for elections are on track.

United Nations, 21 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed the hope that investigations into the oil-for-food program will lift the cloud of suspicion over the United Nations.

Annan told reporters today that he was relieved that 2004 -- what he called "this annus horribilus" -- is coming to an end. "Our global mission has advanced on many fronts," he said. "But the allegations of the oil-for-food program have cast a shadow over the operation that brought relief to millions of Iraqis. We must find out the truth as quickly as possible."

A commission headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker has been given a UN mandate to investigate alleged UN corruption in the oil-for-food program. Volcker is due to issue his initial report at the end of next month.

U.S. congressional investigators say former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein managed to defraud the program for as much as $20 billion.

Annan said the U.S.-UN relationship has been hurt amid allegations of UN corruption. But he said he held constructive talks last week with the current and future U.S. secretaries of state and had no intention of resigning, as some U.S. congressmen have demanded.

The secretary-general also said technical preparations remain on track for the holding of national elections in Iraq next month. But if the violence continues in some areas, he said, it will likely have an impact on the elections.

"Elections don't take place in a vacuum. The political and security context is important and I think we are all monitoring it very carefully. But the decision as to [whether to] go ahead or not is the Iraqis' decision, not ours," Annan said.

He also dismissed notions that the violence would lead to a division of Iraq along ethnic or sectarian lines.

"We are not working towards a breakup of Iraq. We are working on the basis that Iraq will stay together and my sense is that most of the neighbors and most people around the world will want to see an Iraq that is reconciled, an Iraq in which the various groups dialogue together and learn live together as they have in the past," Annan said.

Annan also offered words of support for Ukraine, which holds a closely watched runoff presidential vote this weekend.

"I would hope that the next round of elections will be fair and open and all Ukrainians will exercise their right to vote and that the will of the people will be respected," Annan said.

He said the UN was committed to ensuring success in Afghanistan, where it is helping to organize parliamentary elections, and in the Palestinian territories, where it is assisting in the vote for a successor to deceased Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

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