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Iraq: New Arms Commissioners More Representative

The United Nations Security Council has formally accepted the appointment of 16 new commissioners to oversee the disarmament of Iraq. The group has fewer technical experts than its predecessor, but a senior UN official stressed that all have expertise in the field of disarmament. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 13 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- UN officials were seeking balance -- politically, geographically, even on the basis of gender -- in picking the new college of commissioners.

The body approved yesterday was drawn from Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Europe, and includes representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council. Three of the commissioners served on the previous UN Special Commission, or UNSCOM, and three are women.

The UN's undersecretary-general for disarmament, Jayantha Dhanapala, told reporters that the commissioners have expertise on disarmament in different areas.

Some of them have expertise as diplomats working on disarmament issues either in their foreign offices or elsewhere, while others have expertise in the various areas that the new UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) will be dealing with -- nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and missile technology.

In response to repeated questions from reporters, Dhanapala stressed that the commissioners are qualified for the job. He said eight of the commissioners were chosen explicitly for their technical skills.

"If you look at the curricula vitae of the commissioners you will find that their expertise in the area of disarmament cannot be discounted and they will not be any less expert than the commissioners in UNSCOM were. There is no reduction in the level of expertise."

Iraq must be declared free of weapons of mass destruction before international sanctions imposed in 1990 are lifted. Baghdad stopped cooperation with UNSCOM nearly two years ago and has spoken out against the new verification mission, saying it has no more of the weapons prohibited by Security Council resolutions.

Since UNMOVIC was formed in December, the United Nations, with Security Council backing, is taking a slightly different approach to perhaps ease the way to compliance from Iraq. The chief of the new commission, Hans Blix, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is familiar with Iraq from his previous job. But he also presents a less hard-line figure than the last UNSCOM chairman, Richard Butler.

And the previous commission, which was dominated by experts from industrial nations possessing advanced weapons systems, is now more broadly representative. The new college of commissioners has members from Argentina, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Senegal, and Ukraine, as well as from Canada, Finland, Germany, and Japan, in addition to the five permanent countries on the Security Council.

Dhanapala says the commissioners are to provide professional advice and guidance to Blix, including on significant policy decisions and on written reports submitted to the Security Council through the secretary-general. Under the latest council resolution on inspections, the commissioners are to meet more often than before.

But Dhanapala noted that Blix will have primary say in how the commissioners are to be used.

"There is an expectation that the college will meet more regularly than in the past and that they will provide advice to the executive chairman. Now the precise way in which the college of commissioners will be used by the executive chairman is a matter for the executive chairman to decide upon."

Blix, who became new chief arms inspector for Iraq on March 1, is currently at work on a program for UNMOVIC, including an organizational plan. When that is complete, the mission will then approach the Iraqi government.