UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq freed a long-imprisoned British businessman yesterday in return for the unfreezing of blocked funds in London, and the Baghdad government also agreed to allow the United Nations to continue its humanitarian efforts in the country for another six months.
But officials said that Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the U.N. negotiator now visiting Baghdad, had been unable to persuade Iraqi authorities to start selling oil to pay for imports of badly needed food and medicine and to compensate victims of the Kuwait invasion, as the Security Council had ordered under the terms of the agreement ending the Persian Gulf war.
The unfreezing of funds in Britain announced yesterday was apparently the first unlocking of Iraqi assets in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. After the invasion, Western countries froze all Iraqi financial assets deposited in major banking centers. Those assets are believed to exceed $3 billion worldwide.
The scale of Iraq's growing medical and food needs was underscored by a new report circulated to Security Council members by the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross last week. The report calls on the council and Iraq to "break the present deadlock" and relax trade sanctions so Baghdad can start importing food and critical medical supplies again.
The freed Briton, Ian Richter, a 45-year-old chemical engineer who had been imprisoned for 5 1/2 years, said by telephone from Baghdad yesterday that he was "feeling quite wonderful to be free again." He said that he had been treated reasonably well over the last year, while efforts were under way to obtain his release but that conditions "were not so good before that."
Mr. Richter was sentenced to life in prison after a one-hour trial on charges of paying illegal commissions to the mayor of Baghdad. The mayor was later hanged for corruption. Prince Sadruddin plans to fly Mr. Richter to London today on his private jet.
Also today, officials say, Prince Sadruddin is expected to announce that Iraq will extend for another six months an agreement allowing the deployment of about 500 U.N. guards around the country to monitor the government's treatment of Kurds and Shiite Muslims, and under which the world organization maintains over 30 humanitarian relief centers to help Iraqis suffering from the effects of Security Council sanctions.
The present agreement, negotiated earlier this year by Prince Sadruddin who is coordinating all relief assistance to Iraq, expires at the end of this year. Iraq had said it would not be renewed.