Fund for Kuwaiti invasion victims at risk U.N. compensation coffers were counting on help from sale of Iraqi oil

April 28, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA -- The suspension of talks between Iraq and the United Nations last week was especially bitter news for Carlos Alzamora.

For more than four years, this former Peruvian diplomat and his team of experts have been collecting and sifting the claims of more than 2 million people who say they were hurt in some way -- economically, physically or psychologically -- by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

Thirty percent of the money that would have been collected from the sale of Iraqi oil that might have come out of the talks would have flowed into the nearly empty coffers of Mr. Alzamora's compensation fund, at the rate of about $100 million a month.

The Compensation Commission was created by the U.N. Security Council shortly after the end of the 1991 war that drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait. It began receiving claims by early 1992 -- sometimes at the rate of 30,000 a day.

There were the obvious cases: the many thousands of Kuwaitis who lost homes and livelihoods, and foreigners who had been working in both Kuwait and Iraq, as well as the relatives of people who died in the invasion. But there were also many unexpected claimants, Mr. Alzamora said, some with stories that need a lot of checking out.

"We had a rich Kuwaiti claiming millions for his wife's jewels that he said had been in the basement," he said. "He had no papers, no receipts. There was a man who wanted to be paid for his three kilograms of rice. There was a lady in Prague who claims that she crashed her car when she heard the news of the invasion."

When the period for filing claims ended at the beginning of this year, 2.6 million claims had been submitted, seeking a total of more than $190 billion in compensation.

Mr. Alzamora said that by dealing with the most urgent individual cases first, the commission and its 100 staff members -- speaking 30 languages among them -- were able to pay a number of claims in full, at a cost of $13.4 million.

But the compensation fund, which has depended on borrowing and contributions from U.N. members, is now down to $7 million, and only down payments are being made, with promises of full settlement in the future.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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