Annan sees urgent need for sending international force to Middle East

U.N. secretary-general notes `appalling' situation in refugee camps


UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his strongest expression of alarm about the Palestinians under Israeli assault, called yesterday for an international force to be sent to the Middle East.

Israel has always opposed the introduction of outsiders, with the possible exception of an American force to guarantee peace in the future. Annan has often referred to stiff Israeli opposition as a reason not to press the issue.

Recently at the United Nations, however, the Palestinians and Arab nations have renewed their demand for peacekeepers, a move the United States opposes and would be expected to try to block in the Security Council.

Although Annan has no power to order U.N. troops to go anywhere, his unexpectedly strong remarks yesterday, made to reporters in Geneva after a speech to the annual meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, lend great weight to the Palestinian request. They are almost certain to provoke a debate in the world body.

The Security Council, which wasn't expected to meet yesterday, was called in for a briefing from Annan's undersecretary-general for political affairs, Sir Kieran Prendergast, who conveyed a proposal from Annan for an international force to be assembled by willing nations and approved by the council.

Officials said Annan was not proposing a traditional U.N. peacekeeping force, which can take months to assemble and send to the field.

Immediate action urged

"Given the gravity of the situation, the secretary-general is asking that we deal with this immediately and effectively," said Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard.

In Geneva yesterday, Annan called the situation in the Palestinian refugee camps so dangerous - and the human rights situation "so appalling" - that "the proposition that a force should be sent in there to create a secure environment, as well as provide space for diplomatic and political negotiation, can no longer be deferred."

Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian observer at the United Nations, said in an interview that Annan's remarks were "a very important development."

He said an international presence is needed, not only to protect Palestinians but also as a crucial step toward rebuilding the Palestinian Authority's administration. Many of its buildings and services have been destroyed by the Israeli assault.

"Our capabilities have been reduced dramatically," al-Kidwa said. "We will need some time to reorganize ourselves."

Annan said the United Nations, with about 12,000 relief workers in the Palestinian camps and settlements, had been getting reports that Israelis had violated the codes of conduct in war.

`Very worried'

"The Red Cross is there, and other agencies," he said. "So we get a lot of reports. That is why I am very worried."

Peter Hansen, who administers Palestinian programs through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, has sent increasingly anguished reports to U.N. headquarters. U.N. employees have frequently been caught in the fighting or been blocked from doing their jobs.

In his speech to the Human Rights Commission, Annan warned against subverting human rights in wars waged in the name of fighting terrorism. He also admonished those who carry out terrorist acts.

"Moral clarity and intellectual accuracy are needed in every judgment on the use of force by states," he said. "But the same must apply when we judge the action of armed resistance movements. The killing of innocent civilians violates international law and undermines the legitimacy of the cause it purports to serve."

Speaking hours before the latest suicide bombing in Israel, he called such attacks "as indiscriminate and morally repugnant as they are politically harmful."

Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, has been trying to go to the region to investigate the situation of the Palestinians but has not been given a visa by Israel, U.N. officials said.

Annan said he supports the proposal to send a human rights mission but does not see a direct mediation role for himself.

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