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Kuwait border open to humanitarian traffic

Iraq country map.
The latest US offensives have targeted towns in the Euphrates valley (IRIN)

The first aid agencies have crossed from Kuwait into southern Iraq after the border was partially opened on Tuesday. Coalition forces declared security in the southern port town of Umm Qasr as “permissive”, along with the coastal route from Kuwait to the port.

This security definition means coalition forces are in control of the area, armed opposition is occasional and directed largely at military or political targets, and the routes have been cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance.

John Hvidegaard, the civil military coordination liaison officer for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kuwait, told IRIN this did not necessarily mean there was no danger, but NGOs could decide themselves if the risk was acceptable.

The partial reopening did not mean the border was open to the public, but at this stage only to groups such as NGOs and other aid agencies that had received the necessary clearance to proceed north.

Maj James Brown, a civil military adviser with the Humanitarian Operations Centre (HOC) in Kuwait, which the coalition has set up in cooperation with the Kuwaiti government, said so far two aid organisations had crossed from Kuwait to Umm Qasr, but he declined to name them.

Other agencies had advised the HOC of their intention to enter Iraq, and he expected the flow of aid staff and materials into the country to rapidly increase in coming days, he told IRIN.

Aid agencies wanting access across the border were required to advise the HOC of their intentions so it could then notify the Kuwaiti authorities and coalition forces and facilitate the aid agencies’ movements into Umm Qasr. He stressed the HOC was not instructing agencies where they could or could not go.

Some other organisations are waiting before moving into the country, however. The spokeswoman for Mercy Corps in Kuwait, Cassandra, Nelson, told IRIN that her organisation’s initial plans were to wait to move into the southern city of Basrah and the regions north towards Baghdad, when the security situation in these areas became satisfactory.

She was expecting many NGOs in Kuwait would now move into Umm Qasr and deal with the immediate needs of the people there, while Mercy Corps would focus on other areas, thereby to ensure that aid was distributed throughout the country. However, Mercy Corps would watch what happened and was ready to re-evaluate its plans if needs changed.

The CARE International spokesman in Jordan, Alykhan Rajani, said his organisation had conducted two assessments in the south of Iraq, but had decided not to move in yet. Part of this was because it had not established a base in Kuwait, but also because of the security situation. “The decision was that it was safer not to do something we were not 100 percent comfortable with.”

Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) Holland operational director, Kenny Gluck, said MSF was not operating in Umm Qasr at present despite media reports that it had moved there. He said MSF had a team in Kuwait, and it would know within a couple of days if it was feasible to shift into southern Iraq. The decision depended on needs, security and the ability to provide aid in an independent way, he added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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