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US Anti-Sanctions Activists Protest

Agence France Presse
August 6, 2000

Four US activists have started a three-day fast outside the UN offices in Baghdad to protest the "brutal and deadly" sanctions imposed on Iraq as they entered their 11th year Sunday.

The activists from the US group "Voices in the Wilderness", who erected a small tent opposite the UN headquarters at Canal Hotel, are to return to the United States in mid-September to "inform the American people of the suffering of the Iraqi people because of the embargo".

"August 6-9 marks a decade of brutal and deadly UN Security Council economic sanctions that directly discriminate against Iraqi civilians," the group said in a statement. "Ostensibly, these cruel sanctions are designed to disarm Iraq," it said. "We invite UN workers from Baghdad's UN offices to join us for part or all of this vigil."

The Voices of the Wilderness sit-in will also serve to mark the anniversary of the 1945 nuclear bombing of Japan, and to call for the "abolition of all weaponry, including the weapon of economic sanctions". "We believe that economic interests, primarily, motivate the US and UK refusal to lift the sanctions. The US and UK want to dominate an oil-rich area of the world," the group said.

The activists, three women and one man, have been living with Iraqi families in the southern city of Basra, among the worst hit by decade-old UN sanctions, since July 12 to experience life under embargo. "The pitifully inadequate nutrition provided by the oil-for-food rations coupled with little choice but to use contaminated water for drinking find their sad but not unexpected expression in the chronic malnutrition and stunted growth in the children playing in the street," activist Mark McGuire told AFP of life in Basra.

All four, however, remarked on the resilience of Basra citizens and the triumph of human spirit and love over adversity, but noted that there was much suppressed intellectual energy and a desire not to concentrate on the present inertia. The activists are to return to Basra after the fast.

Voices in the Wilderness, based in Chicago, Illinois and funded by donations, has already made around 20 solidarity trips to Iraq. On August 6, 1990, four days after Iraq's lightning invasion of Kuwait, the UN Security Council imposed the toughest economic, financial and military sanctions in the history of the world body.

The ruling Baath party's daily, Ath-Thawra, said Sunday the embargo, linked to Baghdad's disarmament and which has stayed in place despite Iraq's ouster from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War, amounted to a "crime against humanity and its continuation is a new crime. Since December 1996, Iraq has been allowed under the oil-for-food programme to export oil to buy food, medicine and other necessities under close UN supervision.

Benon Sevan, director of the programme, arrived in Iraq on August 1 for talks with officials who have called for a review of the humanitarian deal.

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