Iraq signed an accord Thursday with the United Nations to protect, feed and help return home the thousands of refugees who fled to escape soldiers loyal to Saddam Hussein, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
At the same time, a senior Iraqi official opposed the U.S. plan for safe havens for the refugees in northern Iraq under allied military protection, terming it interference in Iraq's internal affairs.And the ruling Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council extended for one week beginning Friday the limited amnesty for Kurds to return to their homes. Baghdad Radio said the extension was offered to overcome communications problems caused by rebel activity in the north and to give refugees the chance to get home.
The refugee accord was signed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ahmed Hussein Khodaiyer and Sadreddin Agha Khan, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, who is visiting Baghdad.
Iraq said it "welcomes the United Nations" efforts to promote the voluntary return of Iraqi displaced persons" and pledged to do everything it could to facilitate the return of refugees from Turkey and Iran and those displaced within the country.
The accord provides for staffing of "humanitarian centers" in Iraq by civilians from the U.N., its humanitarian agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies.
The U.N. will provide food, medical care, agricultural rehabilitation, shelter and any other humanitarian measures geared to the "speedy normalization of life."
Return routes for the refugees will be set by the U.N. in cooperation with Iraqi authorities, to give help along the way back home, particularly to women, children, the aged and the sick.
A U.S. Special Forces team scouted Iraqi territory Thursday to search for sites for refugee camps, and a new Army commander arrived in Turkey to lead the international relief effort.Officials expect that finding sites and building the new Kurdish refugee centers will take up to 40 more days, and some say even those estimates are too optimistic.
Mahmoud Yildirim, the Turkish commander of the huge ramshackle settlement at Isikveren, estimated that many more people would likely die in that period.
"We are looking at many infections right now," said Yildirim.
Yildirim estimated that up to 20 people are dying each day at the Isikveren camp alone, one of several dozen settlements of refugees. And every day, he said, an average of 10 babies are born in squalid tents on the mountainside, with little or no medical care available.
Meanwhile, Army Lt. Gen. John M. Shaliskashvili, deputy commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, arrived in Turkey to take over Operation Provide Comfort, which officials say is the largest humanitarian relief project attempted by the military in modern history.
The army commander taking over from Air Force Brig. Gen. James L. Jamerson, reflects that the project has shifted from being a simple airlift to a longer-term ground operation, said base spokeswoman Air Force Capt. Marcella Adams.
One 12-member Special Forces team was operating about 10 miles inside Iraq Thursday, said Adams. Six such teams have been set up.
President Bush announced creation of the refugee havens on Tuesday, but Iraq condemned it as interference in its internal affairs.
"The United States has no right to interfere (in this problem) or to send troops," INA quoted Iraqi Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz as saying Thursday. "The interference of the coalition also had complicated the situation."
Iraq, silent for months over the whereabouts of its enriched uranium, Thursday complied with part of the U.N. resolution on ending the gulf war and handed over details of its cache of nuclear material.
Iraq's permanent mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, handed over the details on its nuclear material Thursday, said agency spokesman Hans-Friedrich Meyer.
The Baghdad government had refused to answer previous queries from the agency about the whereabouts of its known stocks of enriched uranium following the destruction of its two small nuclear reactors in the war.
By May 18, the secretary-general's office and the International Atomic Energy Agency must give the Security Council a plan for a special commission to inspect the weapons and to destroy them by July 2.
Meyer declined to reveal details of the list, and he said he did not know whether the list had been delivered to the United Nations in New York.
In Cairo, Egypt, a Cabinet minister said Thursday that Egypt could support a regional conference on Middle East peace, but he stressed that any settlement would have to be based on Israel giving up occupied Arab lands.
The comment was the closest Egypt has come to an explicit acceptance of Israel's idea for a regional conference with the Jewish state, its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians. The Arab states previously have urged an international conference under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council.