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War on Terror Makes Humanitarian Operations More Complex - 2003-06-19

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the ICRC, says the fight against terrorism has changed the nature of armed conflict, making humanitarian operations more complex and difficult to carry out. ICRC's annual report 2002, describes the Swiss-based humanitarian organization's activities in 75 countries around the world.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says events last year show that armed conflict increasingly involves ethnic, religious and criminal struggles for power and control over resources. As a consequence, it says, the task of protecting civilians and detainees has become more important and more difficult than ever.

In 2002, Red Cross delegates visited nearly 450,000 prisoners in 75 countries. The ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, says many of these detainees are linked to the war against terrorism.

Mr. Kraehenbuehl says the Red Cross will continue to monitor this situation to see if this is a growing trend. He says the agency is concerned that states do not violate international humanitarian law when they detain people suspected of terrorism.

"There are clearly countries that have taken, in a way, advantage of the overall dynamic of the fight against terrorism to detain people in their countries for a variety of reasons," he said. "For us, there is a new and added challenge to try and obtain and negotiate access to some of them. In some countries that has been successful, in others there have been difficulties."

Last year, the Red Cross reports, it spent nearly $615 million on its field operations in 75 countries.

Its activities include the protection of civilians caught in armed conflict, visits to prisoners of war and civilian detainees, medical assistance, water and sanitation and the distribution of humanitarian aid, including food, to millions of bereft people.

Mr. Kraehenbuehl says ICRC activities in 2002, once again, were dominated by Africa.

"There is an ongoing cycle of violence which brings a growing poverty, ethnic tensions, stalled development efforts, plundered resources, inequality and a health crisis throughout many of the fragile contexts in the continent," said Mr. Krahenbuhl. "We need to have on the part of the international community action to break that cycle, but, of course, there is also need for that on the part of African authorities very clearly and, therefore, an ongoing strong commitment on our part to work in this environment."

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it spends nearly one third of its annual field budget on operations in Africa.

Outside of Africa, Mr. Kraehenbuehl says, Iraq remains a country of great concern, as does Afghanistan. He notes that the Red Cross has had to expand its activities significantly in Israel and in the Palestinian territories because of the upsurge of violence.

In addition, he says, the ICRC runs important humanitarian operations for millions of people in so-called forgotten areas of conflict, including Chechnya and Ingushetia in the northern Caucusus, and in Colombia.