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UN Awards Compensation for Victims of  1991-92 Gulf War

During a three-day session, the Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission has approved awards of nearly $1.5 billion in compensation for victims of the 1991-92 Gulf War. The Commission, which was set up by the U.N. Security Council, has so far approved awards totaling approximately $48 billion.

The biggest awards were made to the governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for environmental damage during the Gulf War. The two governments claimed serious problems of pollution, caused by the release of oil from wells which were damaged or set on fire by the Iraqis during the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. The U.N. Commission approved more than $1 billion in compensation to the two governments.

Money also was awarded for claims submitted on behalf of more than 300 individuals, claims filed by Palestinian authorities and by the Kuwaiti government on behalf of several corporations.

The spokesman for the Commission, Joe Sills, said, for the first time, Kuwait asked for compensation for relatives of 625 Kuwaitis who disappeared during the Gulf War and have now been found dead in Iraq. "There are several questions here which remain to be determined, including the difficult one of the amount of compensation that can be claimed for mental pain and anguish by family members due to the prolonged uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones and the Commission will continue the discussion of the amount of compensation that can be awarded for this," he said.

Mr. Sills pointed out that the Commission has given Kuwait a deadline of March 31 to formally submit claims for payment.

Over the past decade, the Commission has received claims totaling $253 billion. Of the $48 billion approved so far, $18 billion have been paid.

Twenty-five percent of the sale of Iraqi oil under the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food Program went toward these compensation payments. But, after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the U.N. Security Council reduced the payment from 25 percent to five percent of the amount of oil sold by the Iraqi government. This money is being administered by the Iraqi Governing Council through the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The head of the U.N. Commission's Governing Council, Moytaba Kazazi, said it will be more difficult now to compensate the Gulf War victims, even if Iraqi oil production goes up quickly to the level of $20 billion a year. "So then $1 billion a year will go to the compensation fund. It will take a very long time. A number of decades to pay all the awards."

Because of the smaller amounts of money coming in, the officials say they only have been able to pay out about $200 million a quarter in compensation. They say the next payment will be made in January. After that, they note, future payments will depend on how much money is collected from the sale of Iraqi oil.