French aid mission defies Iraq embargo

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The Independent Online

A shadowy French charitable organisation claiming to work in the name of Charles de Gaulle defied the British and American interpretation of the United Nations trade embargo on Iraq yesterday.

A shadowy French charitable organisation claiming to work in the name of Charles de Gaulle defied the British and American interpretation of the United Nations trade embargo on Iraq yesterday.

A Boeing 737 chartered by a body called the French Office for the Development of Industry and Culture flew from Paris to Baghdad with 60 passengers, including doctors, dentists and amateur sportsmen. The group, founded six months ago, plans to "de-isolate and bring humanitarian aid" to Iraq.

The French government denied any connection with the group. The foreign ministry said that Paris did not block the flight because the terms of the UN sanctions against Baghdad did not prevent non-commercial contacts of this kind.

The US and Britain take a more rigid view of the UN resolutions against Iraq, passed after the 1991 Gulf war. They say that all contacts with Baghdad must be approved by the UN sanctions committee. France, Russia and a number of other countries say that there is no legal basis for such a complete embargo.

Whether or not there was any official French backing, yesterday's flight was evidently political as much as it was humanitarian. François Girard Hautbout, secretary-general of the group which organised the charter, said that his organisation was "faithful to the thoughts and Arab policy of General de Gaulle".

He said the aim of the group was to promote French influence and culture in North Africa and the Middle East.

Mr Hautbout said that the people on the three-day visit would not bring any commercial aid to the regime of President Saddam Hussein. The doctors and dentists would work alongside Iraqi colleagues. The sports people would play tennis and football against Iraqi teams.

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