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SA disarmament team could be last chance for peace

24th February 2003

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South African experts met here Monday with Iraqi officials liaising with UN arms inspectors in what they called an attempt to stop war by sharing expertise from their own country's disarmament.

"The objective of our visit is to work seriously to stop war and spread peace," South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad was quoted as saying on Iraqi television.

"The delegation will do all it can to cooperate with Iraq to help the mission of the UN inspectors. We want to exchange expertise, ideas and opinions," he added.

Pahad, at the head of a team of nuclear experts and a chemical-biological weapons specialist, met with Iraqi presidential advisor General Amer al-Saadi and General Hosam Mohamad Amin, head of the National Monitoring Directorate which liases with the UN inspectors, at the foreign ministry.

A statement by the foreign ministry said the meeting lasted for three and a half hours "and the two sides will continue their meetings at the level of technical experts."
The seven-member South African delegation arrived overnight in Baghdad on a visit of several days.

Amin said Sunday that "we will exchange technical viewpoints ...

and they will share with us their expertise in their declarations about their programmes of weapons of mass destruction." The South African experts will help Iraqi authorities "on how to check for weapons of mass destruction and ...destroying these arms," he added.

Pahad already visited Baghdad earlier this month to urge Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully with UN inspections.

South Africa became the only country in the world to voluntarily dismantle its weapons of mass destruction a decade ago, when it first admitted it had possessed such weapons but said they had been disposed of, throwing open the door for inspections in 1993-1994.

South Africa has been arguing against a US-led war on Iraq, saying that the conflict would have a devastating impact.

On Monday, President Thabo Mbeki warned the United States against attacking Iraq without a UN mandate, in a speech at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur.

A war would "increase instability in the Middle East and the world. It will deliver a deadly blow to the poor of the world, who will have to bear the additional pain of growing impoverishment," he warned.

The chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, recently praised South Africa's own disarmament history as a model of cooperation, urging Iraq to adopt a similar approach - Sapa-AFP.
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