Jan. 19, 2005
UNRWA head Hansen to step down

By URIEL HEILMAN
NEW YORK

The head of the controversial UN agency that handles Palestinian refugees will be stepping down in March, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced this week.

The move to replace Peter Hansen, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known by the acronym UNRWA, is one of several changes Annan is making at the top level of the world body. Plagued in recent months by the unfolding Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, Annan has been under pressure to revamp the organization as he prepares for his final two years at its helm.

Hansen long has been criticized by pro-Israel advocates as biased against the Jewish state-a charge he has denied. Last October, Hansen told a Canadian interviewer there were Hamas members on the payroll of UNRWA, which employs about 12,000 people, most of them Palestinians.

"Some people are retiring and it will offer us an opportunity to make some changes," Annan said Monday after announcing Hansen's imminent departure.

"I don't think one should associate any departure with a management shakeup. Several people were going to leave anyway," Annan said, "so I decided to take a look at the whole team."

Israel and UNRWA went at loggerheads late last year when Israel released video footage it said showed someone loading a rocket into an UNRWA ambulance. Israel long had maintained that Hansen turned a blind eye when UNRWA vehicles and facilities were used by terrorists operating against Israel.

But Hansen denied the charges and demanded an apology of Israel, and Israeli officials were forced to retract the claim about the video after it turned out that what appeared to be a rocket actually was a stretcher.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, did not immediately offer comment on the announced departure of Hansen, who is Danish.

Annan is also replacing several other top UN officials, including UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, UN Controller Jean-Pierre Halbwachs and Annan's chief of staff, Iqbal Raza.

The secretary-general likely will be under tight scrutiny during the remainder of his term over his handling of corruption at the UN.

In the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, Saddam Hussein allegedly raised more than $21 billion by illegally circumventing U.N. sanctions, including the oil-for-food program. That program had been designed to provide the Iraqi people with food and medical needs, despite international sanctions against Iraq, in exchange for Iraqi oil.

Annan's son, Kojo Annan, apparently had received payments until early 2004 from a firm that had a contract in the oil-for-food program.

The secretary general has appointed an independent inquiry to investigate the matter, headed by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.