BY SIMON CALDWELL
BRITAIN'S premier Catholic aid agency has snubbed an offer of government cash for urgent humanitarian relief work in Iraq.
Cafod, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, has decided not to apply for a slice of £3 million made available for relief work by International Development Secretary Clare Short.
Officials said that to accept money from "any belligerent party" would compromise Cafod's "impartiality and neutrality".
Spokeswoman Fiona Callister said the decision effectively meant that the agency would not collaborate with the British or American governments in providing urgent humanitarian aid in Iraq.
Instead, the agency has pledged to provide relief funded solely from its supporters and its reserves, and implemented by its partners in 14 centres in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, Qarakoush and Mosul.
"As a humanitarian agency, Cafod affirms the importance of the principles of impartiality and neutrality in the distribution of emergency relief," it said in a statement.
"In view of this, Cafod cannot envisage circumstances under which it would accept money for war-related humanitarian work from any belligerent party in a war against Iraq during the fighting.
"Once the fighting has stopped. Cafod will reconsider its position and will work with its partners in the region, particularly Caritas Iraq, to respond to the needs in the region Cafod works through its partner agency Caritas and has already spent £100,000 on disaster preparedness."
Miss Callister denied that the move represented a political statement on the morality of the war to remove Saddam Hussein and disarm Iraq, insisting that Cafod had never taken a public anti-war stance. "What we have said is that humanitarian consequences have to be carefully considered before we go to war," she said.
Cafod underlined its position in a joint statement issued by the umbrella British Overseas Agencies Group and signed by Cafod director Julian Filochowski.
"In Iraq, US and UK military forces are engaged in a war and not a peace support operation," said the statement, also signed by the directors of Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid and Action Aid. "In our opinion, it is inappropriate for military forces engaged in war to directly implement humanitarian activities.
"This is because it is impossible for armed forces fighting a war to provide impartial humanitarian assistance on the basis of need. By definition, the priorities of combatant forces are military and adversarial, not humanitarian."
The group said it was always essential that armed forces did not use aid to control or coerce civilians, that humanitarian agencies were not placed under military control and that any military implementation of aid was handed over to civilian management under the United Nations at the earliest opportunity.
It said that government money made available for aid in Iraq must not be diverted from other just causes. On the eve of the conflict, the American bishops underlined in a statement the importance of supporting humanitarian work.
Bishop Wilton Gregory of Bellville, president of the US bishops conference, said that the international community shared a heavy burden in helping prisoners of war, refugees and Iraqi civilians harmed by the fighting.
On Thursday last week, Amen
can President George W Bush announced that America would make more than £,14 million available to help refugees. Britain has pledged £10 million in aid, but sources suggest that the money must he found from within the existing budget of the Department for International Development.
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