UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has accepted the resignation of the UN humanitarian aid co-ordinator in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck.

Mr Annan said the UN would continue to implement its humanitarian programme and would do its best "to make it as effective as possible in order to alleviate the sufferings of the Iraqi people".

The German diplomat is the second co-ordinator to resign after concluding that sanctions against Iraq were not working.

His predecessor, the Irish diplomat Denis Halliday, stepped down in July 1998 after launching a scathing attack on the sanctions policy.

Mr Halliday, at the time, said sanctions were bankrupt as a concept because they damaged innocent people and probably strengthened the country's leadership.

Now Hans von Sponeck has provoked anger in Washington and London by calling for an end to UN sanctions on Iraq, imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The UN spokesman in Baghdad, George Somerwill, said Mr Sponeck had written to the secretary-general, asking to be relieved of his post.

Mr von Sponeck said the sanctions had created a "true human tragedy" - remarks that had won him praise in the official Iraqi press.

He called for the Security Council to separate the issue of relief for ordinary Iraqis from the political issue of disarmament.

According to Mr von Sponeck, the UN's oil-for-food programme was not meeting the minimum requirements of the Iraqi people.

Under the programme, Iraqi oil can be sold to buy food, medicines and other supplies.

"For how long should the civilian population, which is totally innocent on all this, be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?" he asked.

Mr von Sponeck is due to return to New York for consultations at the end of this month and then return to Baghdad before leaving his post at the end of March.

Continued US criticism

The US State Department has been unrelenting in its criticism of Mr von Sponeck.

"I think an article in the Iraqi press praising his approach to his work is ample evidence of his unsuitability for this post," spokesman James Rubin said.

"His job is to work on behalf of Iraqi people and not the regime and we look forward to an able manager who will maximise the benefits of the oil-for-food programme."

Mr von Sponeck is accused of exceeding his mandate by London and Washington.

Mr Annan had previously resisted calls for Mr von Sponeck's dismissal, and asked the official to stay.

Source: UN sanctions rebel resigns, BBC News, 14 February 2000

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