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SLUG: 2-319743 Australia / Iraq (L)
TITLE=AUSTRALIA/IRAQ (L & S)
HEADLINE: Australia Rejects UN Plea to Send More Troops to Iraq
INTRO: Australia has turned down a request by the United Nations to send more troops to Iraq to protect U.N. personnel there. Australia has agreed instead to train a contingent of Fijian soldiers for the job. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
TEXT: Australia was approached informally through its diplomatic missions in the United States to send more troops to help protect U.N. workers in Iraq.
Australia has around 920 military personnel in the Gulf region, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman say the government has refused to send any more.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Canberra has already made a substantial commitment to Iraq, and has no intention of deploying more troops there.
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"There is something to be said for the argument that we could provide some support to the United Nations, but there is more to be said for us sticking with the commitment we made that we would not send ever-increasing numbers of troops there."
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Instead, the government says it will help to help train and equip troops from Fiji, which has offered a detachment of 155 soldiers to protect the U.N. mission.
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Canberra's decision is another headache for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as he struggles to win international backing for a security force to try to keep the U.N. staff in Iraq safe.
A lack of protection for U.N. workers has been a key concern since a suicide bomber killed 22 people, including the organization's special representative to Iraq, Sergio de Mello, in Baghdad last year.
Only a few countries, including Fiji, have answered the U.N. calls for help in Iraq. In the meantime, the U.N. mission there is relying on the increasingly hard-pressed U.S. military for protection. (SIGNED)
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