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Russia oil firm plans second flight to Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) -- A Russian oil company plans more flights to Iraq after sending a plane carrying oil experts to Baghdad on Sunday, Iraqi newspapers reported on Tuesday.

They quoted Arnold Bekker, director of Russia's Stroytransgas pipeline company, as saying it was "planning a second flight to Iraq within the next few days."

Other Russian companies were also planning to send flights to Baghdad, Bekker was quoted as saying.

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"The visit by the Russian delegation to Iraq is to express solidarity for the Iraqi people and rejection of the unjust embargo," he added.

A Russian YAK-42 plane landed in Baghdad on Sunday, carrying eleven oil experts and five tons of medicine in a direct flight between Moscow and the Iraqi capital.

It was only the second such flight to Baghdad's newly reopened international airport since the 1991 Gulf War. A Russian aircraft operated a similar flight on August 19, carrying 3.5 tons of humanitarian aid and Russia's Deputy Emergencies Minister.

Sunday's flight was permitted by a U.N. sanctions committee on Iraq but some members of the panel said Russia had not notified them about the oil experts, only the humanitarian goods.

Oil experts are not usually included under flight ban exemptions.

"Certainly not all experts are humanitarian," a committee member said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They skipped that small detail in the application."

However, no one was certain if or when the committee would take any action.

Two Russian carriers said on Wednesday they were competing to secure right to operate scheduled flights to Baghdad, which would be the first regular air service to sanctions-bound Iraq in nearly a decade.

A spokesman for Russia's largest domestic carrier, Vnukovo Airlines, said the Foreign Ministry was considering it as well as the national flagship carrier Aeroflot.

Iraq says there are no U.N. Security Council resolutions governing the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire that prevent civilian planes flying in and out of the country.

But the U.N. sanctions committee on Iraq maintains the civil flights to and from Iraq are an economic resource whose reinstatement would be a breach of sanctions regime.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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