In "And Now: Humanitarian Aid" {editorial, Feb. 21}, The Post argues that humanitarian aid could give the contras "a small but real bargaining lift." In its plea for this aid, The Post neglected to inform its readers of two material points.

First, according to the Geneva Conventions and Protocols and the International Red Cross, the right to "humanitarian aid" is not available to members of an armed force. Furthermore, such aid must be provided impartially, without political or military purpose -- i.e., it cannot be used to give one side a "bargaining lift." Private and voluntary organizations that provide humanitarian aid in conflicts around the globe (such as Lutheran World Relief, Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services) have protested to Congress about labeling aid to the contras as "humanitarian."

Second, the regional peace accord signed by the Central American presidents does not distinguish between military aid and so-called nonlethal aid. The accord calls for an end to all aid -- "military, logistical, financial, propagandistic" -- to the contras and other irregular forces in the region. The only permitted aid is that used to repatriate contras or reintegrate them into civilian life.

There should be a place for such basic facts on the editorial page of The Post.


Executive Director, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

New York