Iraq closes border with Jordan, strands hundreds of refugees no reason given WAR IN THE GULF

January 25, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- Iraq has inexplicably closed its border with Jordan, stranding hundreds of war refugees in the desert with little or no supplies and shelter.

"People basically have to stay in their cars, and God knows what they do if they don't have cars," said Nigel Fisher, a United Nations relief worker just back from the border.

The shutdown came early Wednesday, just as refugee traffic was picking up. U.N. officials, who had been puzzled by the small numbers of refugees leaving Iraq since the war began, said considerably more had begun to come across Tuesday.

Some Sudanese refugees, among the last group to get into Jordan, told relief workers that hundreds more were waiting at the border post inside Iraq.

"And more have probably gotten there in the past two days," Mr. Fisher said.

Officials were unable to get a better estimate because of the 40-mile-wide no man's land that separates the border checkpoints for the two nations.

Neither Jordanian government officials, U.N. relief workers nor diplomatic sources seemed to know why the Iraqis took such action.

"It could have been anything from a policy decision to a local decision," one official said.

One Western diplomat said of the situation, "There's apt to be a large- scale human tragedy if people don't get out."

Jordan, with the United Nations' help, has readied camps at the border and three other sites around the country for refugees returning to their home countries.

The camps are stocked with enough food to feed 100,000 people for three days, and more supplies are on the way.

But because of the shutdown and the earlier low turnout, fewer than 7,000 remain in the Jordanian camps, and tents at the border camps have been cleared.

The closed border also is halting the tanker trucks that normally provide the kingdom with oil.

Meanwhile, a fundamentalist Muslim leader was arrested yesterday after suggesting that King Hussein should be overthrown if he does not join the war on Iraq's side.

Atta Abu-Rushteh, the spokesman of the Liberation Party, was picked up right after a news conference during which he made the threat.

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