Suspected Iraqi collaborators being executed in Kuwait Human rights official says up to 3,000 people are unaccounted for.

March 19, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

KUWAIT CITY -- The man wore only dirty white boxer shorts. His black pants were used to tie his hands behind him. His pink shirt was used as a blindfold. Nothing covered the black bruises on his muscular arms or the crudely stitched gash in his forehead.

But sometime early Sunday, he was taken to an underpass on the Magreb Highway, the capital's main artery, and forced to kneel. Then he was shot in the head, left shoulder and chest, and propped upright for passing traffic to see, bullet holes and blood in the baby-blue wall behind him.

"Every day now like this," said Naif Adjami, a Red Crescent emergency worker, as he helped load the corpse in his truck. "Sometimes one, sometimes five. Too much death."

U.S. and international human rights officials said that 20 to 30 bodies have been found tortured or shot to death, and many more are presumed dead in what increasingly appears as blatant human rights abuses and reprisals by unrestrained Kuwaiti military and resistance forces against suspected collaborators.

The officials now say that 300 to 600 Palestinians, North Africans and other non-Kuwaitis are unaccounted for in Kuwait City since liberation by allied forces 19 days ago. Kuwaiti soldiers have dumped hundreds of others on Iraq's border, some badly beaten or tortured.

The Western officials are increasingly frustrated at the newly restored Kuwaiti government's apparent inability to control the abuses in a war-torn city with an estimated half a million weapons still unaccounted for.

"The ministerial [Cabinet] level is fully aware they can't afford to let this drag on or the situation will explode in their faces," said Walter Stocker, head of the International Committee of Red Cross delegation here. "It's suicide. But how far are they in control? You get out of where the government is sitting, and it's out of control."

A ranking U.S. official said that Palestinian and other prisoners now are being held at six Kuwaiti Army brigade headquarters, two division headquarters, and a military prison near the army chief of staff's office, as well as at schools and police stations.

"It's very evident that there are grave human rights problems," said Andrew Whitley, executive director of Middle East Watch, a New York based human rights organization.

The degree of direct Kuwaiti government complicity remains to be established, "especially at the highest levels," he said.

"But the Army is undoubtedly involved in abductions, interrogations, often brutally, and deportation of Palestinians and members of nationalities whose governments opposed the allied alliance," he said.

Whitley, who watched a Kuwaiti military police officer unload 23 Algerians, Somalis, Sudanese and Tunisians on the Iraqi border Saturday, said that Kuwait was violating international law by the use of arbitrary arrests, collective punishment and summary deportation without due process.

"And there is a disavowal of responsibility at all levels," Whitley said.

Whitley estimated that 3,000 people are unaccounted for, about half of them Palestinian. He said that 600 are known to be detained by military forces, and "300 are missing, presumed dead."

U.S. officials, who have already protested to senior members of Kuwait's government, went further Sunday.

U.S. Ambassador Edward W. "Skip" Gnehm Jr. accompanied Abdul-Rahman Awadi, the influential minister of state for Cabinet affairs, to Kuwait's northern border to personally interview at least two men who said that they had been badly beaten by the Kuwaiti military and then dumped on the desolate border.

Moments before leaving for the border, Awadi had denied such deportations were occurring.

Partially as a result of Awadi's trip to the border, Kuwait gave the green light Sunday for delegations from the Geneva-based International Organization of Migration and the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to visit the country and assist in repatriation.

The Egyptian Embassy also evacuated at least 250 Egyptians stuck at the Iraqi border or living in a squalid Red Crescent refugee camp nearby, ferrying them back to Kuwait city in trucks.

U.S. Army Maj. Andrew Natsios, who has visited jails as executive officer of the Kuwaiti Task Force, said that the forced deportations were a "very good sign."

"That means they're not shooting them," he said. He estimated that 400 to 700 people have now been dumped on the border.

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