U.S. relief set for Kurds U.N. condemns Iraq Turkey warns Iraq to halt its attacks on fleeing Kurds

April 06, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

CIZRE, Turkey -- Iraqi forces fired artillery barrages at Kurdish refugees fleeing to Turkey, witnesses said yesterday, and Ankara officials suggested that the continued attacks on refugee Kurds could lead to a Turkish military strike against Iraq.

In a meeting with parliamentary deputies Thursday, Turkish President Turgut Ozal reportedly had not ruled out attacking Iraq if it continued firing on the Kurds.

"Since we cannot stop these people from trying to escape the attacks, we shall try to stop the other side," Mr. Ozal reportedly said.

The daily newspaper Milliyet said that Mr. Ozal warned Baghdad: "If you do not cease fire, we will be forced to intervene."

The warnings signaled growing tensions between Turkey and Iraq in the disarray after Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf war and its suppression of the Kurdish rebellion.

Turkey, which has a security problem with its own Kurdish separatists, hardly appears eager to welcome hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tugay Ozceri added yesterday that Iraq's assault on an estimated half-million Kurdish refugees making for the Turkish border "constitutes a threat to our own security."

While the Turkish warnings may discourage further Iraqi attacks on the Kurds, Turkish soldiers continued to fire above and around the refugees in an effort to prevent them from flooding into Turkey, witnesses returning from the Iraqi-Turkish frontier said yesterday.

Kurdish journalists returning after two days in the border town of Isikzeren said they heard artillery barrages being fired Thursday on the Iraqi side of the mountain border, where Kurdish refugees denied entry to Turkey had massed.

Refugees said they also had heard artillery fire the day before, the journalists said.

The Associated Press quoted an unnamed Turkish government official as saying that Iraq had fired mortar shells at refugees near the Turkish border yesterday, although journalists from the Kurdish newspaper Ulke said the attacks had occurred Wednesday and Thursday but not yesterday.

From the Turkish side of the border, refugees were receiving some food, though medical attention appeared non-existent, witnesses said. The people of Cizre, not a particularly wealthy town, had loaded up 12 trucks with blankets, food, clothing and plastic sheeting that they delivered to the refugees.

"The people are between two fires," said Abdullah Arisoy, Ulke's Cizre bureau chief. "Iraq is pushing them, and Turkey is pushing."

So far, access to the border region has been mostly restricted to Turkish media and to reporters fleeing Iraq, and so eyewitnesses accounts could not be independently confirmed.

But as international relief efforts geared up to prevent the potential deaths of thousands of Iraqi Kurds from hunger and exposure, the question of where they would ultimately go remained unresolved. Turkey appeared willing to pass on any supplies sent here but remained firm in its refusal to accept the Kurdish refugees.

Yesterday, the emergency-rule governor for southeast Turkey, Hayri Kozakcioglu, said Turkey's borders to Iraq were effectively open, since it could not prevent large numbers of Iraqi Kurds from entering.

But returning Turkish Kurdish journalists, and their tape-recorded interviews with refugees at the border, told a different story yesterday.

"The Turkish military doesn't let them through. When they see more coming, they shoot at them," said Ulke's Mr. Arisoy.

Of an estimated half-million Iraqi Kurds massed at the Turkish border, 100,000 to 125,000 had made it to Turkey through gaps between border controls. The rest are being held back at the border, with Turkey planning to distribute food on mules.

One tape-recorded interview the journalists conducted bore harrowing testimony to the Kurds' plight.

In the middle of the interview with refugees on a mountainside came the sound of single gunshots, which suddenly became a steady burst of machine-gun fire.

"Oh God, look what's happened," a woman shrieked. A man, whom the journalists identified as a Turkish soldier, demanded: "Don't take any pictures."

The journalists said they were 200 or so yards from where the shooting occurred and could see people gather around and look down at the ground.

"The Turkish soldiers stopped us, so we just got the sound," said Faysal Dagli, one of the reporters.

The journalists quoted refugees as saying that Iraqi soldiers had also been shooting at them as they fled and that a Turkish soldier had been shot across the border. They said soldiers told them that there had been 200 deaths near the border so far. At one post, they said, they buried six children last night.

In their grief and bitterness upon returning from the border, the Turkish Kurds blamed President Bush for encouraging rebellion against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein without providing any support for the Kurds.

The Kurds are also accusing the United States and Turkey of having given a green light to Mr. Hussein for the assaults.

"It's the fault of America, of Bush. He killed all of them," said Mr. Arisoy, the Ulke editor.

Mustapha Gurbuz, a reporter who was with the Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas, the Pesh Mergas ("those who face death"), said that at one point U.S. planes passed over northern Iraq. He said the rebels told him that "these are American planes. They will not hurt us."

"Five minutes later, Iraqi government forces began bombing us," Mr. Gurbuz said. "I believe that the American planes were passing information on to the Iraqis."

Mr. Gurbuz conceded that it would not be logical for the United States to assist Baghdad, its enemy. But so deep was his mistrust and sense of betrayal that he did not rule it out.

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