Visit moves Baker to back refugee aid Secretary views conditions firsthand

April 09, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- The United States, under continued criticism for its refusal to hinder Iraq's suppression of rebels, hopes the presence of large numbers of international relief jTC workers will prevent further atrocities and may back a United Nations force in northern Iraq if they don't, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday.

Mr. Baker raised this prospect after a 10-minute made-for-media visit to the site of thousands of miserable Kurdish refugees, a visit that took him slightly into Iraqi territory and confronted him with a pained plea for worldwide aid.

"You will now have a major humanitarian relief effort undertaken by the international community, and it is hoped that the presence of humanitarian relief workers will act as a deterrent to future harassment and persecution of these people," Mr. Baker told reporters before leaving Turkey.

Asked if he supported sending a United Nations force to northern Iraq to protect Kurdish areas there, he


"Well, let me say if there were any threats of interference with humanitarian relief efforts, it seems to me it might be required that the Security Council take another look at the situation, that something like that might then have to be considered," Mr. Baker said.

Last week's U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Iraq's repression of civilians omitted any direct threat if Iraq failed to comply.

With the council divided even over condemnation of Iraq's internal policies, U.S. officials said at the time that pressure would be maintained on Iraq through the United Nations' discretion over lifting economic sanctions.

Yesterday was the first time Mr. Baker had indicated that some kind of U.N. force might be needed in Kurdish rebel areas of northern Iraq in addition to the border-monitoring force slated for the Iraq-Kuwait line under the cease-fire resolution ending the Persian Gulf war.

Such a move would likely be backed by Turkey, which says it has been overwhelmed by Iraqi refugees, hopes they can be persuaded to return to their homeland and wants tougher action against Iraq.

In a joint appearance with Mr. Baker here, Foreign Minister Ahmet Alptemocin said, "The civilized world is duty-bound not to permit the Iraqi regime to get away with what it is doing to its own civilian people and the threat that it constitutes for peace, security and stability in the region."

Mr. Baker and his entourage of aides and reporters took a motorcade of Land Rovers and buses up a rutted mountain road surrounded by snow-capped peaks near Cukurca, on Turkey's southeast border, for a firsthand glimpse of the plight of thousands of refugees.

The trek followed a helicopter trip along the Iraqi border that showed Mr. Baker several similar chaotic encampments jumbled among the jagged mountains.

The Cukurca site, hardly fitting the orderly term "refugee camp," is a small sea of humanity crowded onto the hillsides, with few tents and no immediately apparent sanitary or medical facilities.

Crowds of women and children were getting water and washing clothes at a mountain stream as the secretary approached. Hundreds more, their possessions gathered in fabric bags or strewn around them, stood and watched the motorcade.

As Mr. Baker, accompanied by Mr. Alptemocin, started to talk to a small crowd of refugees, one of them, Sam Timathwes, 30, an Assyrian Christian from Kirkuk, approached and said in clear English, "Mr. Secretary, I want to talk to you."

"We have saw torrential rains, bad weather, and we have been on the ice all these days," he told Mr. Baker, who listened intently.

"And we are suffering. Our children are suffering from hunger and starvation. So you have got to make for us something. Help us. We don't have enough water supplies here, you see, this is the first thing. Second thing, that we need doctors, we need medicines, we need enough food, and some people don't want to stay here. We want to go abroad. This is the main point for some people here."

Mr. Timathwes, who told reporters later he had been pursuing a master's degree when war broke out and who had arrived at the camp with 16 relatives, went on to tell of "heavy bombing and shelling on our heads. So please: We are pleading [to] all the nations in the world, just to help all these people here."

Mr. Baker promised him, "We are going to mount a very large international effort" to bring relief.

The secretary had little further chance to assess the scene before he and the foreign minister abruptly piled into a Land Rover and drove away, leaving their entourage scrambling for seats on available vehicles. Only about 10 minutes had elapsed.

A U.S. official said later that the media crush, on top of the surge of refugees around the two officials, made it impossible to stay longer. He said the entire day had been planned by the Turkish government.

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