Secure zone expanded for Kurds in Iraq U.S.-led allies plan refugee camps near 3 northern towns

April 29, 1991|By William D. Montalbano | William D. Montalbano,Los Angeles Times

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- Springing from a rapidly expanding tent city near the border town of Zakho, allied marines and paratroopers probed deeper into northern Iraq yesterday as they moved to double the size of a haven where they promise to shelter and protect a half-million refugees.

Diplomatic sources here said that the move marked the second stage of a plan that will center camps for refugees around three towns in northern Iraq.

"From the beginning the idea has been to move further east to establish more camps once the Zakho area was secure," said one U.S. official.

The second set of camps for the mostly Kurdish refugees will be built near the village of Amadiyah and the third set near Dahuk, he said.

Following the pattern established at Zakho last week, camps on their outskirts would require allied control of both Amadiyah, about 75 miles east of Zakho, as well as Dohuk, about 30 miles southeast of the original camp.

No clashes were reported as elite U.S., British and French units ++ pushed east from Zakho toward securing what will eventually become an area of about 1,350 square miles in northern Iraq that will be off limits to Iraqi forces -- double the area in which the allied troops had been operating.

U.S. Marines will clear the area around Amadiyah to make possible construction of a camp there, Army Lt. Col. Jim Christophersen of Green Bay, Wis., told reporters in Zakho yesterday.

In Washington yesterday, a Department of Defense spokesman said expansion of the secure zone did not represent any shift in allied strategy. He said the allied forces had never specified how large the protected area would be.

"You start with one camp; then you expand it to two and three," said the spokesman. "You can't fit all these people into one small area."

The United States, which is spearheading the unprecedented humanitarian effort, hopes that many of the refugees who lived in the protected area will bypass new camps and return directly to their homes when they leave the squalid mountain perches along the Iraqi-Turkish border where many of them have been trapped for almost a month.

About 250 Kurds came in buses to the Zakho camp yesterday, 10 miles from the Turkish border, to join a work force that will total 1,000 young Kurdish men within the next few days.

The camp, with about 1,000 blue-and-white tents already in place, received its first visit yesterday from officials of the United Nations, which has agreed to take over operations of the encampments.

Many Kurds have fled northern Iraq since the end of March after troops loyal to President Saddam Hussein crushed a rebellion against his rule. About 500,000 refugees are thought to be along the border with Turkey, and more than 1 million in Iran.

Refugees are chary of returning to their homes while Mr. Hussein, who has warred against the Kurds for nearly a decade, still rules in Baghdad.

Reports from the mountains said that some refugees who were beginning to find their own way out of the mountains on the Turkish frontier and back inside Iraq were impeded by Kurdish guerrillas. The Peshmergas, as the guerrillas are called, threw up roadblocks along some mountain tracks, barring refugees from leaving.

The most charitable explanation was that guerrilla leaders wanted a slow and orderly return so that the flow could be quickly reversed if Mr. Hussein dishonors his promise to allow the refugees back without reprisal. There were reports, however, of guerrillas demanding payment from the refugees to allow them to pass.

[Not only Kurds are apprehensive about returning home. About 14,000 Iraqi prisoners of war in Saudi Arabia have refused to go home, the Associated Press reported the commander of Arab coalition forces as saying yesterday.

[Some sought Saudi guns and aid to topple Mr. Hussein, but were rebuffed, he said.

["We'll just abide by international law on prisoners of war, which simply says they stay in their camps until either they go back home or they go to other countries," said the commander, Lt. Gen. Khalid bin Sultan.

[The 14,000 are among the remaining 17,000 prisoners in custody, he said. About 60,000 prisoners were taken during the war and eventually placed in Saudi custody.

[The general, a Saudi Arabian prince who headed Arab forces in Operation Desert Storm, said he received "a few" letters from Iraqi POWs who "wanted to be armed and to go back and fight Saddam."

[But he said he refused such help and "simply said we would help make them comfortable in the camps."

[The recruitment of POWs for political purposes is outlawed under the 1949 Geneva Convention. Red Cross officials said they were satisfied that no such activity was taking place in the Saudi camps.]

A counterpoint to the allied buildup in northern Iraq yesterday was the start of an airlift from the demilitarized zone in southern Iraq for refugees there who fear reprisals from Mr. Hussein's forces once the Americans depart.

Five Air Force transport planes took off from an airfield at Safwan with 339 Iraqis, a third of them children, bound for the Saudi border camp of Rafha. The refugees were told that they could accept the offer to go to Rafha, or remain in Iraq after the U.S. troops shut down the Safwan camp.

U.S.-controlled Safwan in the Iraqi south lies in the Iraqi portion of a demilitarized zone that is to be patrolled by a 1,440-member United Nations observer force. The zone extends six miles into Iraq and three miles into Kuwait, and runs along the entire 120-mile border. Iraqi police will resume civil law enforcement in the Iraqi portion of the zone as soon as the U.N. force is in place and the Americans are gone.

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