Martial law is extended 30 more days in Kuwait

May 28, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

KUWAIT CITY L — KUWAIT CITY -- Kuwait's government extended military rule for another 30 days yesterday, one day after its crown prince denounced ongoing human rights abuses, including abduction and torture by well-armed vigilantes.

Kuwait's emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, quietly extended the martial-law decree that has governed Kuwaitis since allied forces liberated their city three months ago. The 30-day extension was not announced publicly, and there were unconfirmed reports that the Cabinet had been divided over whether to continue martial law.

The move came after an unusually blunt speech by Crown Prince Sheik Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, who is also prime minister and martial-law governor. For the first time, he threatened to punish soldiers or civilians responsible for a reported rash of postwar beatings, tortures and disappearances.

"We cannot tolerate any more and allow those who have evil intentions to meddle in the security of the nation and the people," the prince said in a televised speech Sunday.

"These elements must be arrested, questioned and brought to trial," he said. "We must not lose the international support we have on account of irresponsible acts by individuals."

The speech came after weeks of allegations that non-Kuwaitis, particularly Palestinians and others suspected of collaborating with the Iraqis, have been beaten, raped or dragged off to secret detention centers where they are held incommunicado. Palestinians also complain of routine harassment and shakedowns by security forces at checkpoints.

"They are taken from their homes or the streets and taken to the police station, where they are tortured," Prince Saad said. "This is totally unacceptable and cannot continue."

Western diplomats and human rights groups hailed Monday's speech as the first official mention of the problem.

"That's a very positive and a very forceful statement," one Western diplomat said. "They understand the problem, and they are trying to do something about it."

"The acknowledgment of ongoing torture by the police and the vow to prosecute torturers is a very significant first step toward putting an end to this disturbing reality," said Kenneth Roth, deputy director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Kuwaiti opposition leaders faulted the government for prolonging martial law they consider unconstitutional, and said the prince's remarks were long overdue.

"That's all nice and well, but our point is his remarks came too late," said Abdullah Naibairi of the Kuwaiti Democratic Front.

"We have become used to very good speeches and nice words and correct attitudes when our leaders come to speak in public, but the problem is these attitudes are not reflected in practice," he said.

"If they really bring these culprits to the law, then people will believe it. Otherwise, people will consider it a good speech divorced from real action."

Mr. Naibairi said that leaders of eight opposition groups had sought and held talks with the emir, the first meeting between the two, to press for urgent democratic reforms and for the immediate holding of general elections promised for next year.

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