Kuwait says it won't be provoked by Iraq

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Kuwait says it won't be provoked by Iraq, warns against incursion October 4, 2000 Web posted at: 10:06 AM EDT (1406 GMT)

ABDALI, Kuwait (Reuters) -- Kuwait said on Wednesday it would not be provoked by what it called the massing of Iraqi intelligence agents on its border and warned it would deal firmly with any attempts to cross into its territory.

Kuwait placed police on alert on Tuesday along the border, where hundreds of stateless Arabs, including some who claim to be Kuwaiti, have gathered on the Iraqi side, in a section of a demilitarized zone patrolled by the United Nations.

The hundreds are demanding to return to the oil-rich state, which many left when a U.S.-led military alliance ended Iraq's seven-month occupation of Kuwait in 1991.

Kuwait fears the stateless Arabs, known as Bedouin, could sweep across the border, acting on orders from Baghdad.

"We will not allow anyone to enter our land," Kuwait's Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Khaled al-Sabah, who is also acting defense minister, told journalists.

"I have a lot of reservations when you call them civilians. These people are not civilians," he said.

He said the stateless Arabs belonged to various Iraqi security and intelligence departments and were being taken to the border in Iraqi government vehicles and were staying in military tents.

"All Iraq wants is propaganda. They brought some children dressed in the same uniform, took a few pictures at the border and then took them back. ... A few women arrived there and stayed for an hour and then boarded the buses and left," he said.

Kuwaiti police officers at the border stressed that none of the demonstrators would be allowed into the country.

"It is clear they will not enter -- you just imagine someone trying to storm into your house. But we are police and a peaceful nation, and we'll deal with any attempts to enter our territory in a civilized manner," police general Ghazi al-Omar told reporters at the border.

Some 50 meters from the Iraqi border, journalists on the Kuwaiti side could see scores of tents and a few hundred people walking around a camp-like site inside Iraq.

Banners hoisted in the camp read: "Leave Kuwait before it is too late," "Today the olive branch tomorrow the rifle" and "We shall not leave until we achieve our goal."

Sheikh Mohammad said Kuwait had not seen any massing of regular Iraqi troops close to the border and that the situation was "calm and normal."

Tension between Kuwait and Iraq has been mounting since Baghdad in August celebrated the 10th anniversary of its 1990 invasion and occupation of its much smaller southern neighbor.

Defense sources said the stateless Arabs were accompanied by Iraqi police, who are allowed into the DMZ in limited numbers and with light arms. U.N. forces on the border have the right to use force only for self defense, Western officers said.

"Bedouin," the Arabic word for without, is used in Kuwait to refer to stateless people who live there and say they are Kuwaitis. But Kuwait says many Bedouins are citizens of neighboring states like Syria, Iraq and Iran. Some Bedouins were accused of supporting Iraq during the occupation of Kuwait.

The number of Bedouins in Kuwait has dropped since the war to just over 100,000, from about 280,000. Some stayed in Iraq, while others legalized their status or headed to other countries.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 04, 2000

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