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Hundreds of Kuwaiti POWs Arrive Home; Many Incarcerated

March 22, 1991

KUWAIT CITY (AP) _ More than 1,100 Kuwaiti soldiers returned home Friday from seven months in captivity in Iraq - but many were promptly incarcerated again by the Kuwaiti military.

An official with the Red Crescent Society, meanwhile, said an additional 5,000 prisoners of war being held by Iraq would arrive in Kuwait over the next week.

About 400 of the freed prisoners - all of them Kuwaiti citizens - were allowed to return home to their families after arriving in Kuwait from Saudi Arabia.

But the rest, more than 700 men, were taken to a military camp outside Kuwait City because - although they had served in Kuwait’s security forces - they were not Kuwaiti citizens.

Yusuf al-Khawari, an official at Kuwait’s Ministry of Justice who is working with the POWs, said the men would undergo further identity checks and then be given back to their army, police or national guard units.

But other Kuwaiti officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they believed the men would be held and then deported in line with a government desire to decrease the number of foreigners in the country.

At a wedding hall converted into an ad hoc reception chamber, confusion reigned as wives and other relatives sought out missing husbands, sons and brothers among the freed prisoners.

Celebrating militiamen fired live rounds in the air. Friends embraced passionately and threw themselves into throngs looking frantically for missing kin.

No high-ranking government officials came to the hall. U.S. Ambassador Edward Gnehm, however, appeared during the afternoon, a fact that most Kuwaitis thought was significant.

″At least he has a little humanity, unlike our leaders,″ said an official who works for the Ministry of Information.

One of the causes of confusion was that the Kuwaiti government did not release names of the prisoners, so many relatives came to the center only to have their hopes dashed.

″It’s worse than torture,″ said Ghada al-Adwani, a 27-year-old stateless woman who was waiting for her soldier husband. ″I haven’t seen or heard him in seven months. Why can’t they tell us who is coming so we know what to do?″

She finally left the hall after waiting 17 hours.

In all, 1,150 Kuwaiti POWs returned Friday after being released the day before by Iraq at a remote Saudi border town. They were freed in compliance with terms set down by the allies during cease-fire talks.

Saudi authorities flew the men to Arar, 550 miles northwest of Riyadh where they boarded flights home Friday.

Al-Khawari said most of the released prisoners were non-Kuwaitis who were in the security forces at the time Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2. They were mainly Egyptians and stateless people, although some Palestinians, Iraqis and Jordanians were among them, he said.

Most were captured on the invasion date, he said.

Since the emirate was liberated on Feb. 27, Kuwaiti authorities have deported hundreds of non-Kuwaitis. A refugee camp of more than 1,500 has sprung up on Kuwait’s border with Iraq, inhabited by Palestinians, Indians, Sri Lankas and others, many of whom claim to be longtime residents of Kuwait.

Kuwait’s pre-war population of about 2 million was more than 60 percent foreigners, who did most of the work in the oil-rich emirate. Kuwaitis comprised only 13 percent of the labor force.

Kuwait’s minister of state for cabinet affairs, Adulrahman Adballah al- Awadi, said recently that the Cabinet wants the ratio of Kuwaitis to foreigners to be equal within a year, necessitating the expulsion of at least 200,000 people.

The Red Crescent estimates that about 11,000 Kuwaiti civilians and soldiers remain in Iraqi hands. Of them, about 3,500 are civilians.

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