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Kuwaitis Say Iraqis Captured Landing on Island

August 30, 1991

KUWAIT CITY (AP) _ Kuwaiti warplanes sank an Iraqi gunboat and coast guard units captured 46 disguised Iraqi soldiers who landed on Bubiyan Island to scavenge abandoned ammunition, Western security sources said Thursday.

The clash erupted Wednesday afternoon when Kuwaiti coastal forces intercepted five fishing boats loaded with ammunition as they started to leave the island, the sources said.

U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar termed the Iraqi incursion a ″very serious development″ but said the situation appeared to be ″under control.″ He was to submit an official report to the Security Council, which oversees the economic sanctions against Iraq.

The infiltration of the Persian Gulf island, which Baghdad long has sought because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Shatt-Al-Arab waterway, was the most serious infraction against Kuwait since U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi troops from the emirate in February, Perez de Cuellar said.

In Baghdad, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry official denied Iraqi soldiers were on the island, the official Iraqi News Agency said. The official, who was not identified, suggested the men might have been arms smugglers, according to the agency, which was monitored in Cyprus.

Earlier this month, Kuwaiti newspapers said 19 Iraqi soldiers were captured after they crossed the border, and officials said the Iraqis had failed in several other infiltration attempts.

The security officials, who insisted they not be named, said Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians had landed on Bubiyan and loaded ammunition onto five fishing boats. The Iraqis were spotted by Kuwaiti forces as they started to sail away about 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Kuwaiti troops opened fire on the fishing boats, and four Iraqi gunboats were rushed from Fao island in southern Iraq to rescue the boats, the sources said.

At least two Kuwaiti Skyhawk jets attacked the Iraqi gunboats, sinking one. Three other boats were captured, along with 46 ″soldiers in civilian guise,″ according to one official.

At least 34 Iraqis escaped by boat but others might be hiding on the island, the official said.

The Kuwaiti island is at the entrance of the Shatt-Al-Arab, Iraq’s main outlet to the Persian Gulf. Saddam Hussein had demanded Kuwait hand over Bubiyan before his forces invaded the emirate on Aug. 2, 1990.

Officials of the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission, who patrol a demilitarized zone straddling the border, reported clashes on Bubiyan at 2:25 p.m. Wednesday.

UNIKOM commanders discussed dispatching a helicopter to investigate, but were advised by Kuwait not to, because Kuwait’s air force was preparing to attack the Iraqi infiltrators, said UNIKOM spokesman Abdellatif Kabbaj.

He said a UNIKOM helicopter that patrolled the area Thursday morning was not able to detect any activity on the island.

In Cairo, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry condemned Iraq for the incident, saying it confirmed ″the aggressive intentions of the Iraqi regime.″ In London, the Foreign Office summoned Iraq’s senior diplomat to discuss the incident.

Egypt and Britain had large troop contingents in the U.S.-led coalition that defeated Iraq in the Gulf War.

The United States, which had planned to remove its troops from Kuwait in September, announced this week it would keep a military presence there longer. About 38,000 American soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel are in the gulf region, down from the peak of 540,000 during the war.

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