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First Kuwaitis Freed; Two Foreign Journalists Found

March 8, 1991

ON THE IRAQI BORDER OF KUWAIT (AP) _ More than 1,000 Kuwaiti hostages, the first freed by Iraq, today told of living in squalid Iraqi military camps, drinking swamp water, and eating food barely fit for consumption.

Meanwhile, Iraq acknowledged that it is holding 40 foreign journalists and two American soldiers and promised to turn them over to the Red Cross in Baghdad later in the day. The Pentagon said the names of the servicemen supplied by Iraq aren’t included on any lists they have.

All the captives were taken in the southern city of Basra. On Thursday, two missing journalists - a CBS News crew - surfaced near the Iraq-Kuwait border.

The Kuwaitis, who returned home late Thursday, were among thousands taken away by Iraqi soldiers. Kuwaiti officials estimate that 30,000 of their countrymen were seized during the 6 1/2 -month occupation of this country.

Iraq has told the victorious allies it will return all prisoners of war and seized civilians as quickly as possible.

″It was like hell,″ said Hami Jamal, one of the freed Kuwaitis. ″We drank swamp water for days. And for what crimes? For being Kuwaitis.″

The 27-year-old computer engineer said he was kidnapped from his house by Iraqi troops on Feb. 21.

″They treated us like dogs, like chickens,″ said Mansoor Shehab, a 25- year-old electrical engineer who was also released.

Several Kuwaitis also said they witnessed Iraqis beating a mentally retarded Kuwaiti. Another man said he saw Iraqis beat a Kuwaiti who ignored warnings to stop talking.

More than 12 Iraqi military trucks moved the Kuwaitis from a military base outside Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, on Thursday afternoon. That evening, they arrived at the border of their homeland and began a lengthy wait in near-freezing temperatures while Kuwait army officers checked their papers.

The returning Kuwaitis said Iraqi soldiers captured most of them from their homes Feb. 21-23. They were taken to police stations, then moved to Iraq in trucks.

By early March, the 1,180 men were transferred to a military base outside Basra. They said they were placed in three rooms, each measuring about 100 square yards.

″We were packed like sardines,″ said Fahad Ladalah, a 27-year-old accountant. ″Many people went to the bathroom on themselves and then had to sleep with others. The Iraqi soldiers just laughed.″

As he spoke, a red dawn broke on the horizon. Oil well fires set by Iraqis flared in the distance.

Behind him, several hundred of his newly freed countryman moved in rows for their morning prayers.

″This is our first free prayer in weeks,″ said Adel al-Saghayer, a 31- year-old aircraft maintanence engineer. ″I can’t wait to return to my homeland.″

Hundreds of the men huddled together, shivering in the cold as a Kuwaiti military officer checked their papers. Those he approved boarded 19 school buses that were expected to bring them to Kuwait City.

″All men who don’t have Kuwaiti accents or sufficient proof will be put aside and investigated,″ the Kuwaiti officer said. ″If they can prove they are Kuwaiti, we will let them into Kuwait.″

Many of the former hostages complained that after two weeks in an Iraqi military camp, they did not want to wait for their papers to be processed.

″Tonight has been more of a disturbance than we would have liked,″ said Ali Mustafa Abdal, a 38-year-old engineer with the Kuwait Oil Company. ″We shouldn’t be staying here in the cold so long. They should have made other arrangements.″

Kuwaitis said that during the two weeks near Basra, they were fed rock-hard bread in the morning, rice laced with rocks for lunch and bread again for dinner.

Several men had brought samples of the bread home for their families to see. ″If you gave it to a camel or a horse ... they wouldn’t eat it,″ said Mohammed Qali, a 38-year-old administrator.

With the announcement on Baghdad Radio today, the Iraqi government acknowledged for the first time it was holding journalists. There had been reports, however, indicating the reporters might be in Iraqi custody.

The radio quoted an unidentified government spokesman as saying the 40 foreign reporters disappeared ″during illegal presence in Basra,″ Iraq’s second-largest city in the south where a revolt against Saddam Hussein’s rule began over the weekend. The radio also said two American soldiers, identified as members of the VII Army Corps, were captured in Basra.

The radio said the group was taken from Basra to Baghdad on Thursday in preparation for their transfer to representatives of the International Committee of Red Cross.

The CBS crew, meanwhile, Timothy Dickey, a technician, and Chris Everson, a cameraman, were found wandering in the Iraqi desert by U.S. Army units. Iraqi gunmen had stolen their four-wheel drive vehicle and equipment earlier in the week.