U.S. Says It’s Resolving Border Problem, But Others Remain
SILOPI, Turkey (AP) _ U.S. officials said Friday they had ironed out a customs conflict with Turkey that slowed delivery of supplies for Iraqi Kurdish refugees and allied troops in Iraq for a week.
By Monday or Tuesday, the flow of supplies will be smooth, predicted U.S. Army Maj. Mark Paun, logistics chief for the refugee operation’s main supply depot.
Other tensions between Turkey and the anti-Iraq allies could disrupt the operation again, observers said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Turkey’s military is worried about the allied plan to repatriate Iraqi refugees to an allied-protected ″security zone″ in northern Iraq. Some officals feel the allied forces are secretly aiming to bolster the Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas.
Some officials feel that strengthening the Iraqi Kurdish rebels is likely to encourage Turkey’s Kurdish guerrillas, who have been fighting in the same region for seven years.
Turkey’s military chief of staff, Gen. Dogan Gures, told journalists this week there was a ″possibility that these arms (being shipped to Iraq) will go to the Kurds.″
Allied officials dismissed his remarks. But the comment showed the depth of suspicion in Turkey, where memory persists of the attempts by Western countries to carve up Turkey after World War I.
Last week, Turkey effectively shut down the border crossing with Iraq, blocking relief aid and supplies for allied troops. It said it was merely enforcing customs regulations that had not been applied stringently before.
But relief workers and government officials complained of red tape in sending tents and medicine to the new camps in Iraq, and ammunition to the coalition forces, which Turkish officials apparently feared was going to the Kurds.
Paun said U.S. and Turkish customs officials met and ″ironed out a bunch of procedures.″ He said the U.S. forces sent bilingual officers to the border to speed up paperwork and planned to open three transportation offices.
Paun blamed the problems on the sudden increase in the scale of shipments to Iraq.
But, a Western ambassador said, ″There is always a risk of a major interruption of supplies″ at the border again.
Humanitarian groups also complained of difficulties in shipping aid through Turkey.
In one case, U.S. Marines sent two helicopters to transport medicine to Iraq for the international group Doctors Without Borders because the group had customs problems in Turkey, aid officials said.
Local authorities remind critics that Turkey supplied huge anounts of aid to the refugees when they first poured in from Iraq after a failed Kurdish uprising.
A Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Turkey would continue implementing the checks and limitations concerning the relief supplies and their transport to northern Iraq.
″There are certain rules and we have to apply them,″ he said.
But he said that what the allies have told the Turks officially ″is that they are satisfied and thankful for our cooperation and that’s what matters.″