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Kurds Seek Protection; U.N. Official Calls Kurds’ Plight ‘Tragedy’ With AM-Gulf-Refugees, Bjt

April 15, 1991

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Kurdish rebels on Monday renewed a plea for U.N. protection from Iraqi government forces, and a U.N. official studying the plight of refugee Kurds in Iran called it a human tragedy.

Iraq, meanwhile, claimed that Kurdish families were returning to the regions around Dohuk, along the Turkish border, and Erbil, near Iran, because of the government’s offer of amnesty.

In Iran, Kurdish rebel leaders told the AP that their men were returning to Iraq - but to fight, not surrender.

Iran’s official radio said that the country’s Red Crescent Society, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross, was running out of relief supplies for more than 900,000 Iraqi Kurds who have fled into Iran.

The radio quoted Red Crescent head Vaheed Dastjerdi as saying the relief effort had been mobilized in five border provinces, but ″there is currently nothing in our warehouses.″

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted President Hashemi Rafsanjani as criticizing the international community for the delays in getting aid to Iran for the Kurdish refugees.

″We expected that governments that quickly supplied military equipment for the war would provide humanitarian assistance for the innocent people of Iraq,″ Rafsanjani was quoted as telling German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in a telephone conversation.

The Iranian news agency reported new fighting in southern Iraq. It quoted refugees arriving in southern Iran as saying there were clashes in the towns of Tanuma, Kahla, Amara, Nasseriya and Al-Qurna. Plumes of smoke rising over Basra were visible from the Iranian border, it said.

Further north, in the Kurdish-dominated city of Sardasht, Iran, exiled rebel leaders said they were recruiting men who would leave their wives and children in the camps and return to fight Saddam Hussein’s army.

At the United Nations, Iran’s ambassador lodged a complaint that Iraqi troops had pushed two miles into Iran on Sunday, presumably in pursuit of rebels.

The U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata, visited Iraqi Kurds who have crowded into Iran’s border provinces on Monday and said the huge influx of refugees has far outstripped the aid reaching them.

″It’s a great human tragedy,″ she was quoted in a report by the Iranian news agency monitored in Nicosia, Cyprus.

The Kurdish rebellion in the north and the Shiite Muslim uprising in southern Iraq began after Iraq was crushed in the Gulf War. Both uprisings captured cities and towns before being put down by Iraq’s loyalist forces. Scattered fighting continues.

The Iraqi Kudistan Front, an umbrella for rebel factions, urged the U.N. Security Council to invoke the 1948 convention against genocide to provide protection for Kurds.

″Iraq’s entire Kurdish community is being terrorized and the decimation bears all the hallmarks of genocide,″ said a statement from the front in London.

Rebel spokesmen claim Iraqi forces have tried to cut off fleeing Kurds’ escape routes to Turkey and Iran even as hundreds of the refugees die from cold and disease in the frigid mountains.

Government forces shelled refugees taking shelter in the village of Sotek, near the Iranian border, killing a mother and her six children and wounding 27 other people, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the groups in the Kurdistan Front, said in a communique from London.

Since foreign reporters have been unable to reach most of the scenes of violence, claims by the rebels and Iraqi officials could not be verified.

Iraq drew quite a different picture of the situation in northern Iraq. The official Iraqi News Agency said Kurdish families were heeding the government’s offer of amnesty and returning to the regions around Dohuk, along the Turkish border, and Erbil, near Iran.

The news agency said a reporter who visited Dohuk found returning refugees blaming their flight on rebel mobs. It also quoted those in Erbil as praising Saddam’s leadership.

Iraqi officials have denied they are targeting Kurds who are fleeing and have offered an amnesty for those wishing to go home. Officials pledged on Sunday to cooperate with U.N. programs to help the Kurds return to their towns and villages.

The Iraqi reports did not say how many refugees returned to Dohuk and Erbil. Earlier, Iraqi officials described thousands of Kurds returning, but reporters on the Turkish and Iranian borders say tens of thousands still are fleeing into the neighboring countries.

There have been estimates that as many as 2 million of Iraq’s 4 million Kurds fled their homes in fear of revenge by Saddam’s forces after the Kurdish rebellion against Saddam began to lose ground.

Iran’s news agency reported that authorities decided to help settle 50,000 Iraqi refugees in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Qom in the Iranian south. The report did not identify the refugees.

Iraqi forces have recaptured most territory seized by Kurds and Shiites who rose up after the Persian Gulf War. Shiite Islam is the majority religion in both Iraq and Iran.

Update hourly