US Department of State Daily Briefing #67: Wednesday, 4/24/91

Dillen Source: Press Office Director Mark Dillen Description: 12:37 PM, Washington, DC Date: Apr 24, 19914/24/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, East Asia, Subsaharan Africa Country: Iraq, Kuwait, Japan, Ethiopia Subject: Regional/Civil Unrest, Development/Relief Aid, Refugees, Military Affairs (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. DILLEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Today I'll try to be as brief as possible with our rundown of activities and of statistics relating to the refugee situation in the Persian Gulf area.

[Iraq: Update on Refugees]

First, on Turkey. Currently 850,000 refugees and displaced persons are in Turkey or located near the Turkish-Iraqi border. Fifteen refugee centers have been established or expanded in Turkey. These centers are providing assistance to about 450,000 refugees. The International Committee of the Red Cross -- the ICRC -- reports that it is intensifying medical and relief activities in northern Iraq. It has established a dispensary near Kanimasi in northern Iraq for a population of about 50,000. They are also providing tents, blankets and emergency food items. In addition to the emergency medical and relief assistance, ICRC's objective in this region is to create general conditions favorable for the return of the people displaced by the conflict. On "Operation Provide Comfort": Yesterday on the air drops, U.S. and coalition forces air dropped 787.6 tons of relief supplies. Since April 7, that brings our air drop mission total to 5,915.5 tons of relief supplies to both sides of the Turkish border. U.S. and allied forces continue the construction of temporary tent villages in the vicinity of Zakhu and are still assessing the need for the total number that will be constructed. Iraqi forces in the area consist of 250 to 300 border guards in Zakhu who are lightly armed. In addition, there is a platoon of infantry and a battery or less of artillery on a ridge to the south of Zakhu.
With regard to Iran, our figures now are that more than one million Iraqis have entered Iran, and international relief officials report that another 500,000 remain near the border area. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other international relief organizations are working in Iran to provide assistance for this needy population. The ICRC is supporting the Iranian Red Crescent Society with relief supplies at several camps, providing over 80 tons of food daily to several hundred thousand refugees. More than 800,000 refugees in Iran are located along the border in the northern provinces. Rough estimates indicate that about one-third of these refugees are already sheltered in tents. Another third have found makeshift shelters. That would include private homes, mosques, public places, cars, and so on. And one-third are still without shelter. Until recently, the ICRC provided assistance to the Iraqi refugees in Iran, mainly through distribution points and cooperation with the Iranian Red Crescent. The ICRC is now constructing camps in Iran. These camps will provide shelter, relief supplies and medical assistance for up to 200,000 people. Because the population of many of the villages bordering Iraq has more than doubled, the ICRC is also working to improve sanitation infrastructures in these areas.
Southern Iraq
With regard to southern Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces continue to provide assistance for about 30,000-40,000 displaced persons and local civilians in the demilitarized zone in southern Iraq. According to preliminary estimates, the DoD -- the Defense Department -- reports that U.N. forces will be fully operational and will assume full responsibilities in the DMZ by May 10. Until U.N. forces are fully operational, the U.S. will continue to provide security and assistance to displaced persons and the local civilians in the DMZ.
US Support
Now, on our contributions to the relief effort. This morning the White House announced that the President had authorized an additional $10 million drawdown from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to meet the unexpected and urgent needs of refugees and other persons displaced by the crisis in the Middle East. These funds will be contributed on a multilateral or bilateral basis, as appropriate, to international organizations, private voluntary organizations and other governmental and non-governmental agencies who are engaged in the relief efforts. Up to $100,000 will be used only to cover some of the related administrative expenses necessary to implement and monitor the use of this assistance.
US Assistance to Iran
On U.S. assistance to Iran, which we, of course, discussed yesterday and which was mentioned this morning at the White House. To refer back first to what we said yesterday and both here and at the White House and at Pete Williams' briefing at the Pentagon, we want to help Iraqi refugees and displaced persons wherever they are. Iranian authorities have been making considerable efforts, and they face huge problems, as we recognize. They have informed a number of countries, including the United States, as well as international organizations, of the needs of the refugees they are trying to help. At this point, we are working with organizations and other governments in deciding what each can provide most quickly and effectively. I should remind you that the major effort in Iran will come from international organizations, with special efforts by certain countries. I note that Germany has announced a major effort in Iran. And with that, I'll turn to questions. Q The Iraqis said yesterday that 75 percent of the grain crop in the northern part of the country may not be harvested because the United States won't let helicopters capable of spraying pesticides fly above the 36th parallel. Your comments? MR. DILLEN: We're aware of those reports, but at this point we have no reaction for you. Q Mark, on your figures on Iran, as I understand it, half a million people are still without shelter. The ICRC is constructing camps for 200,000 people. What's going to happen to the other 300,000? And that presupposes that another half a million are going to be staying in cars and mosques -- what did you say, makeshift -- MR. DILLEN: No. It doesn't presuppose that, Alan. It simply points out the dimensions of the need in that area. It indicates the amount of effort that has been put forward so far, and, as we've indicated, there will be further efforts to come. Q Can we reprise our discussion of yesterday on protection of the camps? MR. DILLEN: Certainly. Q The New York Times quotes a senior Administration official today as saying, "We're not going to say to to them" -- "them" meaning the refugees -- "come down from the mountains, you will be protected, and then not protect them." Yesterday you said to me, if I can paraphrase you, that the main assurance of their protection will be the presence of international organizations and international relief workers. How do you square that with your -- how do you reconcile those views? MR. DILLEN: I don't think they need to be reconciled is the way I'd put it. At this point, we have an effort to develop the centers or encampments. We look forward to a transition, by which time they can be administered under U.N. auspices. Up to this point, there has been -- although we've seen reports, we have no confirmation of any interference or harassment in conducting that effort. Q What kind of interference do you actually need to see? I mean, are you waiting for a point at which armed Iraqis open fire on Kurds? The Kurds have got a long history of knowledge, personal knowledge, of what the Iraqis can do. They see armed Iraqis around the camps where you've got people building tents. They said to our correspondent yesterday, "We're not going to go down there. We're scared. We're terrified that the Iraqis will turn around and shoot us." Now, you're not going to wipe out collective memory like that by saying, "Come on, guys, it's fine. The United Nations is down there looking after you." What are you going to do to help them? MR. DILLEN: No one is out to wipe out any collective memory, especially a memory that indicates such a well documented record of misdeeds by Iraqi forces. However, I think we'll just have to at this point stand on the efforts that we have made, indicate our commitment in terms of getting these relief efforts started, and look forward to a transition in which international organizations will help manage that relief effort. Q Mark, what do you have on this British 48-hour deadline for the Iraqis to clear the area? And as part of that, some stories talk about an allied deadline. MR. DILLEN: I've asked about that report this morning, and there is nothing to confirm that report at this point. Q Well, Mark, would you agree that such things as a battery of artillery perched above this tent city might have a certain intimidation effect? Q A chilling effect. MR. DILLEN: I would grant, as we have granted, in discussing this issue, that we are sensitive to these concerns. We recognize that what has transpired is indeed a conflict that has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee. So we do not expect this to be a situation that results in all fears being immediately addressed and all problems immediately resolved. However, as I said yesterday, as we have said here, we expect that the international presence at these encampments will provide significant assurance to the populations that need to take advantage of those areas. Q You're not suggesting that a bunch of Red Cross workers down in a tent city are going to somehow frighten away the Iraqi military forces or dissuade them from doing what they have done so frequently in the past to the Kurds, are you? MR. DILLEN: Jim, I think we just have to leave it without further speculation about what might or might not dissuade them beyond what we've said yesterday. We'll stick with that. We're satisfied that at this point we have no confirmed incidents of any sort of harassment going on. We have an effort there to provide for the construction and organization of the encampments, and we think that the presence of international organizations there will provide some assurance to those who need to make use of those facilities. Q Well, one of the rationales for setting up these various tent cities in the first place was to serve as a magnet for the Kurds up in the hills -- to bring them down again. Would you agree that the presence of the Iraqi troops -- some of them armed with artillery -- would serve as a counter-balance to that and would be a deterrent for them to come down? MR. DILLEN: Well, I think you're just restating your previous question, and I'm restating my previous answer, which is the one that we had yesterday, which is that we feel that the international presence which will be established there will help to stabilize that area and provide a secure area for the refugees who need to use those facilities. Q Mark, when are these camps going to be ready? When is the first of these camps going to be ready to start accepting inmates -- clients, if you will? MR. DILLEN: I think that, as we indicated at briefings yesterday, we hope to establish that. There are already some Kurds who have come to the camps. We look forward to their being established very shortly, but I don't have a timetable or a date at which time they will be fully functioning. Q How many have come? MR. DILLEN: I don't have that figure for you. That would have to be -- Q Well, can you give me a ballpark figure? Are we talking scores? Are we talking hundreds? Are we talking thousands? MR. DILLEN: That would really be an answer to be provided by those who are there. Q Standing on this podium, can you say that the Kurds who enter these camps will be safe? Can you state categorically that Kurds who enter these camps will be safe? MR. DILLEN: Alan, that question is very similar to the one that you asked yesterday. We are not in a position to use the word "guarantees" when discussing these camps. Q I didn't ask for guarantees. I asked a simple statement, "Will Kurds who enter these camps be safe?" Yes or no? MR. DILLEN: Looking to the future, we would certainly hope the intention in establishing these camps is to establish areas where refugees certainly will be safe. Yes. Q Who is going to ensure their safety? MR. DILLEN: Well, I think again you can refer to what we said yesterday: that it will be an international presence. There are commitments that Iraq has signed onto, the U.N. Resolution 688, and we will hold Iraq to those obligations. Q Mark, do these 200 or 300 Iraqi troops, in the United States' mind, have any right to be where they are, to be there at all? MR. DILLEN: It hasn't been established that they are troops. Q Are they armed? MR. DILLEN: The reports indicate that they are lightly armed. But at this point, I don't think that we can discuss whether they are a threat or any other kind of hindrance to the work in setting up the camps. Q But do they have a right to be there, in our minds? Are they rightfully there or not? MR. DILLEN: Without more information on the activities, I don't think I'm in a position, really, to answer about "right." What we have a right to do under the Security Council resolution is to establish the camp. What we have, on the basis of that resolution, is an obligation on Iraq's part to let that work go forward, and so far that work has gone forward. Q And you don't regard their presence as any kind of harassment? MR. DILLEN: At this point, no. Q So there are no forms of physical harassment. But the mere fact that they're there and deterring the refugees from coming down is, in fact, frustrating the very effort that you have spent millions of dollars trying to affect. Now how do you answer critics that say that Saddam Hussein has once again given you -- you know, put it to the coalition. Yes, you've put in all these camps but just by sending in 200, 300 lightly armed men, he's frustrated the efforts because the Kurds aren't coming down. They take one look at this and they say no and you can't give them assurances of their safety. So what's happening next? MR. DILLEN: Jan, I would simply quarrel with your assertion that this has now amounted to a frustration of our efforts. That is by no means a conclusion that we would draw at this point. Q But do you have Kurds in the camps? MR. DILLEN: You'd have to check to see with DoD how many and at what point they are in establishing those camps, to get an answer. Q There's the report on the 48 hours notice. Six hundred British commandos moved into the town of Zakhu and one of the British commanders said that he had talked with the U.S. military and the U.S. military had, in fact, said that they would issue this deadline, that would expire Friday morning, that all of the Iraqi military police should be out of the town. It sounds like it has happened but that you're not aware of it. Can you elaborate further on that? MR. DILLEN: No, I can't, really, at this time. Q Mark, do you have any estimates of how -- Q Can you confirm discussions between the Brits and the United States commanders in the field? Have they talked to each other about this? MR. DILLEN: Since we're talking about discussions, prospectively, between U.S. military commanders and their British counterparts and others, that's a question, really, that DoD will have to help you with. Q Mark, any estimates of numbers of Kurds who have chosen to just go back to their homelands in Iraq? MR. DILLEN: I don't really have an estimate for that flow right now. Q Very mysterious. MR. DILLEN: No. Q Any comment on the negotiations between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Kurds' representatives? MR. DILLEN: No. The talks seem to be going on still, so no comment here. Q You're following them closely? MR. DILLEN: We are following them, yes. Q Mark, could I attempt one more time? Are you telling the Iraqi military police to keep their distance even farther away than they have been? MR. DILLEN: That really has to be a question that DoD answers for you. You're familiar with the discussions that we've had as of last week, prior to establishing the camps. I'm aware of the news report that you're citing, but at this point I just don't have any information to offer you.

[Iraq: Letter Asks UN to Run Refugee Aid]

Q Do you have any response to the Iraqi letter to the U.N. yesterday, saying that relief should be done by the U.N. and not by U.S. and other coalition countries? MR. DILLEN: Yes. As far as the assertion itself in the letter, we reject that assertion. Resolution 688 calls on U.N. member states to assist in Kurdish refugee relief and demands Iraq's cooperation. We believe that right now only the U.S. and its coalition partners have the logistical capabilities to get these camps established. Again, we believe the U.N. has an important role to play and will take over as soon as possible.

[Eithopia: US Famine Relief; Government Talks]

Q Is it the U.S. position that the well-being of those that risk starvation in Ethiopia can best be served by the survival of the Mengistu government? MR. DILLEN: Since you're interested in this issue, let me just try to update where we are in terms of our assessment, first, of the relief effort and then the impact of the fighting. A second year of poor rains in northern Ethiopia, combined with the continuing internal conflict, have resulted in the drought emergency continuing into 1991. This year's drought has also afflicted regions in the southeastern part of the country. Last year, the United States donated more than $150 million in relief assistance to Ethiopia. This year a similar amount probably will be required. The U.S. has pledged 250,000 metric tons of food valued at over $120 million. Relief lines remain open and food is flowing. Over the last two years, of course, the conflict has greatly increased the problems involved in delivering relief food to drought victims and refugees. Because of the military action, both by the Ethiopian government and the insurgents, it has been necessary to work out complicated safe passage arrangements for delivery of food across increasingly complex and shifting lines of battle. In some cases, these arrangements have taken months of effort to negotiate. As far as the political developments in Ethiopia, I'm sure you're aware of the announcement made at the White House this morning. I would simply note here that as far as responding to the resolution of the Ethiopian National Parliament, calling for a joint negotiating forum on the creation of a transitional arrangement, we would note the positive elements in that statement, including the Ethiopian government's call for unconditional talks with all parties. The United States would welcome Ethiopia's moving to a democratic political system, open to the participation of all political points of view and wherein all groups, including the country's large exiled population, would have a chance to resolve their differences. Q Mark, in that White House announcement, they said someone from the State Department would be going. Can you tell us who that is, and what this mission will be all about? MR. DILLEN: As far as who will be travelling, I'll have to check on that, Mike, and see if we can post something for you. The mission itself was defined in the announcement by the White House. Q Mark, do you have any comment on a new Israeli settlement? Q Can we stay on Ethiopia for a couple more? There are reports that the insurgents have taken another major town, the last before Addis Ababa itself. I think it's called Ambo. Do you have any information on that? MR. DILLEN: Can we confirm that? No, we cannot. Q In your statement on Ethiopia, which was issued on Monday evening, you said that the rebels held several provinces, about one-third of the country, if I'm not mistaken. In your relief efforts to areas under insurgent control, who are you coordinating that with, since the government no longer has control of that territory? MR. DILLEN: I'll have to check, Alan, and see exactly what means we have used other than what I've just described for delivering the aid. But at this point, despite the military developments you describe, we are in a position to continue the delivery of the aid supplies, although there is, admittedly, a very large portion of the population that is at risk. Q What I'm trying to get at is, maybe if you're going to check, you could check on this -- the nature of the contacts between the United States and the Eritrean and Tigrayan guerrilla movements? MR. DILLEN: As far as the political talks that we have helped to facilitate, you are aware of the meetings that have taken place here. But I will check to see if there's anything further in terms of contacts with them, in terms of delivering relief supplies. Q Was this trip prompted by the government's stated willingness to now talk with the rebels? MR. DILLEN: No, I don't believe so, but I'll check. Q Israeli settlements: Do you have any reaction to the newest one? MR. DILLEN: No, Jim, I don't, not beyond what the Secretary said in Damascus. Q Are you aware of the Chinese protest concerning the Tibeten language service of the VOA? MR. DILLEN: No, George. I'll have to look into that. Q On a related topic about a round-up of people in Tibet. Can you confirm that that's going on? MR. DILLEN: No, Mike, I haven't seen that report. I'll look into it. Q On two questions. Number 1: The African National Congress, Chris Hani said that he was at the State Department yesterday and was informed that the Bush Administration is going to seek the lifting of economic sanctions against South Africa, at least some of them, in the next 2 or 3 months. Do you have anything on that? And also another separate question. MR. DILLEN: No, I don't. You want to follow? Q Is the Bush Administration at all considering that idea? Is it a possibility? MR. DILLEN: The conditions for removal of -- Q Economic sanctions against -- MR. DILLEN: -- economic sanctions, really, are spelled out in the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. That would be a White House decision. Q He was saying that some of the decisions might involve the question of how many political prisoners there are. There is a dispute between the government and the ANC on that, and he was saying that the Bush Administration may try to be a little bit easy on that so that perhaps the Congress will be persuaded to lift the sanctions. There is a hearing next week on that. MR. DILLEN: Thelma, I have nothing on that for you right now. Q On the second issue. On the food shortages in Iraq, Congressman Tony Hall says he was at the State Department yesterday and that the U.S. has satellite photos showing that the wheat production is definitely down in Iraq. Can you comment at all, if not, on what the U.S. might do about the spraying, what is the situation for the food shortages in Iraq, and what does that mean for instability in Iraq? MR. DILLEN: I have no latest update on the food supplies in Iraq at this time. I think it's really part and parcel of the question that was posed earlier about what our reaction would be to the statements attributed to Iraq about its desire to use flights for spraying of crops. I'll just have to see if we have anything to say about it later.

[Japan: Ships to Aid in Gulf Mindsweeping]

Q Mark, the Government of Japan has decided to send mine sweepers to the Persian Gulf. Do you have any comment on that? MR. DILLEN: Even though a ceasefire is in effect, mines still pose a shipping hazard in the Persian Gulf. So an international mine-clearing operation has been undertaken to make the Gulf completely safe for shipping. We welcome Japan's decision to send a group of minesweepers from its Maritime Self-Defense Forces to participate in this important international effort. The Japanese contribution will be very helpful. Q Can you give us a sense of that contribution? How large? MR. DILLEN: I think the Japanese in their statement indicated the number of ships that would be involved. Q Have you seen the report that the Angolan ruling party has decided that the Congress will hold elections next year? MR. DILLEN: I'm not sure if I've seen the same report that you have. Q You've got some guidance. Why don't you give it to us? MR. DILLEN: No, I don't, on that point. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 1:09 p.m.)