US Department of State Daily Briefing #68: Thursday, 4/25/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:40 PM, Washington, DC Date: Apr 25, 19914/25/91 Region: MidEast/North Africa, Subsaharan Africa Country: Iraq, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Angola, Iran, Turkey Subject: Regional/Civil Unrest, Development/Relief Aid, Refugees, State Department, Travel (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me go through the update on refugee assistance efforts, and then I'll be glad to take your questions.

[Iraq: Refugee Update]

The numbers, first of all: The number of refugees in Turkey and near the border remain the same. That's about 450,000 in Turkey and about 400,000 near the border. But, in addition, relief officials estimate that about 100,000 Iraqi displaced persons are located in the mountains further south in Iraq. Relief officials report that the concentration of tent sites on the Isikveren mountainside seems somewhat thinner than it did a week ago. We think this is due mainly to the transfer of approximately 2,000 people per day to the new facility near Silopi. International organizations, private voluntary organizations, and U.S. military personnel are working at refugee facilities in Turkey. They're establishing medical facilities, developing supply distribution systems, and improving sanitation systems. Special forces health teams are making significant progress with sanitation, but it continues to be a problem due to the poor management of water resources, and clean water has been one of the focuses of our efforts over the last several days -- bringing in water purification equipment and such things, in addition to, of course, providing water in our air drops and other relief supplies. The latest information we have from the European Command is that there have been 1,320 missions that have air dropped a total of 6,570.2 tons of supplies to the refugees, as of late yesterday in Washington. This figure is the total amount dropped by coalition partners -- the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Italy, and Germany. Some of this has been done by fixed-wing aircraft. Some has been done by helicopter. The multinational force continues to work in the area of northern Iraq around Zakhu, setting up the first of the temporary refugee centers. To date, more than 600 tents are up, and we expect refugees to start moving to the village in the next few days. There are about 2,200 coalition personnel in the Zakhu area. The site for a second temporary refugee community has been selected. The site is west of Zakhu near the town of al-Amadiyah. It's approximately 15 miles east of al-Amadiyah at Dohuk. It will be designed along the same lines as the one just outside of Zakhu. In Zakhu, they have dug water wells. They've provided generators and fuel to get water systems operating. The hospital has a generator, and they're attempting to put that generator into operation at the hospital. We've assessed medical needs, and we're working with the hospital there to get it in full operation as quickly as possible. Basically, in general, the helicopter flights are continuing and water is being supplied to Silopi. That's the new area where refugees are going. U.S. officials working with the refugee population in Turkey report that a majority of the Kurds there appear to want to go to their homes in Iraq. Their main concerns, however, are security and the question of continued protection. On the Iranian side: The numbers are about the same. One million refugees entered Iran and about 500,000 are near the border. The Iranian Red Crescent Society is now providing assistance to approximately 500,000 refugees in 50 camps. In addition, as I think Mark [Dillen] said yesterday, the ICRC has announced that it plans to establish camps in northern Iran for 200,000 refugees. Assistance is also being provided to those who took refuge in towns and villages near the border. The EC, Belgium, German, Swedish, and other teams are assisting the ICRC and the Iranian Red Crescent inside Iran. As you know, for our part, the President has said that we want to help the refugees wherever they are. The refugees being assisted by Iran are facing a desperate situation. We've been providing assistance to the international organizations which are operating in Iran, and which have been operating since the beginning of the crisis. The President offered further assistance on April 5. We've been consulting with international organizations and with other governments, including Iran, through our protecting power, the Swiss, on how best to respond to the needs of the refugees. Arrangements are now being made for a shipment of relief supplies on Saturday. Specifically, a U.S. Air Force aircraft will deliver a large cargo of blankets to Meherabad Airport in Tehran on Saturday. That's M-E-H-E-R-A-B-A-D Airport in Tehran. That's a U.S. Air Force aircraft. It will deliver a large cargo of blankets on Saturday to the airport in Tehran. In southern Iraq: Coalition forces continue to provide assistance to the 24,000 refugees and to the local civilian population within the demilitarized zone. They will continue to do so until UNIKOM forces assume full responsibility for the area. U.S. forces continue to work with the UNIKOM advance party in preparing to turn over observation posts. Officials of international organizations report that cholera is evident in this area. They report that it's the result of the severe damage done to water and sanitation systems during the civil conflict. Of course, that is, therefore, a focus of the relief efforts in that area. Q In southern Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: That was in southern Iraq, yes, that cholera has been reported. With that, I'd be glad to take your questions. Q First, could you spell al-Amadiyah; and second, could you give your reaction to the meeting that Saddam Hussein had yesterday with the Kurdish representatives? MR. BOUCHER: al-Amadiyah: al-A-M-A-D-I-Y-A-H. The site is approximately 15 kilometers east of al-Amadiyah at Dohuk. We've seen press reports about an agreement in principle between the Kurds and Saddam Hussein. We really don't have any independent details for you. I guess they said that they would be working on the details in coming days. Earlier this week, I think, we gave our basic position on rights for the Kurds. Let me say that we would welcome any agreement which establishes democratic practices in Iraq which protects human rights of the population and which provides assurances which would allow the refugees to return home promptly in safety and dignity. Q When was the last time that a U.S. plane flew to Tehran -- or to Iran? MR. BOUCHER: Apart from the Desert One situation, I'm not aware of anything since about 1979. Q Robert McFarland -- MR. BOUCHER: I guess there were flights involved in that as well. But as far as this sort of flight, this is the first one. Q Since the Iranian revolution, are you saying that this is the first one that has taken place with the agreement of the Iranian authorities? MR. BOUCHER: Well -- Q No, no, no. Sorry. McFarland -- MR. BOUCHER: You can't -- (inaudible) -- thing that way. Apart from anything that might have gone on in those days, I think we're all familiar with the history of that and you can probably look up what the aircraft were. This is the first such direct flight of a U.S. military airplane. Of course, there have been charter flights by AmeriCares and other groups, in this instance, and by private groups in the earthquake situation. Q Will it be followed by subsequent flights? MR. BOUCHER: This is the first of the flights. I don't have a complete description of what will come next at this point. But we see this as the first of the flights and there may be others. Q Richard, the United Nations seems to be questioning whether the United States and other allies should be setting up -- whether their military should be setting up camps inside Iraq, and whether we have a right to order the Iraqi soldiers to clear out of the area. I understand Ambassador Pickering gave the Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. a letter to that effect last night. MR. BOUCHER: Marlin, I think, has already explained the situation about the Iraqi presence in the town of Zakhu. And, yes, we did communicate that last night; Ambassador Pickering did. As far as the United States being there, there have been some reports which we find at variance with what we are being told by U.N. officials. As you know, we've been in close touch with the United Nations all along. We see this as complimentary efforts to help people. That is their goal. That is our goal. U.N. officials recognize that our goal is to provide humanitarian assistance as quickly as possible until the United Nations is in place to assume responsibility for this operation. In fact, yesterday, the Secretary General was asked a question along these lines, and he responded that "everybody is in agreement -- the Iraqis, the coalition, and myself." Q Are you talking about the "agreement to vacate" order delivered to the Iraqis? MR. BOUCHER: No. This is about the original question, which is a general question, about criticism by U.N. officials. Q Can you address the specific question about the vacate order, whether the U.N. had been approached by the United States? MR. BOUCHER: About the-- Q I'm sorry, the order by the United States. MR. BOUCHER: The question of the presence of the troops in Zakhu? Q Exactly. Was it approved by the United Nations? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that it was. I'll have to check and make sure. Chris. Q Back to the Kurdish autonomy pact for a moment. The Kurds, when they came in this building on Monday and again yesterday, they called for international guarantees for any such pact. What is the U.S. view of that? MR. BOUCHER: The talks that are taking place are talks between the Government of Iraq and elements of its own population. As you know, we're not part of those talks. We have said that our role in establishing the relief operations in Iraq is temporary and that we will pass on responsibility for relief operations to the United Nations and to international relief organizations as soon as possible. Q Richard, Security Council Resolution 688 does give the United Nations unprecedented rights to be involved in the affairs of a sovereign state, in terms of compelling it to get rid of certain weapons. The United States has further stated that it won't -- MR. BOUCHER: You mean 687. Q Right. The United States has further stated, through Ambassador Pickering, that it won't look kindly on Iraqi requests to be allowed to sell oil unless Iraq complies with that resolution on the destruction of weapons. Since you are already compelling them to do things, why would it not be in order to compel them to guarantee the safety of a people whom they have repeatedly abused through their history? What's wrong with this idea of having the U.N. guarantee the safety of the Kurds? What's wrong with it? MR. BOUCHER: You want to do a reprise of the last two day's of briefings? The question of the safety of the Kurds, I know, is something that we've been discussing with you for many days now. Q This is a different question. I was talking in the last two days about U.S. guarantees for the Kurds. Now, you're switching -- MR. BOUCHER: (Inaudible) U.N. to offer a guarantee. Alan, I can't, nor can the U.N., guarantee that you won't be shot or run over by a truck this afternoon. There are provisions being made -- Q Is that a threat? MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not. Q Are you trying to shut me up? MR. BOUCHER: There are provisions being made that ensure the safety of the international relief effort. I think you're aware that all along one of the main principles of our effort and of the international effort is that it should go forward without any interference from the Iraqi government, with us or with the refugee populations that are involved. That involves a whole succession of things that provide those sorts of assurances to people, or which are intended to. First, you have the very presence of United States forces and other coalition forces in the area where we're setting up those operations and the availability of a rapid reaction force should there be any problems in setting up those operations. It then involves, in successive stages, other things, such as the turning over of the operations to the United Nations personnel. We've said that the presence of the United Nations personnel, we think, would act as a deterrent to the Iraqi government. Of course, they would be there with the authority of the United Nations resolution that says that Iraq shouldn't interfere. There are also steps being taken in terms of the United Nations agreements with the Iraqi government -- the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the U.N. representatives that provides that Iraq should facilitate those operations and where Iraq agreed to facilitate those operations. Then you have the additional element of whatever these agreements with the Kurds turn out to be and how much reassurance that would give to people. So there are a series of steps which provide, or are intended to provide the assurance of the security that we think the refugees want. We will see -- I guess we'll all see -- what choices the individual refugees make about going home under those conditions. Q Richard, you didn't mention the possibility of a peacekeeping force. Talabani in his press conference yesterday mentioned that. Has that been discussed between the United States and U.N. officials, and can you tell us where that stands now? MR. BOUCHER: The only thing that I know that relates to that is the fact that we've said in the past that should there be any attempt to interfere with the relief operation, that we would be consulting with other U.N. Security Council members about steps that might be necessary by the Security Council. I'm not aware of any such discussions or consultations at this point. Q Do you know if the U.N. agreement with Iraq would prevent the establishment of a peacekeeping force? MR. BOUCHER: That's an interpretation of something I read over a week ago that I just wouldn't hazard a guess on now. I think you can look at the document yourself. Q The U.S. Quick Reaction Force that's in the area now and serving as a deterrent, once refugee camps are handed off to the U.N. or other private agencies, would that still remain as a deterrent of the same kind? MR. BOUCHER: I really don't know, Chris. Perhaps the Pentagon can tell you, but my guess is that sort of detail might not have been worked out at this point. The emphasis right now is on getting relief to the people who need it -- setting up these camps, setting up the operations, delivering supplies, delivering help to people -- and that's what's going on right now. Q Richard, do you have some guidance on the situation of the deadline and the police forces in Zakhu? Because if Marlin wasn't on camera and on tape, could you go through it? MR. BOUCHER: This is a special request. You want me to substitute myself for Marlin. Q Do you want to? MR. BOUCHER: No. I'll give you a shortened version. The United States' concern is to make sure that the Kurdish refugees receive prompt relief. An atmosphere of security is essential to facilitating the relief operation, and we believe that the presence of Iraqi security forces goes counter to conveying such an atmosphere. While the U.S. and other relief participants have not encountered any problems with these forces, nonetheless we think it's prudent that these forces be pulled back in order to prevent any accident. It's therefore essential for them to pull out if we are to signal to the refugees that they are safe to come down from the mountains, and this view has been conveyed to the Iraqi government. Q Was there a 48-hour deadline? MR. BOUCHER: We expect the Iraqi security forces to pull back over the weekend. Q Richard, do you know if this includes the dismantling of the artillery that's on the heights? MR. BOUCHER: On the ridge? Q Yes. MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. And we have, I think, declined -- Marlin did, and I will as well -- to get into specific detail. Q Were you prepared to use military force if they don't withdraw by the deadline? MR. BOUCHER: That's a purely hypothetical situation at this point. We'll see what they do. Q Have you informed them whether you would use military force? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not prepared to get into any more specific details of what we said to them. Q How long are they to stay away? Q (Inaudible) MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm going to -- Alan's question was, "How long have we asked them to stay away?" Q Are they going to stay -- should they stay away as long as those camps are there or -- MR. BOUCHER: The answer to that is the same one I gave. I don't know, and I think we'll decline to get into specific details anyway. Mark? Do you want that to answer to another question as well? Q Any response from the Iraqis? MR. BOUCHER: No reportable response at this point. There was nothing significant that I heard about their response at this point. Q That was done at the United Nations? MR. BOUCHER: That was done at the United Nations -- that's right -- last night by Ambassador Pickering. Q Is Shewayish coming here to get the same message? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think so. Q What about the Kurds? Have they said that this is something that they welcome? Are they starting to come down? Have they given you any indication that they would come down into the refugee camps, or are they still in the mountains? MR. BOUCHER: At this point I think it's too early to tell. As I said before, the Kurds that we've been talking to appear to want to return to their homes as soon as they can, but their concerns, I said, were primarily in the area of security. So I can't report to you exactly whether they will move or not. I'm not aware of any significant numbers that have moved as of yet. As you know, we're still in the process of establishing the camps, and I think I said that we hope to have people there in the next few days. Q How many cases of cholera have been reported in southern Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Q This is on cholera, actually. Can you confirm -- there's just a question as to whether these cases are cholera or not or diarrhea or something like that, the symptoms in the early stages being the same. MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry. I really don't have any more information on cholera than the information that we got from officials at international organizations that there is some cholera in the area. I'll see if I can get you more than that. I just don't know anything more at this point. Q Do you know if there's any cholera in Iraqi-controlled Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: I don't personally know. I know that the International Red Cross, UNICEF, other organizations, are operating inside Iraq. They have been in various areas since the end of the war basically, helping with water purification needs, and things like that, and that we have contributed to those operations. But I think since they're the ones operating in other parts of Iraq, it's probably they who would be best placed to describe the conditions. Q Richard, in your rundown of things that you welcome from the Hussein-Kurdish talks in Baghdad, you didn't mention the idea of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. How does -- what does the United States feel about that particular point? MR. BOUCHER: That particular point is really for them to decide and agree on. Our interest is in ensuring their rights as full citizens, in seeing that anything that would move Iraq toward a more democratic situation, towards greater respect of human rights, would be very welcome to us, and we think would help the situation.

[Ethiopia: Americans Urged to Depart; Conflict Talks]

Q Has the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa begun evacuating personnel? MR. BOUCHER: We are on the verge of taking a step like that. Let me describe it to you. Today we expect to order the departure of all Embassy dependents and non-essential personnel and urge private Americans to leave as soon as possible, based on the recommendation of the Embassy. A new travel advisory is being issued at the same time. As I said, I expect that to be done this afternoon. I would point out that previously the U.S. has authorized the departure of all dependents and non-essential personnel who wish to leave Addis Ababa. We advised U.S. citizens to defer travel to Ethiopia, and we recommended that U.S. citizens in Ethiopia consider departing. And at this point, in fact, we don't have any dependents at the Embassy right now, but we're moving from an "authorized" to an "ordered" departure status for our own personnel. Q Has Ambo fallen? Who's controlling that front? MR. BOUCHER: It appears to have fallen. I don't have any specific details on that. The insurgent forces have made several recent advances around the capital of Addis Ababa. This makes the situation there very uncertain and, given that level of uncertainty, we believe it's prudent for U.S. citizens to leave. Q What effect will this have on the relief efforts in that area? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can cite any direct effect on the relief efforts in that area. The relief efforts have been pursued despite the difficulties of the situation. I think Mark gave a rundown on that situation yesterday, and a lot of the relief efforts are going through various channels that have been set up. I don't expect this to have any impact on the relief efforts. Q If the government falls really quickly, couldn't this speed up the relief effort? MR. BOUCHER: That's what we call a "hypothetical." Q Do you know how many Americans there are in Ethiopia? MR. BOUCHER: There are about 600 private U.S. citizens in Ethiopia. Most of those are missionaries or relief workers. Eight U.S. Government employees and 30 dependents left under the previously authorized departure, leaving 28 U.S. Government employees there now. There are three more employees who are expected to leave now, and there are no remaining U.S. Government dependents in Ethiopia. Q Back on Iraq for a second: Can you confirm and comment on reports that Saudi Arabia will set up camps for 50,000 Iraqis now in southern Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: I have to leave announcements on what specific countries intend to do to those countries themselves. I think we told you several days ago that we were in contact with international organizations, with the Kuwaitis and with the Saudis about the situation of displaced persons in the southern Zone, in the demilitarized zone, and that we would be working to ensure that their safety is not jeopardized by the departure of U.S. troops. Q I believe Saudi officials have announced this. What do you think of it? MR. BOUCHER: So why ask me? Q Well, I know that was one of your concerns. MR. BOUCHER: The point, Chris, I think of my previous answer is to say that I'm not going to describe exactly what the Saudis are doing, but that we have been working with them as we have with others. You're aware of our concern that the safety of these people not be jeopardized, and I'm sure we would welcome any steps that are taken, whether it's by the U.N. or other countries, that would help ensure the safety of these individuals, and that they continue to be taken care of.

[Angola: Peace Talk Progress]

Q Richard, do you have any reaction to the Angolan government's acceptance of dates for the ceasefire and the election? MR. BOUCHER: The situation, as we understand it, is that President dos Santos made a statement yesterday in Luanda about the acceptance of proposals put forward by Portugal, the United States and the Soviet Union to sign a ceasefire next month and to hold elections between September and November 1992. This statement is consistent with a position taken by Luanda's negotiators at the peace talks which are now taking place in Lisbon. I understand that the talks are continuing; that significant progress has been made, and as a matter of fact our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Hank Cohen is now in Lisbon. Q Richard, going back to Ethiopia for a moment, do you have the current formulation of U.S. policy towards Ethiopia? MR. BOUCHER: I think the thing that we've been focusing on, that we've commented on before, is the recent peace proposals put out, and we continue to support the proposal for roundtable talks on transitional arrangements for a new Ethiopian political system. We have urged all sides to take this approach seriously as a way to end the conflict before further human suffering is done in Ethiopia. Q Do you support the territorial integrity of Ethiopia? MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we do, George. I haven't really said anything on it recently, but I think I can confidently answer yes. Q Richard, do you have anything on the takeover of buildings in Vilnius this morning by the Russians? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Let me see if I can get an update on that situation. Q Do you have a reaction to the latest agreement between Gorbachev and Yeltsin and leaders of nine republics in the Soviet Union? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have it with me. Let me post something after the briefing. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thanks. (The briefing concluded at 1:09 p.m.)