- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of State is allowing government workers and family members to leave Bahrain, the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported Sunday.

Beginning Feb. 15, non-essential, non-emergency civilian employees were authorized to leave under a voluntary departure program, said the newspaper quoting the Middle East desk at the State Department.

But civilian employees are not being evacuated, and Department of Defense Dependents Schools are open, the report said. Those who decide to leave Bahrain will be assigned jobs in Washington, and then will be allowed to return to their positions in Bahrain once the emergency has passed.

Bahrain, a cluster of small islands, is a constitutional monarchy off the east coast of the Arabian peninsula and about 400 miles from the Saudi-Iraq border.

Since a 1991 defense cooperation agreement, Bahrain has become a key U.S. base in the Persian Gulf. Naval and Air Force operations there are part of the U.S. buildup in the gulf region toward a possible war with Iraq.

Eight of about 60 teachers have left the elementary and high schools for Americans in Bahrain, said the reporting, quoting a Department of Defense official in Germany.

The greatest impact to date has been on student activities, travel and staff development, spokesman Frank O'Gara said.

Bahrain is one of several Gulf states that are the subject of State Department warnings or cautions as the U.S. military build up continues in the region. On Wednesday, it advised all Americans in Iraq to leave, citing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's use of "human shields" during the 1991 Gulf War.

Americans traveling to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are being advised of threats. Last month, an American civilian contractor was shot and killed, and a second was wounded near Camp Doha in Kuwait.

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