- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

KUWAIT CITY U.N. observers on the demilitarized Iraq-Kuwait border have discovered a series of breaches cut into an electrified fence that could represent part of the final preparations for a U.S.-led strike against Baghdad.
U.N. peacekeepers earlier this week discovered seven new gaps cut in the 120-mile fence, and report that gates are being installed in apparent violation of U.N. accords established at the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1991. There had been 19 authorized crossing points in the fence, spaced at 6-mile intervals.
International observers also reported seeing U.S. military personnel inside the demilitarized zone.
Peacekeepers said they encountered "personnel in civilian clothes in four-by-four vehicles, at least some of whom were armed and identified themselves as U.S. Marines," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York late Thursday.
U.N. officials said the Security Council has been presented with a new report detailing numerous violations of the demilitarized zone. The report says that at least some of the incidents may have been committed by U.S. troops massing in the area.
The electrified fence and nearby sand berms and trenches sit just inside Kuwaiti territory, according to U.N. officials, who said that all maintenance and construction work at the site must be cleared in advance by the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission, known as UNIKOM.
"We don't know why this work was done," UNIKOM spokesman Daljeet Bagga said yesterday. "I will not say yet that it is a violation, but it is a cause of concern to us."
He said U.N. headquarters had been notified, and inquiries are being made to Kuwaiti military and government officials. The area has long been a closed military zone, off limits to reporters and Kuwaiti civilians.
Mr. Bagga said U.S. soldiers had been spotted on the Kuwaiti side of the restricted area as recently as this week.
On Tuesday, four U.S. soldiers in civilian dress and carrying small arms were questioned inside the zone. They told U.N. observers they were testing communications equipment. They said they had been cleared by Kuwaiti authorities to enter the area.
A day earlier, observers spotted two U.S. military all-terrain Humvee vehicles, driven by soldiers carrying M-16 rifles.
No U.S. forces have been seen on the Iraqi side of the restricted zone, Mr. Bagga added.
Nearly a quarter-million U.S. troops are based in and around Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraqi forces in 1990. The tiny emirate is the largest staging ground for American and British troops in what could be an imminent military advance against Iraq.
Most of those ground troops would have to roll through the UNIKOM perimeter on their way into southern Iraq.
Three of the breaches were discovered by UNIKOM patrols on Wednesday, and four more on Thursday, according to Mr. Bagga, who describes the construction as "very worrying." U.N. personnel found that the gates built into the gaps were large enough to accommodate a tank.
"The fence has been there for six years, with no changes," he said yesterday. "This is highly unusual."
U.N. officials in New York and Kuwait refused to characterize the breaches as a prelude to war, but other observers say the work appears to be preliminary construction to allow tanks, troops and other military materiel to roll north into Iraq.
Marine Maj. David Andersen, a public affairs officer for the U.S.-led coalition command center in Kuwait City, told the Associated Press yesterday that the Marines were investigating the report. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer also declined to comment.
Kuwaiti officials would not talk about the findings yesterday, saying that Friday is not a work day in the Muslim world.
The United Nations drew an internationally accepted boundary between Iraq and Kuwait shortly after the end of the Persian Gulf war, and has patrolled a 9-mile-deep zone since April 1991. Kuwait underwrites two-thirds of the cost of the mission.
UNIKOM comprises 1,327 persons from 32 nations. Eleven Americans and 11 Britons are also attached to the U.N. force.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide