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Kuwaiti Government Plans to Return, Restore Control

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Allied troops moved to set up security checkpoints all over Kuwait city Saturday in the first step toward establishing martial law, and the Kuwaiti government, promising dramatic democratic reforms once order is restored, pledged to take full control over the war-torn capital within 48 hours.

As the first nine Cabinet members began operating in this capital since Kuwait’s liberation from Iraq, a senior government official said the country remains too dangerous for the immediate return of the emir, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah. But he said that the crown prince and prime minister, Sheik Saad al Abdullah al Sabah, will return within the next five days to head the interim military government.

“It’s a country without light, without water, a country without food supply. It’s a country with fear,” said Abdul-Rahman Awadi, minister of state for Cabinet affairs.

Hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of rounds of ammunition left by fleeing Iraqi soldiers remain scattered throughout the city and in the hands of young men now parading the streets with guns, Awadi said.

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Police stations throughout the city reported that armed Kuwaitis were storming into the stations demanding access to Palestinian prisoners accused of collaborating with the Iraqi occupiers. “We want to kill them,” one Kuwaiti armed with a semiautomatic rifle said.

Sporadic gun battles continued between military forces and gunmen still holed up in fortified houses in isolated areas of the city.

“There are people who have become happy with their weapons,” Awadi said of the hundreds of resistance fighters who initially took control of security in the capital before military forces began moving in.

“It’s a very big task for us,” he said of the coming attempt to disarm the resistance. “They are children. They are my brothers and my sons. So we’ve got to be careful, we’ve got to be fair with them.”

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Awadi pledged that all Palestinians and other foreign nationals arrested and accused of collaborating with the occupying Iraqis will be given fair trials and treated humanely while in Kuwaiti custody.

“There’s a lot of hard feeling in their hearts,” he said of the Kuwaitis, who lived for months under Iraqi occupation. “But they know that killing only produces more killing.”

During the war, the killing reached such proportions that in one instance, according to a report that could not be independently confirmed, the Kuwaiti resistance shot down an Iraqi jumbo jet.

Resistance fighters told Associated Press reporter Greg Myre that the jet was a Boeing 747 and that the plane carried 126 Iraqi military officers.

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Awadi said that the emir and the crown prince “will be back as soon as we make life normal.”

“I want him (the emir) to come at least when we have a safe place for him to live,” he said.

In the government’s first public statement since returning to Kuwait, it was clear that the ruling Sabah family is prepared to make concessions to the thousands of Kuwaitis who stayed behind during the seven-month Iraqi occupation and to other opposition figures who are now demanding greater public participation in government.

Awadi, in a strikingly conciliatory address to reporters at a downtown hotel, declared that several Cabinet ministers will be replaced and full parliamentary elections will be held within three to six months.

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Kuwait’s Parliament was dissolved in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq War, after pro-Iranian Shiites launched bomb attacks and made an attempt on the emir’s life. New elections were held last June, two months before the Iraqi invasion, for a new transitional assembly, but pro-democracy activists boycotted the vote because a large number of the delegates were to be appointed rather than elected.

“There are going to be a lot of changes in ministers, a lot of other changes,” Awadi said, but he went on to defend the present government’s decision to flee to Saudi Arabia with the army rather than fight the invading Iraqis, and its failure to have built an army large enough to defend the country.

“Maybe they were right in a way,” he said of the government’s critics. “But we tried with the methods that were available to us at that time. If we would have fought and lost, it would have been much worse. . . . With such an army (as Kuwait had), we had to resort to peaceful ways. Any other decision would have lost our country completely.”

But he said that a majority of Kuwaitis are exuberant about the liberation of this country and are prepared to work together to reunite the emirate.

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“Everything is in chaos, but the people are solid. They are struggling further to rebuild their country,” Awadi said.

“You see the picture of devastation and destruction,” he said. “But also you see the picture of love, of coming together between those who were outside and those who were inside. The emotions flow freely and the gap of time disappears, and we become again one people.”

Kuwaiti officials now estimate that as many as 8,000 Kuwaiti citizens were taken hostage by fleeing Iraqi troops during three days last week, raising to 33,000 the number of Kuwaitis detained, killed or missing as a result of the occupation.

The government believes that most of those under detention are in Basra or other parts of Iraq and is hoping that a pending U.N. Security Council resolution calling for release of all prisoners of war will bring about their freedom, Awadi said.

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Meanwhile, petroleum officials have estimated that the vast majority of Kuwait’s 950 oil wells have been damaged or set afire by Iraqi forces, and estimates now range up to $10 billion dollars for repairing the damage. Extinguishing a single oil-well fire is expected to cost as much as $1 million, officials said.

Total reconstruction costs are now estimated here at between $40 billion and $50 billion.

Troops from the United States, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other allied nations were in control of checkpoints in most of the city by Saturday morning.

The emir’s martial-law decree, issued last week, calls for a normal civilian government to be restored within three months.

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“This is just a normal transference from occupation. The military will take over under martial law, and . . . it will later return to normal,” Awadi said.

GETTING BACK TO NORMAL

As the allied forces and Iraq moved toward a cease-fire in the Gulf War, the region--and especially Kuwait--began the task of restoring order. Among the moves under way: TELEPHONES: AT&T; said it had established outgoing international telephone service from Kuwait city for the first time since August. With a temporary satellite system, the company put about 120 phones into service. There is still no incoming service.

AIRLINES: A number of airlines announced they would resume some commercial flights to the Mideast, largely to Saudi Arabia and Israel and later to Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, when possible. Airlines suspended most service to the region after the war began; others, fearing terrorism, had interrupted service even earlier.

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EMBASSIES: The U.S. and British embassies, among others, have reopened their missions in Kuwait city. Others, including the Germans, said they planned to reopen this week.

OIL INDUSTRY: Three U.S. firms and a Canadian company have signed contracts to help extinguish the oil well fires; nearly two-thirds of Kuwait’s 950 oil wells are believed to have been sabotaged. After the fires are out, other U.S. firms are in line to help rebuild.

POWER: At least one U.S. firm has shipped an order of generator sets to Kuwait to be used to restore electrical power.

RECONSTRUCTION: The Kuwaiti government-in-exile has said it is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to restore emergency services in the first three months. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which specializes in civil construction, has a 90-day contract. It is ready to move in when safe to start assessment damage in order to restore basic services including water, electricity, roads and bridges.

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AIRPORT: The government has awarded a $5.7-million contract to Raytheon for emergency repairs to the Kuwait city airport, restoration of runway lights and air control facilities.

CARS: U.S. firms are bidding to resupply the Kuwaiti government fleet.

Source: Associated Press, Reuters, Los Angeles Times


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