Iraqi Kurds Pick Up Pace Of Return to Homeland

MORE than 30,000 Kurdish refugees have returned to their homeland from nearby mountains with many streaming across the Turkish-Iraqi border during the past few days, officials said. The Kurds, who fled to border mountains to escape government repression after the Gulf war, have returned on foot, by tractor, truck, and car to the northern Iraqi city of Zakho under the protection of allied troops. And more than 1,500 people have settled in the camp set up by allied forces near the city.

United Nations officials began distributing 75 tons of food delivered by two convoys of trucks. A hospital in the city now operates under the direction of French and Canadian officials and a school is being renovated to permit a return to classes.

Pro-Iranian Shiites clash with Iraqi forces

Sporadic clashes continued in southern Iraq between troops loyal to President Saddam Hussein and pro-Iranian Shiite rebels, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said Wednesday.

In one of the latest clashes in the south, Shiite rebels attacked Army units in the al-Shib region and seized a large quantity of weapons, IRNA said. No casualties were reported, but several troops were said to have been taken prisoner.

Quoting the Voice of Revolutionary Iraq, a rebel radio station, the news agency said another attack occurred in the Mashrah region, where the rebels killed 45 government troops and took some prisoners.

Details of the fighting were not given, but about 300 troops deserted their units and ``joined the popular forces,'' IRNA said.

Early this week, the rebel radio station said rebels made a massive attack on Basra and recaptured it from Saddam's troops. There was no confirmation from independent sources, or further reports from the rebels on Basra's status.

UN to set up Iraqi reparations fund

The UN this week sets in motion the labyrinthine process of determining how much Iraq should pay in reparations for damage caused by its invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf war.

Under a Security Council resolution adopted April 3, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cu'ellar has to set a maximum percentage Iraq might have to pay each time it sells a barrel of oil. His initial report proposing a structure for the fund is expected today. Some UN experts speculate the ceiling will be 25 percent to 30 percent.

US officials have said that Iraq should be forced to pay at least the estimated $8 billion a year it spent on foreign arms purchases into the reparation fund.

But at the same time, the resolution says the ceiling has to be reasonable and leave Iraq with enough money to feed its people and rebuild its economy, estimated at $30 billion for its infrastructure alone. Iraq also has to have some cash left over to service its $80 billion foreign debt.

Kuwaitis allowed to return home

After more than eight months in exile, Kuwaiti refugees will be allowed to return to their liberated homeland starting May 11, a government official said.

The Kuwaitis will be allowed back in waves of 15,000 a day and have been asked to complete their return by June 15, Iman al-Grishi, a Ministry of Information official, said Wednesday.

About 400,000 Kuwaitis fled the country after the Aug. 2 invasion by Iraqi forces. Most received monthly stipends from the Kuwaiti government, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on the size of their family.

``The government has spent millions of dollars to keep the Kuwaiti people living abroad,'' Grishi said. ``It was becoming very expensive.''

Most basic services such as electricity and phone services have been returned, and the roads from Saudi Arabia, which had been cratered by coalition bombers, have mainly been repaired.

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