The Red Cross handed over 499 prisoners of war to Iraqi officials Friday after a four-day delay that a Western source attributed to chaos in Iraq.
A 500th POW at the last minute refused repatriation. "Some people, for personal reasons, don't want to go back," said Pascal Daudin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Riyadh.Daudin said that just before the 12 Red Cross-chartered buses were to drive into Iraq with the POWs, the prisoner refused to return.
There has been concern that thousands of the 60,000 Iraqis captured by the allies might refuse repatriation for fear of retaliation by their government.
The handover took place late Friday morning at the Saudi-Iraq border near the Saudi desert town of Arar, 650 miles northwest of Dhahran, he said. The Red Cross rented a dozen Jordanian buses to take the prisoners home.
Another group of 500 Iraqi POWs could be taken back to their homeland "in the coming days," although details have not yet been worked out, he said.
U.S. troops, meanwhile, are retaking positions they abandoned deep within Iraq, apparently to pressure Saddam Hussein into signing a permanent cease-fire, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Elements of the 101st Airborne and the 1st Cavalry Army divisions are reoccupying their most advanced positions in the Euphrates River valley, said Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal, deputy director of operations for the U.S. Central Command.
"The purpose is to maintain a presence until the cease-fire is agreed to," Neal told the Times in an interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He said troops pushed as much as 30 miles northward from the southern Iraqi region seized during last month's four-day ground war that forced Iraq to leave conquered Kuwait.
The order came from Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces, who made it clear that "he wanted them on that ground," Neal said.
Although fighting has stopped, Iraq has yet to meet all the United Nations requirements under which a permanent cease-fire would take effect.
"I think it makes common sense that we are not going to walk away from a situation having accomplished what we have accomplished and let it be reversed," said Bob Hall, a Pentagon spokesman.