Amid fresh protests calling for action against Iraq for its treatment of the Kurds, the United States and other Western governments prepared shipments of humanitarian aid Saturday for Kurdish rebels and refugees fleeing a failed revolt against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Iran said Saturday more than 350,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees have entered Iran over the past few days, and about 1 million more were estimated to be still in the mountains in Iraq heading east for the border.Thousands of other Kurds have fled northward to the border with Turkey, where Turkish officials said Saturday that at least 1,500 Kurdish refugees have died of hunger on the border in the past three days. They added some 280,000 Kurds are gathered in the border area.
Iranian Interior Minister Abdullah Noori told reporters in Tehran that many refugees were killed and others wounded while crossing minefields on Iraq's side of the border. Others died of cold and hunger in their bid to flee troops quashing a Kurdish rebellion, he said in remarks broadcast on Tehran radio.
Iran's state radio also quoted an official of the Red Crescent organization as saying in the past two days, 30 truckloads of relief supplies were distributed to Kurdish refugees in Marivan, an Iranian border town 300 miles west of Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati expressed concern over the "indifference of international bodies toward the plight of the Arab and Kurdish refugees fleeing the mass slaughters in Baathist Iraq," Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said.
Velayati met Saturday with Barnard Couchner, the French deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs, who visited Tehran as France delivered a planeload of aid for Iraqi refugees in Iran, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The news agency said Velayati and Couchner "expressed grave concern over the massacre of the Iraqi people by pro-government military forces and firmly backed the materialization of democracy in Iraq."
Kurds living in northern Iraq as well as Shi-ite Muslims in the south launched rebellions after Iraq's February defeat in the Persian Gulf war. The uprisings were bids to take advantage of Baghdad's weakened military, pounded by the U.S.-led coalition that liberated Kuwait from occupying Iraqi forces.
The Kurdish rebellion was crushed quickly by the Iraqi forces, however, as Bush refused to order U.S. warplanes to prevent Iraqi helicopter gunships from firing on Kurds. Baghdad also claims it crushed the Shiite's southern revolt, although Tehran radio Saturday quoted refugees saying clashes continued there.
The United States, while ruling out military involvement in what it considers an internal Iraqi matter, readied airlifts of food, blankets and other supplies Saturday for Kurdish rebels and civilians. U.S. Air Force transport planes were to begin parachute drops of critical goods Sunday.
Friday, Bush said, "We expect the government of Iraq to permit this effort . . . without any interference."
Germany sent two Transall aircraft with aid to the Turkish border area Saturday, with two more to follow Sunday. The planes, under the patronage of the German Red Cross, delivered 10 tons of medicine, 1,200 blankets and 90 refugee tents to the border.
In Vienna, the Austrian government said it will take 200 Kurdish refugees, preferably families with children, from among those who have fled to Turkey.
Hans Loeschnak, the Austrian minister for the interior, said the decision was to emphasize Austria's tradition as a haven for political refugees and as a signal to other European countries to make a similar gesture.