An advance team of a U.N. observation force arrived in Kuwait City on Saturday on the first of two stops aimed at obtaining cooperation from Kuwait and Iraq for its mission along their mutual border.
Austrian Maj. Gen. Gunther Greindl, who will head the 1,440-member force, conceded he had "a tough assignment" and expressed concern about 25,000 refugees in the demilitarized region."The U.N. is very aware of this problem," the general told reporters moments after arriving at Kuwait International Airport. He said he would press the U.N. High Commission on Refugees to assist the displaced Iraqis.
Greindl, leading a 15-member advance team, said he planned to meet Sunday in Baghdad with representatives of the Iraqi government and then concentrate on getting his blue-helmeted troops in place.
"There are a lot of things to be talked over," the general said. "I hope with the cooperation of all concerned I will be able to set up this mission successfully and in good time."
Although Greindl refused to offer any timetable for troop movement, a U.N. spokesman in New York said the first elements would likely begin to arrive within days. He said it may be up to two weeks before all are on the scene.
The U.N. observation force will be along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border only to observe. A U.N. spokesman said if the refugees are attacked, the force would report to the U.N. Security Council, which would decide what action to take.
The U.N. force will replace about 100,000 American troops in U.S.-occupied Iraq, many of whom have already begun to pull out.
The 1st Armored Division moved the last of its 17,000 soldiers from Iraq on Saturday.
U.S. military officers said overall U.S. troop strength in the Mideast had fallen to 300,000, down 45 percent from the peak of 540,000 at the war's end Feb. 28. Departures are still running at about 5,000 a day, they said.
The 1st Armored was part of the VII Corps, which has been occupying southern Iraq. Still on the front lines are the 3rd Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division, each with 15,000 soldiers, and supporting elements such as transportation units.