The U.S.-established Kurdish refugee camp in the northern Iraqi city of Zakho will be turned over to U.N. control within days, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said Friday.
Perez de Cuellar met Thursday night with Iraqi Ambassador Abdul Amir al-Anbari to discuss the timing of the transfer. He told reporters at U.N. headquarters Friday that the U.N. takeover "is more than a possibility. We intend to take over as soon as possible."It is a question of days," he added.
A U.S. diplomat said the complete transfer of authority to the United Nations would probably take weeks, but that the first U.N. staffers would be at Zakho within days.
The United States has 7,000 soldiers in the area, and a U.N. takeover of the camps could conceivably allow some or all of the GIs to return home.
U.S. officials say the presence of Iraqi security forces in the Zakho area was deterring the Kurds from leaving their mountain strongholds and returning to Iraq and the relative comfort of the U.S.-built refugee camps.
Iraq and the allies have agreed that only 50 Iraqi policemen will remain in Zakho. All Iraqi soldiers have left the town, along with most police, in compliance with deadlines set by the allies.
In Zakho, British and U.S. Marines patrolled the streets to the joy of its inhabitants.
"I am very happy because the Americans and the British help me and Iraq," said Jobar Samad, a student. "Every Kurd in northern Iraq is very happy."
Eight-man columns of British troops in combat gear walked slowly along the main street, happy children trailing behind them. They stopped occasionally to mingle with the mainly Kurdish population.
Two American armored personnel carriers also rolled through the city, prompting smiles and waves from the sidewalks.
"The people here are glad to have us. I know the government isn't too happy. I feel we're doing something worthwhile," said U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Maurice Farewell, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
According to town residents, the Iraqi police left in buses late Thursday and early Friday. Most people estimated that 700 to 800 were withdrawn, a figure higher than the U.S. Army's estimate.
Sporadic fighting took place in the hills above Zakho overnight, according to several soldiers. And a carload of Iraqi police was ambushed by Kurdish rebels on Thursday night, they said. Two of the police were injured.
Friday morning, the last departing busload of police picked up the injured from the city hospital and took them away, said Royal Marines' Capt. Mark Wolsey.
One local resident, an Arab, said he was afraid that when the Kurdish refugees and rebels returned, there could be reprisals against Iraqi Arab inhabitants of the town.