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Jordan Shuts Its Border to Refugees From Iraq : Mideast: Citing the high costs in dealing with the exodus, the nation demands more Western aid.

January 10, 1991|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMMAN, Jordan — Financially pressed Jordan closed its border with Iraq to war-frightened refugees Wednesday, demanding more Western money to help handle the flow.

Interior Ministry Undersecretary Salameh Hammad said the frontier will be reopened once "a repatriation program is put forward by international organizations and world governments to airlift all evacuees home," the official Petra news agency reported.

The decision capped a determined Jordanian campaign to close what the government says is a financially unbearable gap between its expenses in handling refugees from Iraq and Kuwait since the Persian Gulf crisis began and promised contributions from Western sources.

The crisis and its effects on Jordan was underlined Wednesday by Prime Minister Mudar Badran's reminder in Parliament that Jordanian armed forces are on full alert along its border with Israel and the occupied West Bank.

"In case of war, God forbid, any (Israeli) intervention against Jordan by air or by land will meet military resistance," he told the legislators, "and we will use all the means and power at our disposal."

Badran then declared that Syria, allied with the American-led forces in Saudi Arabia, has pledged to come to Jordan's aid if Israel attacks.

Israeli officials have denied any intention of crossing into Jordanian territory peremptorily, but Western military analysts have speculated that an Iraqi movement across Jordan's eastern border might be answered by an Israeli thrust in the west, and any Israeli air strike against Iraq would probably go over Jordanian territory.

Some Jordanian politicians have warned that the Israelis might cross the border without provocation.

Relying on protection from Arab states on opposite sides in the gulf crisis, Badran said Jordan would "request the help of Syria, Egypt and Iraq . . . because an Israeli aggression on the kingdom means an aggression on the whole Arab nation."

King Hussein's government--Badran is his hand-picked prime minister--has declared its opposition to the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait, but it considers Israel the prime potential enemy.

So far, the refugee problem and the loss of its Iraqi markets through compliance with the U.N. trade embargo have been major burdens on Jordan, where pro-Iraqi sentiment runs high.

A government conference over the weekend said that only $12 million of a pledged $100 million has been received while Jordan's treasury put out $56 million between August and November, when the country's refugee camps and airport were clogged with Asian and Arab workers fleeing the potential war zone.

By announcing the border closure at a time of high tension in the region, with the U.N.-mandated deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait only six days away, Jordan has put added pressure on the donor nations. Jordanian officials estimate that another 2 million foreigners could head for its border if war breaks out.

Western diplomats here said Wednesday they think that estimate is high. They also pointed out that beyond cash donations, Western sources have contributed a substantial amount of help in the form of tents, food, medicine and other supplies for refugees.

"More than 1.5 million persons passed through Jordanian territories since Aug. 2, 1990, when Iraq took over Kuwait, but 865,000 evacuees, mostly Asians, had to be housed at makeshift camps in the country," Hammad said at the conclusion of the weekend conference.

"The evacuees' problem is a problem for the whole international community, and not for Jordan alone," he said.

Wednesday's border closing came as several thousand Vietnamese workers fleeing Iraq were stranded on both sides of the desert crossing point.

The government order exempts only Jordanians from the crossing ban.

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