DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Plainclothes Turkish police arrested a British newspaper correspondent here Thursday night after 30 British Royal Marines were expelled from a mountain refugee camp. The two incidents highlight the worsening climate of friction between Turkish authorities and the Western powers spearheading the relief effort for nearly half a million Kurdish refugees in this country.
There was good progress Thursday, however, in the allied drive to expand the haven for refugees in northern Iraq, amid reports of a swelling flow of refugees down from mountain camps where they have been trapped in appalling conditions for the last month.
Meeting journalists at allied headquarters near the Iraqi town of Zakhu, Lt. Gen. John M. Shalikashvili said that American, British, French, and Dutch units have occupied an Iraqi air base near the town of Amadiyah, about 40 miles east of Zakhu, where a second major refugee center is planned.
He said Iraqi army units began withdrawing from the area Thursday as allied forces moved in. There were no incidents.
Shalikashvili said the flow of refugees from the mountains has increased "from a trickle to a stream." He said there were unconfirmed reports that as many as 30,000 have already left, and relief officials reported markedly smaller populations at some camps.
In northern Iraq, the first camp, located outside Zakhu, grew to about 2,000 people Thursday, but three refugees out of every four reaching the camp from the mountains continued directly to their homes in the Zakhu region, U.S. officials said.
In other developments:
- Pentagon officials said Defense Secretary Dick Cheney will travel to the Middle East for the fourth time since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait to discuss postwar security arrangements with Persian Gulf allies. Cheney is to visit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
- U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, as required by the Security Council cease-fire resolution, will set up a commission today to decide how much Iraq owes in war reparations and what percentage of its oil revenue must be set aside to pay them.
Diplomatic sources said that the commission, made up of representatives from all 15 members of the Security Council, will hold its discussions in Geneva.
The commission would be the likely forum for any discussion of the American demand that Iraq pay part of the cost of taking care of the refugees.
- Bush Administration officials in Washington expressed skepticism about a broadcast report that Iraqi government officials have reached agreement with Kurdish leaders on a plan calling for nationwide elections in Iraq within six months.
Jalal Talabani, a leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Iraqi authorities also have agreed in principle to a general amnesty for all Iraqi prisoners and to abolish the ruling Revolutionary Command Council.
Talabani was one of the Kurdish negotiators in internal peace talks held in Baghdad last week.
"We're very cynical and for good reason," an Administration official said. "All this shuffling around is window dressing."
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's statements are "designed for outside consumption, for the U.N. to get us to relax the sanctions," the official added. "But nobody's buying it."
Meanwhile, the main problems in the unprecedented U.S.-led humanitarian mission for the Kurds surfaced not in Iraq but in Turkey.
Robert Fisk, a correspondent for the Independent of London, was arrested at his hotel here by six police officers and taken to the central police station for questioning. The Turkish government ordered Fisk and three other Independent correspondents expelled from the region after attacking the accuracy of their reports, Turkish spokesmen here said. The three others have already left the country, colleagues said Thursday.
In Tuesday's Independent, Fisk reported that Turkish troops looted refugee supplies Sunday in a rampage at the Yesilova refugee camp.
"This is about the most prejudiced and wrong piece of reporting I have ever seen," Foreign Ministry spokesman Murat Sungar told reporters in Ankara. "We have investigated the claims, and they are totally untrue."
British diplomats described the report as grossly exaggerated. The Independent stood by its story.
In the case of the British marines, Turkey ordered a platoon of 30 men to leave the country after its members allegedly roughed up and leveled a gun at a provincial official at the Yesilova camp on the Turkish-Iraqi border--one of the major concentrations where refugees from Iraq have sheltered miserably for the last month.
The Turkish government said that district official Erdogan Ulker had gone to the camp Wednesday to investigate Fisk's report when he was "manhandled" by members of the marine platoon assisting at the camp.
The British told a different story.