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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.N. Pulls Nonessential Personnel From Iraqi-Kuwaiti Border

Aired March 8, 2003 - 15:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go back now to some breaking news. You may recall Richard Roth talking at the top of this hour about U.N. observers and their staffs in Kuwait leaving the country. Martin Savidge is in Kuwait, he's got more on this for us -- Martin.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Renay, we've been telling you about increased activity at the DMZ, that is the border that runs between Iraq and Kuwait. It stretches about 120 miles or maybe 200 kilometers. New indications tonight that that activity is now on the upswing. Unconfirmed reports that CNN is now working to try to confirm that the civilian workers that are part of the U.N. observer team up there, and there are roughly about 230 civilians that live in residential areas right in the DMZ, are now being told that they're going to be moved or removed from the DMZ and taken back to Kuwait City. That for their own safety, reportedly, because of the growing tensions along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. We're still working to confirm that.

Here what is we do know specifically. That the U.N. observers and the U.N. military troops up along that border today went to red alert. Now, what does that mean? Well, it essentially means that the troops and the observers will stay in their respective bases, not go out on patrols, which is routinely what they do on a daily basis.

So now, they are remaining at their bases for the time being as the tensions in that region continue to grow.

Other conflicting reports. We've been telling you about these gaps that have been appearing in the electric fence that runs the entire length of the Kuwaiti/Iraqi border. What is unclear is exactly how many gaps. Some people say that there are only a couple of them, but very large expanses of space that have been opened up. Other people have reported that there are as many as 50 gaps that have appeared in the fence that runs along the border there.

These sources, by the way, are diplomatic sources as well as sources within the United Nations. Some people have -- I'm just being told that we have confirmed now that UNICOM is saying that nonessential personnel, in other words the civilians, roughly 230, are being pulled out. A process that began today. Probably since it's gotten dark will continue again tomorrow. But they are being withdrawn to Kuwait City.

Back to those gaps. It was reported that some of these gaps now are being filled in, and the reason for that may be that there was a lot of media up there along the Iraqi/Kuwait border today because of everything that they had heard about, and it is possible that maybe some of those openings are now being closed as sort of response to that.

We've also been told that there are bridges up there, ready-made bridges that are on the Kuwaiti side of the border that would appear to be in a position that they could be moved forward and placed over the trench that exists. This is a very large trench, runs the length of the border, about 15 feet deep. There are also two earthen berms up there.

All of these defenses were put in place by the Kuwaiti government after the last Gulf War to try to protect in case the Iraqis decided again to once more try to invade Kuwait. Defensive positions now that could be an obstacle for U.S. and British forces if they do decide to strike and launch a military operation against Iraq.

So a lot of activity, not all of it is specifically known, other than to say that there is fiddling going on with the fences, with the berms and the trench, and all of this coming at a time when there is increased speculation about the prospect of military action, and then now, just confirming to CNN, UNICOM is evacuating its civilian or nonessential personnel, telling them to retreat to Kuwait City -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: We will let you get back to monitoring this situation. Details are still coming in. Martin Savidge in Kuwait, thank you very much for that.

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