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Kuwait Asks Arab League Help in Locating Gulf War Missing - 2002-10-22

Kuwait has submitted an urgent request to the Arab League to help determine what happened to hundreds of Kuwaitis it believes Iraq may have imprisoned during the Gulf war.

An Arab League official told VOA that Kuwait submitted the request after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein announced on Sunday he was pardoning all prisoners in Iraq, including political prisoners.

Kuwait wants the Arab League's help in determining whether any Kuwaitis are being held in Iraqi prisons and whether, they too, will be pardoned.

The Arab League official says Secretary-General Amr Moussa is in contact with Iraqi government officials as a result of the Kuwaiti request.

Since the conclusion of the Gulf war in 1991, Kuwait has accused Iraq of holding as many as 600 Kuwaitis in Iraqi prisons. Iraq has denied it is holding Kuwaiti prisoners and accuses Kuwait of holding thousands of Iraqis in Kuwaiti prisons.

In Baghdad, dozens of Iraqis staged an unexpected protest outside the Ministry of Information. They demanded news of jailed relatives who remain unaccounted for despite the amnesty announcement. Such demonstrations are almost unheard of in Iraq.

Six of the demonstrators were allowed into the building to meet ministry officials who promised to pass on their complaints to the Iraqi president in person.

Iraqi officials have said the country's prisons are totally empty. The claim has not been independently confirmed.

In the meantime, Amnesty International is calling for Iraq to release the names of all prisoners it claims to have released in an effort to determine their whereabouts. The human rights organization says it wants information on more than 17,000 prisoners it says Iraq was holding.

Iraqi officials say the pardon of all prisoners was intended to thank the Iraqi people for their reported 100 percent support for Saddam Hussein in a referendum on whether he should serve another seven-year term.