Iraq

Refugees, Kurdish rebels, enter Iran

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BASHMAQ, Iran (AP) -- Tens of thousands of tired, hungry Kurdish refugees have flooded into Iran on foot or crammed into cars, buses and trucks after a rival faction allied with Saddam Hussein seized control of northern Iraq.

Border guards and some refugees at this border post said today that dozens of commanders of the vanquished group, including Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani, were among them.

Official Tehran radio said Iranian aid workers were struggling to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees who began arriving Tuesday and are being housed in temporary camps near the border. It said 30,000 were in camps in western Azerbaijan province alone.

Looking tired and disheveled, about 5,000 refugees spent a chilly night in a barren field near the border town of Bashmaq, sleeping in cars or tents. They arrived with whatever they could carry or pile into a vehicle, and they had little food or water.

Many Kurds said they would not return home because they didn't trust the Iraqi president or the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which has taken control of most of northern Iraq.

"I don't know where to look. I can't stay here and I won't return home because I don't trust the KDP," said a tearful Mansour Amir, 12. He had come to look for his father, a PUK commander who he believed fled to Iran.

Some of the refugees in Bashmaq said they had been chased by KDP forces up to the border. Refugees and border guards said KDP forces opened fire at refugees queued up at the border Tuesday, killing and wounding and unspecified number.

The refugees refused to give their names and their accounts could not be confirmed.

The number of Iraqi Kurds crossing the border was far fewer than feared by Iran, which said Tuesday that 200,000 refugees were massed on its northwest boundary.

Those crossing the border included Talabani, head of the PUK, and dozens of his top commanders, who entered late Tuesday, according to border guards who refused to give their names. They said Talabani was believed to be in either Marivan or Baneh, two large Iranian border towns.

There has been no fighting in northern Iraq since the Kurdistan Democratic Party took control of the region Monday. As a result, many residents who fled the northeastern city of Sulaymaniyah have turned back and headed home.

The KDP's yellow flags and streamers were visible all the way up to the Iranian border, indicating the faction's dominance in the region.

In 10 days of fighting, the KDP ousted the PUK from Iraq's northern regions, effectively erasing the Kurdish "safe haven" set up by the United States and its allies after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Saddam, seeking to keep the refugees at home, declared a general amnesty for all Kurds and lifted barriers between Iraq and the Kurdish area that have been in place since the safe haven was set up.

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