Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kuwaitis Remold Police Force amid Abuses Seek to Assure Loyalty, Curtail Abuse by Vigilantes against Palestinians

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kuwaitis Remold Police Force amid Abuses Seek to Assure Loyalty, Curtail Abuse by Vigilantes against Palestinians

Article excerpt

THE uniformed guard begins shouting through the smoggy haze as the car gingerly approaches the security checkpoint at one of Kuwait City's main intersections.

"Stop! Get out now!" he shouts in Arabic, pointing his Kalashnikov rifle at the car as its occupants wave and turn on the interior light to identify themselves as foreign reporters.

"Ah, sahafiya Amerikki? (American journalists?) Welcome!" the guard says upon inspecting identity cards offered through the driver's window. His dark scowl under the Arab kaffiya headdress has turned to a smile.

Such incidents are a nightly occurrence in Kuwait City as jittery Kuwaiti soldiers and a regular police inspect vehicles at checkpoints. Though the 10 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew has been relaxed for the holy month of Ramadan, martial law is still enforced.

A Westerner's nationality serves as good protection - provided his identity can be quickly demonstrated. But many others, particularly non-Kuwaiti locals, are not so fortunate.

Since allied troops drove the Iraqi Army from Kuwait more than a month ago, there have been constant reports of abuse directed at various groups, in particular Kuwait's large Palestinian population. The New York-based human rights organization Middle East Watch has confirmed that between 30 and 40 people have been killed, and at least 2,000 detained.

Just after the war ended, many checkpoints were manned by members of the so-called "Kuwaiti resistance" - those who fought clandestinely against the Iraqis during the occupation. In the flush of liberation, there were suddenly many more civilians with rifles calling themselves resistance fighters, and still more who found abandoned weapons.

The government is trying to confiscate weapons. But doing so is a tall order, not only because of the many rifles in circulation, but because the government has floundered since its Cabinet resigned over its perceived inability to handle reconstruction.

"If these incidents have occurred, we should be ashamed," says Sulayman al-Mutawa, Kuwait's acting Planning Minister referring to those killed since Kuwait was liberated. "People can say we are doing to the Palestinians just what the Iraqis did to us. …

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