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U.N. police force to protect Kurds draws support


WASHINGTON -- The United States and its allies have won general acceptance from the United Nations Security Council for a U.N. police force to protect refugee camps in northern Iraq, advancing the prospect that U.S. and other coalition military forces might soon be able to withdraw, officials said yesterday.

The plan could be derailed by Iraqi objections, but officials assume that Baghdad would prefer U.N. police to the continued presence of U.S., British and French soldiers inside Iraq.

Its success also hinges on being able to persuade Kurdish refugees that the United Nations will give them sufficient protection, since otherwise they would be unlikely to leave their mountain encampments along the Turkish border.

The idea of a police force was initially advanced by the British as a way of providing long-term protection to the refugee camps that would allow allied forces to withdraw.

It was seen as a way of avoiding a formal peacekeeping force. This would have required a new Security Council resolution, which could have drawn strong opposition as an infringement on Iraqi sovereignty.

The proposal moved forward quietly in meetings among the five permanent representatives -- the United States, Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union -- and in bilateral sessions in a way that avoided putting individual countries on the spot.

But a consensus emerged "that security can be provided for and can be done, by and large, under 688 authority," an official said, referring to an existing resolution authorizing assistance to the refugees.

Further work to implement the plan will be done by U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and his special envoy to Iraq, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan.

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