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U.N.: Holes opened in Iraqi border fence

Kuwaitis apparently following marks left by U.S. Marines

The United Nations monitors the zone between Kuwait and Iraq.
The United Nations monitors the zone between Kuwait and Iraq.

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Kuwaiti workers have cut holes in the demilitarized zone fence between Iraq and Kuwait big enough to drive military vehicles through, United Nations officials said Friday.

The workers apparently are cutting areas marked by U.S. Marines who have been working inside the demilitarized zone for days, according to the United Nations.

Kuwaiti workers said they were told to make 35 holes in the fence by March 15, the United Nations said.

The development comes as U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reported Friday to the Security Council on Iraqi disarmament efforts.

About 100,000 U.S. and British troops are in Kuwait preparing for a possible air and ground attack aimed at dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. Iraq denies that it has any such weapons.

President George W. Bush said Thursday that he had not decided whether to invade Iraq, but he added that U.N. Security Council members would decide in a matter of days whether they would join the United States in forcibly disarming the country. (Full story)

The United Kingdom has presented a revised draft resolution to the Security Council that sets a March 17 deadline for Iraq to comply fully with previous Security Council disarmament resolutions. (Full story)

The United Nations said Kuwait has cut four holes in the fence along the demilitarized zone, revising an earlier report that the Kuwaitis had opened between 10 and 15 gaps -- some up to 330 yards [300 meters] wide -- in the electrified fence inside the DMZ, and that Kuwaitis and U.S. Marines had made marks for about 30 more.

In the latest report, a U.N. official said the workers told peacekeepers "they were employed by a commercial firm under a contract issued by the Kuwaiti Ministry of the Interior" and had been told to create holes "each 25 meters [82 feet] wide."

Security Council told of incursions

The United Nations sent a letter on the matter to the Security Council on Friday. It would be up to the Security Council to determine whether the activity violated the resolution that established the zone.

On Thursday, the Security Council was told that U.S. military had encroached into the zone.

By U.N. mandate, no military activity other than a police presence by Iraq and Kuwait can take place in the DMZ. Technically, if U.S. troops go through breaches in the demilitarized zone fence to enter Iraq from the south, they would be in violation of Security Council rules, and that would be reported to the United Nations

U.S. officials said that scenario was not a concern because any war with Iraq would be a justified attack because of Iraq's treatment of Kuwait in the past and possible mistreatment in the future.

CNN's Martin Savidge in Kuwait City said the U.S. military operations in the demilitarized zone could be scouting missions for possible military action against Iraq.

CNN's Gordon Robison reported from the edge of the DMZ on Friday that he saw two U.S. military Humvees pull several hundred meters into the zone and park. Robison said the occupants were upset that a CNN camera crew was videotaping them and soon left the area.

Diplomatic sources in Kuwait City said violations occur daily, and when observers tell members of the U.S. military that they are in violation of a U.N. mandate, they usually leave -- sometimes after saying they are lost.

Marine helicopters reported inside DMZ

Observers have also reported seeing U.S. Marine helicopters inside the zone.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Thursday, "UNIKOM [the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission] has reported numerous violations of the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait since the 4th of March by personnel in civilian clothes in 4-by-4 vehicles, at least some of whom were armed and identified themselves as U.S. Marines."

U.S. military spokesmen in Kuwait had no immediate comment on the UNIKOM report, Reuters reported. The Kuwaiti mission to the U.N. said it was not aware of the story but played down its significance.

UNIKOM was established in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition ejected Iraqi occupation troops from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Its job is to monitor the demilitarized zone and to "deter border violations and report any hostile action," according to the United Nations.

Because of the activity, a U.N. official in Kuwait told CNN, UNIKOM forces inside the DMZ have requested permission to elevate their alert status from amber, or level 2, to red, level 3. At level 4, U.N. observers would be removed from the DMZ.

UNIKOM previously reported three breaches in the electric fence, Eckhard said.

Kuwaiti officials said construction under way on the Kuwaiti side of the demilitarized zone had encroached on the fence, Eckhard said.

A spokesman for the Kuwaiti Defense Ministry told CNN that though he had no comment on the reports of gaps in the fence, the structure is within Kuwaiti territory and was built by Kuwait, so any Kuwaiti modifications to it would be legal.

-- CNN's Richard Roth, Martin Savidge and Liz Neisloss contributed to this report.

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