US officials: Syria may expel escaped Iraqi leaders
Syria may be preparing to quietly expel some members of Saddam Hussein's regime who have sought refuge inside its borders, US officials said Thursday night.
Intelligence reports have suggested that some Iraqi leaders have reached Syria. US officials have identified only a few of those, including Farouk Hijazi, Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia and a former senior intelligence operative, and possibly Saddam Hussein's first wife, Sajida Khairallah Telfah.
"There might be some individuals who might be made available to us," said a state department official told AP.
Colin Powell, US secretary of state, said that if members of Saddam's government turn up in Syria: "We hope ... the Syrians will do the correct thing, the right thing, in our judgment, and return them back to Iraq so they can stand before justice administered by the Iraqi people."
Syria has denied taking in any senior Iraqi officials, including specifically Hijazi.
Meanwhile, a Syrian minister on Thursday denied his government was knowingly harboring Iraqi fugitives but said some could have slipped in despite the closing of Syria's border crossings.
"There is no official sanctuary by the government of Iraqi officials. ... But you know if people want to cross they can cross," Syria's economy and trade minister Ghassan al-Rifai said in an interview with Reuters.
Rifai compared the Iraqi-Syrian border with the long and porous frontier between the United States and Mexico.
"If the United States cannot (block illegal crossings) ... then why would you expect Syria to be able to be vigilant of every single mile of the hundreds of miles that exist today as a border line," he said. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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