US, UK Urges Their Nationals, UN Inspectors to Leave Mideast

The United States and Britain have advised their citizens, UN weapons inspectors to leave Kuwait, Iraq and some other Middle East countries immediately amid signs of an imminent US-led war against Iraq.

Several hours after US President George W. Bush's Sunday night announcement that Monday would be the last day to determine if diplomacy could work for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis, the US State Department ordered its non-essential diplomats and families of embassy personnel to leave Israel, Syria and Kuwait.

In its latest travel advisory, the US embassy in Kuwait City on Monday asked US nationals to leave the country immediately for security reasons.

The Foreign Office of Britain also asked all UK citizens in Kuwait except diplomatic staff to leave as soon as possible due tothe risks from Iraq and terrorism.

At the same time, it urged the cancellation of travel plans to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, UN observers working in the demilitarized zone (DMZ)along the Kuwait-Iraq border have stopped all operations, according to a UN official.

"We are still in the DMZ, but we have stopped our operations ...patrolling and monitoring," the official said on Monday.

The UN observers have been monitoring the 25-kilometer wide zone between Iraq and Kuwait since shortly after the 1990-91 Gulf War.

Last week the U.N. mission pulled 400-500 workers from the border as the situation was deteriorating quickly after U.S. President George W. Bush talked of time running out for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Before the pullback, the United Nations totally had 1,332 workers on the border.

In Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that the United States urged the agency late Sunday night to start withdrawing weapons inspectors from Iraq.

ElBaradei said the warning was also made to the inspectors looking for biological and chemical weapons.

"Late last night ... I was advised by the US government to pullout our inspectors from Baghdad," he told the IAEA's board of governors.

He said the UN Security Council had been informed of the US advice and would make a decision later Monday.

ElBaradei said that he was worried about the safety of the remaining 200 UN arms inspectors in Iraq.

The inspectors, who returned to Iraq on Nov. 27 after a nearly four-year absence, have drawn up contingency plans to evacuate.

Once ordered by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to leave, they would immediately board the plane waiting at Baghdad's airport.

In Baghdad, Germany closed its embassy on Monday with German diplomats and embassy staff having left in a motorcade headed overland for the Jordanian border.

Russia also ordered its nationals to leave Iraq quickly, said a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman in Moscow on Monday.



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