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'Coalition of the Willing': Spain, Honduras to Pull Out Troops, and Thais Look Shaky
Published on Tuesday, April 20, 2004 by the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
'Coalition of the Willing'
Spain, Honduras to Pull Out Troops, and Thais Look Shaky
by Gustavo Palencia, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
 

Honduras has followed Spain in announcing it will pull its troops out of Iraq, and Thailand said its 451 medical and engineering troops will be withdrawn if they are attacked.

The President of Honduras, Ricardo Maduro, a close ally of the US, said he had already told coalition countries that Honduras's 370 soldiers in Iraq would leave soon.

The withdrawal would be carried out "in the shortest possible time and under safe conditions for our troops", he said in a television and radio address.

Spain is commanding troops in Iraq from other Spanish-speaking nations - Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

Honduran soldiers were sent to Iraq last summer as peacekeepers only, and have been clearing mines and providing medical care in central Iraq. They had been set to leave when their mandate expires in July.

Many Hondurans have questioned why their troops should remain in Iraq now that Spain is withdrawing, and congressional leaders had expressed concern for their safety.

The Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, said of his troops: "If we get hurt or killed, I will not keep them there." The Thai Senate began a debate yesterday on a resolution calling for the troops to come home.

The soldiers have been confined to their camp in Kerbala, south of Iraq, since a wave of violence erupted a few weeks ago.

"We do not go there to fight. If we get killed why should we stay?" Mr Thaksin said.

In the embattled Iraqi city of Falluja there were reports of civilians who had fled battles between US marines and Sunni rebels trickling back yesterday after agreement on a preliminary plan to end the fighting.

Witnesses said a few displaced civilians trudged into the city, but marines at checkpoints turned back vehicles.

US officials and local Iraqi leaders agreed on Monday to a series of measures aimed at defusing tensions in the city, where fierce clashes have killed hundreds of people over the past two weeks.

Marines besieging the city agreed not to resume their offensive into the heart of the town if "all persons" turned in their rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, missiles and other heavy weapons. Residents could keep their AK-47 assault rifles for personal protection, the marines said.

The joint communique from US and Iraqi leaders who have been negotiating the fate of Falluja also modified the terms of the US-imposed curfew, allowing access for the sick and wounded to hospitals and promising to facilitate the burial of the dead.

Reuters, Los Angeles Times

© Copyright 2004 The Sydney Morning Herald

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