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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Kuwaiti Forces Seize Iraqi Tugboat

Aired December 21, 2002 - 08:10   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Some breaking news involving Iraq. We want to go to Rym Brahimi, who is in Baghdad, with more on that -- Rym.
RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, we've just learned from the Iraqi foreign ministry, the foreign ministry spokesman saying that a tugboat, an Iraqi tugboat that was in what Iraq says were Iraqi territorial waters was seized by a Kuwaiti vessel. Now, the foreign ministry spokesman says the tugboat was tugging a vessel that was carrying no cargo, but the Kuwaiti authorities apparently seized the four crew members of that Iraqi tugboat.

Now, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri is said to have written a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan saying that this is a violation of international law and saying that he holds the Kuwaiti authorities responsible for those Iraqi crew members, also, calling on Kuwait to release those crew members and ensure their safety -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Rym, I know we're just starting to get information that's trickling in, but are your sources telling you anything about what they're suspect of, considering there was no cargo on board?

BRAHIMI: That's very difficult to tell so far, Fredricka. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, the foreign ministry statement says that there was absolutely nothing on that cargo ship. It set sail earlier this month and was going from one Iraqi port to another, apparently, and that's when it was seized, only, not very long ago.

It's quite interesting timing, really, Fredricka, because at the same time that there's been this sort of heightened tension, this U.S. buildup, very public buildup in Kuwait and other Gulf states of military buildup, well, there's also been some sort of efforts on the part of Iraq to make progress in improving its relations with Kuwait.

We've just found out, for instance, that Iraq has agreed to return some more of the property that had been looted during the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. There's also a meeting that they've agreed on that will be held in Jordan with the Red Cross, with Kuwait, with Kuwait and with Saudi Arabia to which Iraq will attend to discuss the missing people of Kuwait that went missing during the Gulf War.

So it's a bit confusing, a lot of mixed signals here as to what's going on between those two countries -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Rym, it sounds like it's still a bit confusing as to who these four people are. A little bit more information about the four who were apprehended or are now in custody, right?

BRAHIMI: Yes, well, all we know was that tugboat, from what we're told by the foreign ministry, that tugboat was a tugboat belonging to the Ministry of Communications. It was a water transportation tugboat, Number 51. They gave us the names of the four crew members. But that's all the specifications we have so far. We'll obviously bring you up to date as soon as we have more on that -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Rym, Appreciate it, from Baghdad.

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