KUWAIT OFWS HAVE NO GAS MASKS  

Manila, Feb. 20, 2003 -- The 60,000 Filipinos in Kuwait have yet to get gas masks that would protect them from possible biological and chemical attacks if war breaks out in the Middle East, sources said yesterday.

The sources said the Kuwaiti government failed to provide the gas masks to Filipinos as promised because the protective gear they procured from Turkey were found defective.

It was learned that 75 percent of the total 2 million gas masks ordered by the Kuwaiti government are not working properly.

"Kuwait returned the masks because they are loosely fit. But still we were given the assurance that they will be providing foreigners, including Filipinos, gas masks when emergency arises," one of the sources said.

Special envoy Roy Cimatu, head of the Middle East Preparedness Team, said he has yet to confirm the report.

But nevertheless, Cimatu stressed it is the responsibility of the Kuwait as the host government to ensure protection of all foreigners in the country.

The sources also disclosed the Kuwaiti government initially ordered gas masks from Israel. However, this was canceled after several Arab governments expressed outrage over the purchase.

These governments reportedly discouraged Kuwait from entering into any transaction with Israel as Islamic nations oppose the Israeli government's military offensives in Palestine.

Philippine embassies in the Middle East are on the highest level of the alert.

"There's nothing to worry about ... we have obtained guarantees from ... Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates that these host governments will extend protection for the OFWs," said Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople.

President Arroyo will meet Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad when she attends the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in Kuala Lumpur next week.

Arroyo will leave Sunday for the NAM conference where she will re-state the country's call for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to avert war.

She will be back Feb. 25.

She laughed off reports she is pro-American and has already volunteered the country's all-out support for US President George W. Bush. (By MARILOU JUMILLA, Malaya)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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