Aid agencies ready for N.Iraq refugees over war worry

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GENEVA, Nov 2 (Reuters) Aid agencies are gearing up today to deal with thousands of people fleeing their homes in northern Iraq, where small groups are already on the move out of fear of Turkish troops invading to quell Kurdish rebels.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is preparing supplies for up to 12,000 displaced people in the north of the country, spokeswoman Jemini Pandya said.

''We are setting up a warehouse in the north which will be for emergency supplies as part of contingency planning. It is in case of a sudden mass displacement crisis in the north.'' Citing security concerns, she declined to say where the warehouse, expected to be operational in a week, was located.

It will be stocked with 2,000 non-food item kits and enough food for three weeks.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Ankara, promised on Friday to redouble efforts against Kurdish guerrillas in an attempt to stave off Turkish military intervention in northern Iraq that could destabilise the region.

Ankara has warned that unless immediate action is taken it will launch a major cross-border operation to crack down on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters using northern Iraq as a base to carry out attacks in Turkey.

''Tensions along the northern border continue, with intermittent shelling and the fear of Turkish invasion causing small-scale displacement and an increase in Erbil rent prices,'' the IOM said in its latest update on Iraq.

Twelve families, comprising some 72 people, had fled their border villages in Dohuk province in recent weeks, according to the IOM's Dana Graber.

Estimates for potential displacement in case of an invasion vary widely. Some Kurdish regional governments predict up to 10,000 families could be displaced from border districts and others estimate 2,000 families, according to the IOM.

An estimated 2.25 million Iraqis are already displaced within their homeland, straining scarce resources and leading several provinces to restrict entry, it said.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said northern Iraq had 800,900 internally displaced persons in September, spokeswoman Astrid Van Genderen Stort said.

''Whatever displacement is there (in the north) at the moment, the local authorities say it can be absorbed,'' she added.

REUTERS AM KP2314

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