Iranian dissidents in Iraq agree to move to new camp

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2012 11:19 AM
Iranian dissidents in Iraq agree to move to new camp

PARIS (Reuters) - The leader of an exiled Iranian opposition group said on Thursday she had agreed to start relocating residents of a long-disputed dissident camp in Iraq after receiving assurances from the United States about their safety.

Some 65 km (40 miles) from Baghdad, the settlement known as Camp Ashraf is the base of the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition group that Washington considers a terrorist group.

The Iraqi government, which is friendly with Tehran, has said it intends to close the camp, which is home to an estimated 3,000 Iranian dissidents and has been the scene of bloody clashes between residents and the Iraqi security forces.

The PMOI said on Thursday it was starting to relocate the dissidents who reside there to a new location as a result.

"Maryam Rajavi, after being informed of recommendations and assurances of Secretary (Hillary) Clinton last night, called on Ashraf residents to transfer the first 400 residents to Camp Liberty in the coming days to remove any doubts about their good will," said a statement from the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the PMOI's political wing.

Baghdad extended its deadline to close Ashraf late last year under pressure from the United Nations and European Union from December 31, 2011 to April 30, 2012.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said on Wednesday that the infrastructure and facilities at Camp Liberty, a former U.S. base where the Ashraf residents will be temporarily rehoused, complied with international humanitarian standards.

"Transfer of the next groups will only take place after the Special Representative of the Secretary General and the Iraqi government declare their approval of the minimum assurances, particularly the departure of Iraqi police from inside Camp Liberty, in order to avoid tension, violence and another massacre of the residents," the NCRI statement said.

The fate of Camp Ashraf is one of the main unresolved issues left over after U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq last year. Residents of the camp have long said they fear for their safety at the hands of Iraqi authorities without U.S. protection.

In April, the camp was the scene of clashes between residents and Iraqi security forces, in which 34 people were killed, according to a U.N. investigation.

(Reporting By John Irish, editing by Andrew Osborn)