UN says 34 killed at Iranian exiles camp in Iraq

AFP – April 14, 2011

At least 34 people were killed and dozens wounded at an Iranian exiles’ camp raided by the Iraqi military last week, the United Nations said Thursday.

The toll was released the day after UN observers visited Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad in Diyala province, which the Iraqi government has demanded be closed by the end of the year.

“We are aware of 34 bodies at Camp Ashraf and nearby,” deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. The victims included women and most were shot, according to UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville in Geneva. He added that dozens more were wounded.

The Iraqi military raided the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran camp last Friday as tensions between the residents, all opponents of Iran’s clerical regime, and the Iraqi authorities reached a new height.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh denied that the military carried out the killings and said authorities would hold their own investigation.

“Our security forces believe that the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape,” Dabbagh told AFP. “They had already committed similar acts in the past.

Just after the raid, the Iraqi military said it had been a confrontation with stone-throwing camp residents in which three people were killed.

More than 3,000 men, women and children live at Camp Ashraf which was set up in Iraq in the 1980s. Dictator Saddam Hussein gave the land to the Mujahedeen to act as a base against Iran when the two neighbors were at war.

The left-wing People’s Mujahedeen was founded in 1965 to oppose the shah of Iran but after the Islamic revolution in 1979 took up arms against the clerical regime.

Camp Ashraf was disarmed following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has become a mounting problem for Iraqi authorities since US forces handed over security for the camp last year.

The United States and European Union have expressed concern for the Ashraf residents.

Following the raid, the Iraqi government said on Monday that the People’s Mujahedeen must leave the country by the end of the year. Iran strongly welcomed that announcement.

Dabbagh said then that “all means including political, diplomatic, and cooperation with the United Nations and international organisations” would be used to get the militants out of the country.

The United States said Tuesday it was ready to help Iraq with a negotiated plan that could allow the Iranian dissidents to live in a third country. Iraqi diplomats say they hope European countries will offer to take the Ashraf residents.

European deputies on Tuesday urged the United States and United Nations to protect the camp residents. A statement signed by more than 100 members of the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly also called on the European Union to demand “the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Camp Ashraf.”

In his reaction to the toll, Dabbagh said “the Iraqi government is pleased that the United States has taken an interest in the Iraqi request to find another place” for the Camp Ashraf residents.

“The Iraqi government will provide any logistical support it can to facilitate the desires of Camp Ashraf residents wanting to leave Iraq.”

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