EU says Iraq-UN cooperation key to closing Iran exile camp
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

The European Union urged further cooperation between UN negotiators and Iraqi officials in "difficult" efforts to press ahead with the closure of a camp inside Iraq housing some 3,400 Iranian dissidents.

"The EU is following very closely the current negotiations between the UN, UNHCR and the government of Iraq about camp Ashraf," said a statement issued by the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"These negotiations are very difficult but we trust the UN negotiators to conduct them with the safety of the residents as their main preoccupation," it added.

In Baghdad, officials said earlier that talks were underway on relocating the exiled Iranians from the camp north of Baghdad after it hosted members of the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) since the 1980s.

Iraq wants to reclaim it by year's end.

"The EU is also in regular contact with the Iraqi authorities and encourages them to be as flexible as possible with the modalities of the evacuation and to cooperate with UNHCR in order to facilitate the relocation of the residents," the EU statement said.

Earlier in Brussels, the head of the European parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq challenged the country's determination to close the camp as "a virtual declaration of war on the UN and international community and a death warrant" for Ashraf residents.

A letter co-signed by all of the parliament's political groups, with the exception of the Greens, urged Ashton to step in to obtain a delay in the camp's closure to give time to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others to screen and resettle residents.

The camp, an accident of history that has become a thorny international problem, has been in the spotlight since an April raid by Iraqi security forces left 34 people dead and scores injured, triggering sharp condemnation.

In a note to the EU, the Iraqi embassy in Brussels labelled the dissidents "terrorists", and denied they had refugee status or could claim protection under the Geneva Convention.

The camp was set up when Iraq and Iran were at war in the 1980s by the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) and was later placed under US control until January 2009, when US forces transferred security for the camp to Iraq.

The PMOI has been on the US government terrorist list since 1997 – though removed from the EU list – but has received support from leading US figures in its battle to obtain international supervision of Camp Ashraf's closure, timed to take place as US forces pull out of Iraq.

A foreign policy advisor for the Greens, Sabine Meyer, said the party did not join the European parliament petition as it perceived the PMOI as being a "sectarian" group that "manipulates and holds hostage" the camp's residents.

"Iraq has the right to reclaim this camp which is on its territory," she told AFP. "Some of the Mujahedeen leaders aided and abetted Saddam Hussein and should be judged for crimes against humanity."

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