Thursday, 8 October 2009

Camp Ashraf groups vow to fight on

By Sebastian Usher
BBC News

Supporters of the residents of a camp for Iranian dissidents in Iraq say they will continue their international protests demanding the US and the UN give them protection.

On Wednesday, dozens of supporters around the world ended a 72-day hunger strike after one of their main demands was met - the release of 36 Camp Ashraf inmates detained by the Iraqi authorities for the past two-and-a-half months.

They were seized during a raid on 28 and 29 July.

Video filmed by people in Camp Ashraf appears to show Iraqi police and soldiers shooting and beating camp residents.

Up to 11 are reported to have been killed and hundreds wounded.

Camp Ashraf was handed over to Iraqi government control at the start of 2009 by the Americans. US forces had taken control of the camp after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

It had long been one of the main bases of the Iranian dissident group, the People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI).

Health problems

Camp Ashraf is now home to more than 3,000 people. The Americans provided protection for them against outside threats from Iran and Iraq.

After the seizure of the 36 camp residents in July, an international campaign was mounted to to put pressure on Iraq to release them.

Hunger strikes were held in several major cities around the world to publicise the case. In London, 12 relatives and friends of people in the camp kept up their hunger strike outside the US embassy for 72 days.

Now the detainees have been released, they've ended their hunger strike, which consisted of taking only tea and sugar to keep them alive.

Their spokeswoman Laila Jayazeri says they now have serious health problems - and are under observation in hospital.

Ms Jayazeri says their action played a vital role in securing the detainees' freedom.

But she says the protests will continue, to demand that US forces resume control of the camp, that the UN supplies a monitoring team there - and that none of the inmates are sent to Iran.

Repatriation fear

Camp Ashraf presents the US with a difficult dilemma.

Its handover of control in January was part of its phased withdrawal from Iraq.

The Iraqi government gave assurances that the inmates would be treated humanely and not forcibly returned to Iran. The raid in July put this in question.

Camp residents say the Shia-led Iraqi government - which has close political ties with Tehran - is receptive to Iranian pressure to expel them. They fear that if they are repatriated, they could face torture, imprisonment or execution.

If the US allowed this to happen, it would not fit well with Washington's professed support for opposition activists in Iran.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the PMOI is still designated a terrorist organisation in the US - a label the European Union lifted earlier this year.


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