Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Three Iran police die in ethnic clashes in W.Iran

Three Iranian policemen have died fighting Kurdish insurgents, an official said on Wednesday, as security forces crack down on unrest along the Islamic Republic's ethnically volatile western borders.

Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said the men were killed fighting Pezhak forces, an Iranian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) whose separatist campaign is flaring up in southeastern Turkey after a relative lull. READ MORE

"Three policemen were killed in clashes with Pezhak near the (northwestern town) of Oshnavieh," he said.

This fighting comes hot on the heels of rioting in the northwestern Kurdish town of Mahabad. Iranian authorities say this unrest was not motivated by ethnic grievances but Kurdish leaders disagree.

Former Kurdish lawmaker Bahaeddin Adab said this week the unrest resulted from the denial of the Kurdish minority's rights since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Further south on the western border, another official and a rebel leader said policemen were cracking down on unrest in Khuzestan, Iran's oil heartland where most of the country's Arab minority lives.

The Iranian official said police had restored order after 12 arrests, but the Arab rebel leader said four protesters had been killed and many injured in clashes with authorities. Khanjani said there had been no deaths.

Unrest among the Arab minority flared in April, when five people were killed and about 200 arrested. The street fighting was kindled by rumours that Tehran was planning to force ethnic Arabs to relocate.


The conservative newspaper Kayhan quoted Saeed Saadi, head of civil protection in Khuzestan, as saying the latest unrest was sparked by a fraudster called Ali Ayashi.

According to Saadi, people wanting their money back after one of Ayashi's scams had taken to the streets. He said their protest attracted a group looking for an excuse to cause trouble.

"The duty of the police was to stop the troublemakers as opposed to those who just wanted their money back," he said.

"Twelve people were arrested," he added.

Tehran is sensitive about any whisper of unrest in Khuzestan, home to its vast oilfields which account for 80 percent of export earnings.

Mahmoud Ahmad Al-Ahwazi, from the Ahvaz Arab People's Democratic-Popular Front, a movement fighting for the independence of Khuzestan, said protests were picking up in the run-up to the 100th-day anniversary of the April unrest.

"Four people have been shot dead by police," he told Reuters by telephone from Britain, where he is based.

"Tonight will be the big demonstration," he added.

He said the protests had a strong ethnic tone with people hanging Khuzestani Arab flags from buildings.

About three percent of Iran's 67 million people are Arabs. Bomb attacks against government buildings in Khuzestan killed seven people in June.

Iran's western border is a patchwork of ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds and Azeris.