Sunday, April 09, 2006

Rebels murder, shoot officials in Iran: Report

Armed rebels have killed two army officers, and shot a top cleric in troubled Sistan-Baluchistan province in southeastern Iran, a press report said.

A report in hardline Jomhuri Eslami newspaper said rebels on Friday shot and "seriously wounded" Hojatoleslam Yusef Mohammadi Soleimani, who represents the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the Center for Higher Education in Iranshahr. READ MORE

Mostafa Ahmadi and Behzad Qolipour, non-commissioned army officers, were shot over the weekend.

Eshaq Nezamdoust, another local official in charge of distributing oil products in Iranshahr, was reportedly abducted Saturday morning by six armed men.

The mostly Sunni Muslim province of Sistan-Baluchistan, in predominantly Shiite Iran, home to ethnic Baluchis, is notoriously lawless. It is a key transit route for opium and other drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan headed for Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Iran has also been combating fuel traffickers in the region for smuggling petrol, which is merely eight cents a liter in Iran, across the border.

Iranian press reported Thursday that security forces had killed the leader and 11 members of a Sunni militant group, called the Jundallah (soldiers of God) responsible for murdering 26 people last month in Sistan-Baluchistan.

In December, nine Iranian border patrols were kidnapped in the region. The Jundullah (soldiers of God) later claimed the execution of one of the soldiers.

Iran has seen a surge in ethnic violence in the last two years, with unrest in Sistan-Baluchistan, and to the southwest in Khuzistan province, home to a large Sunni Arab population.

In another incident of unrest, three members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were killed by Wednesday by a Kurdish rebel group known as Pejak in West Azerbaijan province near the border with Turkey.

Iran says Pejak is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has waged a 15-year insurgency against Ankara for self rule in the Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.

Iran has pointed the finger at foreign intervention from the United States, Britain for the recent wave of ethnic-related violence.

In its April 17 edition, the New Yorker magazine said the US government has sent special forces into Iran to make contact with disaffected ethnic groups ahead of a possible massive bombing campaign against Iran to destroy its nuclear programme.