Saturday, July 01, 2006

Syria Detains Iran Arab rebel leaders

Kuwait Times:
Syria detained several leading Iranian Arab rebel leaders yesterday, a human rights group said, voicing concern for their fate if they are handed over to Damascus's key regional ally Tehran.

"The Syrian authorities have arrested several officials of the Ahvaz Arab People's Democratic-Popular Front living in exile in Damascus, including the movement's spokesman Taher Ali Mazraa," the chairman of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights, Mohannad Al-Hassani, told AFP.

"We express our deep concern about the wave of arrests under way and fear the prisoners may be handed over to the Iranian authorities, a serious step that would constitute a breach of Syrian law," Hassani said. READ MORE

"We demand the release of the Ahvazi citizens and call on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to assume its responsibilities by intervening with the Syrian authorities to prevent the prisoners being delivered up to Iran."

The UN agency already expressed concern on June 6 for the safety of four Iranian Arab exiles previous detained in Syria, after one refugee who had qualified for resettlement in Europe was forcibly repatriated by Damascus.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said at the time that seven Iranian Arabs had been detained by Syria but three had been released following representations by the UN agency.

The deportee was sent back to Iran even though he had been recognized as a refugee by the UNHCR and had been due to be resettled in Norway in early April.

In late May, Iran said that Syria and neighbouring Turkey had arrested several individuals suspected of involvement in a recent bombing campaign in the Arab-majority southwestern oil city of Ahvaz and that it was seeking their extradition.

Ahvaz was rocked by ethnic riots in April 2005 and a string of car bombings in the run-up to the June 2005 presidential election, followed by more bomb attacks in October last year and January this year.

Human rights groups have expressed concern about the situation in Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, of which Ahvaz is the capital, accusing the Islamic republic of cracking down on Arab groups and imposing a media blackout.