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UN, Iraq agree on plan to move Iranian exiles from Camp Ashraf
BAGHDAD (AP) ' The United Nations and the Iraqi government have signed an agreement to relocate several thousand Iranian exiles living in a camp in northeastern Iraq, the U.N.'s office in Baghdad announced Sunday.
But it's not clear yet whether the camp's residents have signed off on the deal.
In a statement late Sunday, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said the agreement establishes a process to move the residents of Camp Ashraf to a temporary location. It did not give a timeline for the move or specify the new location.
But U.S. and Iraqi officials have previously identified a former American military base in Baghdad as the location being considered to house the exiles.
From there, the U.N.'s refugee agency will process their asylum claims with the idea that they would eventually be resettled in other countries.
The People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran first moved to Camp Ashraf during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who saw the group as a convenient ally against Tehran. The group is committed to the overthrow of the Iranian regime, and sided with Iraq in the war against Iran in the 1980s.
The group carried out a series of bombings and assassinations against Iran's clerical regime in the 1980s and fought alongside Saddam's forces in the Iran-Iraq war. But the group says it renounced violence in 2001. U.S. soldiers disarmed them during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been determined to close down the camp, located in barren terrain northeast of Baghdad about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Iranian border, by the end of December. His government considers the camp as an affront to Iraq's sovereignty.
Last week, an Iraqi government spokesman said the government was working out a solution to the situation at Camp Ashraf with the U.N. and would allow the camp to stay open into January as residents are being relocated. At the time, representatives of the residents suggested they would be willing to move, as long as their security was provided for.
Under the agreement outlined by the U.N., the international organization will monitor the relocation process and then a team from the U.N.'s refugee agency will be deployed at the new location to process the refugee claims.
The Iraqi government will be responsible for the exiles' safety during that time, and will have a liaison officer from the Ministry of Human Rights involved in the relocation, the U.N. said.
"I would like to highlight that the government is exclusively responsible for the safety and security of the residents both during their transfer and in the new location until they leave the country," said Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Iraq.
The Iraqi government's vow to close Camp Ashraf had raised concerns that forcibly removing its 3,400 residents would result in violence. The U.N. has said that at least 34 people were killed in a raid on the camp by Iraqi security forces last April.
Representatives of the camp could not be reached Sunday evening. They sent out a press release Sunday evening saying that rockets had been fired on their camp. No casualties were reported. There was no way to immediately verify the claims.
The People's Mujahedeen has been branded a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, a designation now under review by the State Department. It has been removed from similar blacklists in Europe.