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Bodies of three Iranian pilgrims found near Iraqi border

The bodies of three Iranians, who died en route to holy Shiite shrines in Iraq, have been found in Mehran near the Iraqi border, police said in the western city of Ilam on Monday, IRNA reported.

Police found the bodies after interviewing a companion who confessed to having left behind one of the bodies, belonging to 19-year-old Mohammad Khalaji, who died of thirst in Iraqi territory.

The bodies of Mohammad Zanganeh and Rahman Safar-Ali, both 50 years old, were found near Mohsen-Ab and Tangeh Bina, said the police, who cited the cause of the deaths as heat stroke and thirst.

The bodies have been transferred to coroner's office in Ilam, police said.

Since the collapse of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, many Iranians illegally crossed western and southern borders into Iraq on way to holy Shiite sites.

According to officials, close to 100 Iranians have been killed or injured because of thirst, heat stroke or after getting stranded, hitting mines left over from the 1980-1988 Iraqi imposed war against Iran, or being shot by US troops.

On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi renewed the government's appeal to Iranians to refrain from illegally travelling to Iraq.

"There are many dangers associated with this kind of trips since it is possible that (the pilgrims) may be attacked by thieves or bandits similar to what has already happened," he told reporters.

Asefi said Iran was following up the issue of resuming trip to Iraqi Shiite shrines 'through diplomatic channels' and that 'when the right time comes to make such travels, we will publicly announce it'.

On Sunday, head of the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Seyed Ahmad Zarhani, warned that any individuals or companies, found guilty of organizing illegal travels to Iraq, will be legally dealt with.

"Unfortunately, this type of trips, despite repeated warnings by officials, have caused many problems for our citizens," he told IRNA in Tehran.

Zarhani said his office was sending a delegation to Iraq soon to discuss the possibility of resuming pilgrimage by Iranians.

"This delegation will travel to Iraq soon for talks with Iraqi officials in order to guarantee the security and welfare of Iranian pilgrims," he said.

The former Baath regime had restricted pilgrimage to the holy sites, but little improvement has been made since Saddam's collapse.

This is because the US-led invasion of Iraq has plunged the country into insecurity and chaos, with looting, robbery and harassment as well as other forms of crimes rampant.

Iranian officials had warned against visiting Iraq in the run-up to US-led invasion. Tehran closed its borders with Iraq as the attack began.

Meanwhile, the fate of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Baghdad now remains in limbo in the absence of a genuine Iraqi authority in the country since the Islamic Republic, which strongly opposed the invasion, holds no ties with the invading sides.

... Payvand News - 7/29/03 ... --

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