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Iran 'suspicious` of Iraqi group`s demand for release of diplomat

Tehran, Aug 15, IRNA -- Tehran remained suspicious as an armed group, calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq, threatened Sunday to 'punish` a kidnapped Iranian diplomat.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the 'identity of the group and the nature of its demand' that Iran release 500 prisoners allegedly held since the 1980-1988 war are 'suspicious`.

"The case of the two countries' prisoners of war has been closed and what still remains is the file of those missing in action," he said.

The Arabic satellite channel Al-Alam said that Jeish-ul-Islam or the Islamic Army of Iraq had threatened to 'punish` Fereidoun Jahani, missing since Aug. 4 in Iraq, within 48 hours if Iran did not release 500 prisoners captured in the former war.

Asefi said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran considers the interim Iraqi government responsible for the safety of Jahani and expects it to use all its means for his release."

"We have held various round of negotiations with the interim Iraqi government and all the groups which are thought to be able to help in this matter and this process still continues," he added.

The official touched on 'extensive efforts` being made for the diplomat's release, saying `the Foreign Ministry is exhausting all its capacities and means' to secure Jahani`s freedom.

Asefi has earlier said that Jahani disappeared on the road from Baghdad to Karbala where he was to take up his assignment as the Iranian consul.

A statement from the so-called Islamic Army in Iraq alleged that Jahani was 'detained for stirring sectarian strife and for activities outside his diplomatic duties'.

Iran has strongly dismissed allegations of interference in Iraq, saying these were 'without evidence`.

An unnamed Iranian source has been quoted as saying that the group had acted in collaboration with the US Embassy in Iraq under direct supervision of US Ambassador John Negroponte.

The kidnapping followed arrest of IRNA's Baghdad bureau chief Mostafa Darban and two Iraqi staff, Mohammed Khafaji and Mohsen Madani.

Iranian officials say the fate of the fourth is still unaccounted for.

Iran has twice summoned Iraq's top diplomat to Tehran for explanation following the arrests and certain Iraqi officials' allegations against Iran.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Saturday that the accusations, including by Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem al-Shalaan, had been directed only at 'unofficial figures` in Iran.

"We do not accuse the Iranian government of interference in Iraq's domestic affairs," he told IRNA reporter in Najaf.

"We want establishment of good relations with neighboring countries, especially Iran, and believe that our bilateral ties are based on common interests," Allawi said.

... Payvand News - 8/15/04 ... --

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