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Iran Report: October 23, 2000


23 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 40

HIZBALLAH AND PALESTINIANS INVOLVED IN BASIJ EXERCISES. Basij Resistance Force commander Brigadier-General Mohammad Hejazi announced on 19 October that officials from Lebanese Hizballah and either the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) or HAMAS will participate in current Basij war games. The extent of that participation seems to be limited to speaking at an afternoon rally, judging from Hejazi's statement that "[t]his afternoon, God willing, we will organize an extensive gathering in the camp, when the Basijis will declare their readiness to engage in jihad side-by-side with the Palestinian warriors. Officials of the Palestinian jihad [HAMAS or the PIJ] and the Lebanese Hizballah will be taking part in the program this afternoon. They will address the participants in the camp on the latest developments in the occupied territories." Hizballah and PIJ or HAMAS participation in the current exercises supports reports by the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran that Arabic-speaking Lebanese mercenaries were among the hardline forces who attacked student demonstrators in July 2000 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 July 2000). The three-day Companions of Ali, Wayfarers to Jerusalem (Yaran-i Imam Ali, Rahian-i Qods) exercise is taking place 30 kilometers south of Tehran with the participation of some 90,000 male and 20,000 female Basijis. (Bill Samii)

CONCERN ABOUT CAMPUS STABILITY. "The seeming calm on the campus must not dupe the staff since many problems remain. The reigning calm was not founded on understanding but based on despair," parliamentarian Ali Shakouri-Rad warned, according to the 16 October "Aftab-i Yazd."

Some state officials seem to share the concern that unrest will return to the universities. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned professors and staff at Sharif University of Technology about "politically-motivated hidden traps set both inside and outside the universities," IRNA reported on 17 October. Expediency Council Chairman Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani cautioned members of the Central Council of the Islamic Associations of Independent Students against U.S. plots intended to weaken the Islamic Republic system and eliminate religious involvement in politics, IRNA reported on 16 October.

President Mohammad Khatami also addressed a gathering of university students on 17 October, and he acknowledged that "universities have certain demands" and "students should criticize." He said that a debate is welcome and valuable. But then he attempted to sidetrack the debate by saying greater attention should be paid to international issues, which are unavoidable due to globalization. Khatami proceeded to criticize Israel and complain that "a significant part of the mass media is under the influence of the Zionist lobby in the world."

But Khatami also appeared to suggest that the students should take matters into their own hands. Khatami acknowledged that he has critics and these critics may have a plan to "bypass" him because his reform efforts seem to have stalled. But, he said, depending on or waiting for a hero is a mistake of which Iranians are historically guilty. People must become heroes themselves: "This society will not be a consolidated and developed society as long as it does not stand on its own feet and believe that it can create change."

One week earlier, Ali Akbar Mohseni, who is in charge of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology's security department, said that efforts to create crises in the universities had failed, according to IRNA. "Radio Azadi [RFE/RL], one of the regular instigators of crisis, embarked over the past few months on disseminating instructions issued by the so-called rivals of the Islamic Republic of Iran abroad and tried on a number of occasions to provoke protest demonstrations by students at the start of the academic year. Mohseni said that other ways of instigating unrest were faxes, contacts from abroad, and distribution of articles and leaflets.

Such nervousness about campus stability may explain the concern expressed in some circles to the parliament's consideration of a bill that would block security forces' access to university campuses. General Mohsen Ansari, deputy commander of the LEF, worried that universities would became a haven for criminals. He said that the law "should not pose any restrictions on the entry of law enforcers into the university campuses. ...the universities must not be turned into safe havens for criminals and offenders. At the same time, the bill must be able to provide the necessary guarantees for a safe and secure academic atmosphere for students." (Bill Samii)

KHORRAMABAD: STUDENTS, ACTIVISTS ARRESTED. Three members of Luristan University's Islamic Association -- Dehqan-Nezhad, Najafi, and Mohammadi -- have been arrested, according to a report in the 15 October "Aftab-i Yazd." The charges against them have not been made public, but there is a widespread assumption that the arrests are connected to late-August clashes between a reformist student group, hardline vigilantes, and security forces in Khorramabad. Reza Khajui, who heads the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party in Luristan Province, as well as several other reformist activists, was arrested as well, "Entekhab" reported on 14 October. That brings the total of those arrested in connection with this unrest to more than 150. (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 October 2000).

Ali Shakouri-Rad, who heads the parliamentary inquiry into the unrest, told IRNA that the detentions seem to be one-sided. He added that the individuals who were arrested had been contacted by his investigatory group previously. Shakouri-Rad went on to say that the Luristan Province LEF and Ministry of Intelligence and Security have cooperated with his investigation, but state broadcasting has yet to provide the requested documents.

The parliamentary investigation is the third -- the state inspectorate and the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) already have issued contradictory reports about the unrest. Basij commander Mohammad Hejazi told the 10 October "Iran" that the SNSC report was flawed because it criticized the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and implied that Basij personnel were ordered to combat the reformist students. According to Hejazi, however, the Basijis' involvement was spontaneous and they were acting out of a sense of duty. (Bill Samii)

EIGHT MORE PRESS OUTLETS CLOSED. The number of publications closed down by the Iranian government since April continues to climb. The weekly "Sobh-e Omid" was banned before delivery of its third issue, "Hambastegi" reported on 23 October, and its managing-director, Ali Mossbat, was in court the previous day. Prosecutor-General Mohseni-Ejei had said on 22 October that "two more publications will be declared banned tonight," according to IRNA, but he did not name the publications. That same day, Qolam-Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami, the managing director of "Hambastegi," was to appear in court.

The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance temporarily banned six weekly publications -- including "Jahan-i Pezeshki" and "Milad," for ignoring repeated warnings. Their cases will be referred to the press court, "Abrar" reported on 18 October.

A new semi-weekly business paper -- "Tijarat-i Azad" -- hit the newsstands on 14 October. The weekly "Tehran-i Imruz," produced by the conservative Islamic Propagation Organization that puts out the "Tehran Times," is expected on 23 October.

Jailed journalist Akbar Ganji, meanwhile, has been named as a recipient for the International Press Freedom Award given by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, who was tortured and raped by right-wing paramilitaries, will share the award, which recognizes journalists who demonstrate their commitment to freedom of expression and overcome enormous odds just to produce the news. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI TELLS SISTAN VA BALUCHISTAN: HELP YOURSELVES. A 17 October car-bomb near a Shia mosque in Zahedan, capital of the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province, was immediately blamed on "subservient elements of arrogance" by local security officials. They added that the purpose of the bomb was to distract locals from events in Israel and thus marked an attempt to undermine regional unity. Such self-serving statements by the authorities, coming at the same time that President Mohammad Khatami was deflecting parliamentary representatives' request for relief, shows why many in Sistan va Baluchistan think that the central government is indifferent to their needs.

The Sistan va Baluchistan deputies, during the 3 September parliamentary session, dispatched an open letter to Khatami in which they asked for drought relief. The letter explained that the provincial economy depends primarily on agriculture, but because of the drought, the land and livestock have been damaged badly. "The funds allocated to that region are insufficient, and in fact the payment of this small amount to compensate for the drought will not solve any of the problems of the people," the letter noted. The deputies requested, therefore, that "significant funds be allocated to eliminate the basic problems of the people as soon as possible."

When Khatami met with the deputies a month later, he told them that "exploiting the huge manpower and natural resources and top geographical and transit location of the province" would help promote employment, investment, and production there, IRNA reported on 16 October. He urged the deputies to cooperate with his government to achieve these ends. It was only after the bombing in Zahedan that Khatami decided to send a delegation to Sistan va Baluchistan to investigate the drought damage. Governor-General Mahmud Husseini said experts from the Management and Planning Organization and the Construction Jihad Ministry would inspect the region, IRNA reported on 21 October, and he estimated that there is 2.84 trillion rials in damage.

Sistan va Baluchistan's population of 1.2 million suffers from a higher-than-average unemployment rate, and the region is relatively undeveloped. Being so close to Afghanistan means that many refugees from that war-torn country have come to Sistan va Baluchistan, which imposes a further drain on scarce resources and on jobs. Zabol businessman Ali Ghafuri said, "Iran Daily" reported in September, "As a result of the involvement of hundreds of Afghans in smuggling throughout Sistan va Baluchistan's border towns, the merchants have not welcomed legal exports and imports of goods to the province." Another businessman, Khoda-Morad Cheshmaki, said that the presence of Afghans had led to low salaries for Iranians and promoted unproductive businesses. The creation of Free Trade Zones, such as the one in Chahbahar, is intended to attract foreign investment and relieve some of these economic problems.

Khatami's recent statement reinforces the belief of many in the province that Tehran is indifferent and insensitive to their concerns. Such thoughts about Tehran's insensitivity came up several times earlier this year. At a September funeral in Saravan for locals killed in an ambush by "unidentified armed men," the governor and military commander refused to meet with locals who were demanding action, "Kayhan" reported. Complaining about the "sectarian and tribal clashes" in the region, the Sunni Friday Prayer leader of Nikshahr, Molavi Abdullah Vahidi-Far, demanded that security officials act more decisively and responsibly. He went on to suggest that this is why people take the law into their own hands. Provincial schools are in poor condition, too, and there is a limited number of them. In the border region of Chahbahar, for example, children from the first to fifth grade "study in straw huts with only one teacher," according to an interview in "Seda-yi Idalat" with Khash parliamentarian Masud Hashem Zehi and "educated Baluchi" Hamid Sardar Zehi.

There also is the sense among locals that there is official discrimination against Sunni Muslims. Friday Prayer leader of Zahedan's Makki Mosque, Molavi Abdolhamid, who in addition to being a Sunni is also a state appointee, complained in April that "in Sunni-populated areas, sometimes unnecessary interventions in religious affairs occur on the part of some low-level functionaries, for example in Sunni mosques and school affairs, which causes irritation to the Sunnis." There also has been anti-Sunni violence in the province. Just this spring, a Sunni seminarian from Birjand was beaten, set on fire, and killed in Zahedan.

Statements by the Iranian government and by state appointees about the recent explosion at the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque in Zahedan suggest that there is at least some awareness of the Sunni-Shia tensions. The local security council indicated, according to state radio, that "this act of terrorism has been aimed at creating discord between Shia and Sunni Muslims." It went on to say that a 1998 bombing at Zahedan's Sunni Makki mosque and the 1990 murder of Sheikh Ali Mazrei, prayer leader at the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque, had a similar purpose. And, at an 18 October rally in Zahedan that was attended by many local officials, Molavi Abdolhamid warned: "Let the criminals and global arrogance's lackeys know that, as a result of these evil deeds and contrary to their intentions, the unity between the Shia and Sunnis of Sistan va Baluchistan Province will continue to serve as a model for the entire country." (Bill Samii)

OFFICIALS CRITICIZE ANTI-NARCOTICS EFFORT. The number of drug addicts in Iran is climbing because the country's counter-narcotics campaign is ineffective, Iranian officials say. The government, however, is not changing its strategy and is continuing its normal activities, by sending more troops to guard the eastern borders and by maintaining its program of static defenses and monitoring devices.

Soheila Jelodarzadeh, secretary-general of the Society to Combat Addiction, said in late-September that there are now two million drug addicts in Iran, a figure which is significantly higher than the earlier estimate of 900,000 to 1.2 million people cited by Iranian and by UN Drug Control Program personnel. She explained that combating this scourge requires the government's cooperation, IRNA reported, which implies that such cooperation has not been forthcoming. Ali Awsat Hashemi, a Qazvin security official, added that Iran's domestic anti-drug campaign has not been very successful, IRNA reported on 8 October, due to negligence and inattention.

Despite all the preventative strategies, drug abuse and distribution in Iran is increasing, the director-general of the anti-contraband division of the Law Enforcement Forces, Brigadier-General Mehdi Abouei, announced on 8 October. Abouei said that the current mild punishments meted out to addicts are inadequate. Under a comprehensive drug law adopted in 1989, addicts and traffickers faced the death penalty for possession of more than five kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin. Executions were carried out swiftly after trials in Revolutionary Courts, although it is believed that some of those executed were actually political dissidents. These laws were relaxed somewhat in 1997 in order to induce addicts to seek treatment.

Tehran clearly hopes to reduce drug addiction rates primarily by preventing narcotics from entering the country from the east. Khorasan Governor-General Mohsen Mehralizadeh said in September that two elite LEF regiments were to be deployed along the border with Afghanistan, and Qasem Rezai, commander of Iran's LEF training centers, told IRNA on 15 October that four LEF regiments would be deployed along the eastern borders. About 100 kilometers of the eastern borders have been fenced off and another 200 kilometers are protected by electronic devices, according to the Iranian government. But Iran shares a 936-kilometer border with Afghanistan and a 909-kilometer border with Pakistan, so these measures are fairly minor. (Bill Samii)

RUSSIA'S IVANOV IN TEHRAN AMIDST NUCLEAR DEAL UPROAR. Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov arrived in Tehran on 17 October to participate in discussions regarding Central Asian security and terrorism emanating from Afghanistan. (While there, Ivanov linked violence in the West Bank with the Taliban, "RFE/RL Newsline" reported on 16 October.) Moscow's official ITAR-TASS news agency reported that economic issues would be the focus of the discussions, particularly problems with the Bushehr nuclear power plant. According to Iranian state radio, the two sides also would discuss Caspian Sea exploitation, trade, and production of the Russian Tu-334-100 aircraft.

Ivanov's Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani, said that ties between Iran and Russia are not directed against any other country. Rohani also emphasized that Russia and Iran must cooperate in "defending the oppressed Palestinian nation and condemning the Zionist regime's crimes," IRNA reported. Ivanov delivered an invitation from President Vladimir Putin for President Mohammad Khatami to visit Russia. Ivanov told Rohani that Russia's relations with Iran will not be influenced by a third party.

Ivanov's visit to Tehran came in the midst of reports that the U.S. government had agreed not to put sanctions on Moscow for sending arms to Iran in exchange for Russian promises that it would eventually stop. According to reports in the American press, former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin wrote a letter to U.S. Vice President Al Gore in which Gore was asked to withhold information from Congress about Russian nuclear deals with Iran, the "Washington Times" reported on 17 October. That paper suggested that this would appear to violate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act, which requires the White House to keep Congress informed about such transactions. Moreover, a classified analysis accompanying the letter warned that such transactions could lead to Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability.

Russian sales to Iran of conventional arms also reportedly were overlooked, these American newspaper stories suggested, following a 1995 aide-memoire signed by Gore and Chernomyrdin that effectively agreed to waive sanctionable weapons sales to state sponsors of terrorism. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the agreement was in the U.S. national interest. And he said that Moscow has fulfilled a pledge not to sign any new arms deals with Iran, AFP reported on 13 October.

When Khatami met with Ivanov on 18 October, he said that Iran's nuclear cooperation with Russia is peaceful and Iran has a right to use nuclear technology. He also emphasized that Iranian activities respect international norms. Ivanov also met IRGC commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi.

Meanwhile, Iranian Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh arrived in Moscow on 17 October to participate in a Russian-Iranian trade, economic, and scientific commission. The two sides then signed a memorandum on expanding cooperation in the areas of oil and gas, electric power, and industry. A member of the commission told Interfax that Russia would finance and build a new thermal power plant in Iran, and it would continue work on two other thermal power stations. Also, Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari and Russian Railroads Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko met to discuss a direct rail link in the context of the North-South transport corridor, Interfax reported on 13 October. This would involve a ferry from the Russia's Olya port to Iran's Bandar Anzali. (Bill Samii)

NEW IRANIAN DEFECTOR THREATENS RELATIONS WITH TURKEY. The recent defection to Turkey by an Iranian military officer as well as testimony by Turkish Islamic militants threaten to harm bilateral relations between Tehran and Ankara.

The current problems in these ties arose when Iranian Lieutenant Qolam Ali Feleksiyer crossed the border on 2 October and requested asylum from Turkey. During his questioning by Turkish military intelligence, Istanbul's NTV reported on 16 October, he revealed a great deal about Iran's aid to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and about Iranian intelligence operations against Turkey. Feleksiyer said that the PKK has been given shelter near the Van-Hakkari line. Iranian soldiers cannot enter their camps but the PKK cannot enter Iranian residential areas, either. Cross-border smuggling of drugs and other goods is tolerated, he added, because Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) gets information about Turkey from the smugglers. PKK official Osman Ocalan, furthermore, met with a delegation of MOIS officials in Badinabad on 6 October to request increased funding, arms, and logistics support. He also asked Iran to release Murat Sapan, who had been detained for drug trafficking, "Hurriyet" reported.

There also have been developments in related cases of Turkish Islamic militants who received aid from Iran. The semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on 19 October that Oguz Demir, a suspect in the case involving the murder of journalist Ugur Mumcu and academics Ahmet Kisali and Bahriye Ucok, had escaped to Iran 20 days earlier. The Republican Prosecutor's Office, furthermore, filed a second lawsuit in the case, Anatolia reported on 17 October. According to the indictment, suspect Rusta Aytufan testified that he and two comrades went to Tehran, then to Orumieh, where they received 15 days of military training. They also were trained in the use of demolitions and rocket-propelled grenades. In early-October, Murat Urgun of Turkish Hizballah admitted that MOIS officials with whom he interacted told him to gather information about the Incirlik airbase, the "Milliyet" daily reported. Urgun added that "Tehran's objective is to harm Turkey."

A Turkish trial of Islamic militants that ended in late-August had reached the same conclusion. The 70-page decision said that the "role of Iran, even if indirect, in the establishment and activities of the terrorist [Islamic Movement] organization has been proven." It continued, "Milliyet" reported, that "these actions have been supported with arms and funds by the Iranians." One defendant in the case was sentenced to death and four others received life sentences for the assassination of journalist Cetin Emec and other actions.

Iran has rejected the allegations of any connection with Turkish terrorists -- PKK, Hizballah, or otherwise. Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh was given, however, the Turkish file about the Hizballah case with the expectation that some explanations would be forthcoming. According to "Hurriyet," documents, compact discs, and floppy discs provided details about Hizballah training in Iran; meetings with the MOIS in Qom, Tehran, Ankara, and Istanbul; and photographs of Hizballah personnel in Iran. Abdullah Ocalan's testimony and photographs also detailed Iran's support for the PKK.

Semih Idiz, a journalist with the Ankara "Star" and a noted expert on Turkish-Iranian relations, told RFE/RL in August that the differences between Turkey and Iran are to be expected. "Turkey as a state model was diametrically opposed to what Iran represented just as the system in Iran is opposed to what Turkey's secularism represents. Turkey is important because it is an Islamic country and so it is important to people who want a model of a liberal environment, an easier environment, with less pressure from the mullahs."

Ozdam Sanberk of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in Istanbul told RFE/RL that political tensions must be balanced: "Definitely, you may have some problems with your neighbors, you don't have only perfect relations and cooperation, but also conflicts and disagreements and what is diplomacy but contradiction management?"

Such observations were also reinforced by the fact that the defection and the trials coincide with meetings between Turkish and Iranian officials. A Turkish delegation led by Interior Ministry official Saim Chotur visited Iran to discuss security matters, such as terrorism and drug trafficking. The Turkish-Iranian security meetings began on 15 October, with Interior Ministry official Gholam Hussein Bolandian representing Iran. Also, Iran's Lieutenant-Colonel Yakup Rezazadeh called on Igdir Governor Mustafa Tamer to discuss border violations, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on 7 October.

The Turkish delegation in Tehran met with Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, Iranian state radio reported on 15 October and Anatolia reported on 16 October. At this meeting, Musavi-Lari told the Turks that Israeli is a "symbol of state terrorism. ...We hope that Turkey would attribute necessary importance to Iran's concern on the issue." Musavi-Lari added that Iran is concerned about Turkey's relations with Israel and Israeli experts' presence in Turkey.

The Turks also offered to aid those who suffered in their inadvertent aerial bombardment of a settlement in Piranshahr in July 1999. Turkey had denied bombing Iran, but it also said it would pursue terrorists (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999). Turkey refuses to call this money "compensation," while Iran refuses to say how much money it received, but both sides seem happy to put the matter behind them. (Bill Samii)

JAKARTA WON'T SELL COMBAT HELICOPTERS TO TEHRAN. Indonesia's state aircraft industry was willing to fulfill Tehran's request for six locally-assembled, French-licensed Aerospatiale AS 332 Super Puma helicopters, but Tehran's request that they be configured as combat aircraft violated export regulations. Indonesian minister for trade and industry, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, explained that "the Iranians want to configure the helicopters into gunships but this is not permissible even though they have already paid the money," Jakarta's "Berita Buana" reported on 10 October. Before leaving for Tehran on 2 October, Asia Pulse reported, Panjaitan said that the helicopter deal was based on an early contract. Instead of the helicopters, Iran will receive Indonesian-produced aircraft components of equal value (the contract was worth $72 million). "One of the components we will be exchanging are the back doors of Antonov planes used on Iranian planes," Panjaitan said. (Bill Samii)

CLARIFICATION. The 16 October 2000 "RFE/RL Iran Report" stated that Brigadier-General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the new chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Sarollah base in Tehran, would relinquish his position as head of IRGC ground forces. According to the 9 October "Resalat," however, Jafari will continue to lead the IRGC ground forces while heading the Sarollah base. (Bill Samii)

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