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Iraq Says Will Shut Iran Rebel Camp In Two Months

Militants from the People's Mujahideen of Iran

Militants from the People's Mujahideen of Iran

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iraq will close within two months a camp where opposition Iranian guerrillas have been living in exile for two decades, a senior Iraqi security official has said.

"Over 3,000 inhabitants of Camp Ashraf have to leave Iraq and the camp will be part of history within two months," Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told a news conference with Said Jalili, secretary-general of Iran's National Security Council.

"Iran's security cannot be threatened by any factor inside Iraq. Iran's security is our own security."

Iraq has said in the past it plans to close the camp eventually, but the two-month deadline appears to be new and would leave little time to find a place for its inhabitants.

Members of the exiled opposition Mujahedin- Khalq Organization (MKO) have lived in the camp 70 kilometers north of Baghdad for more than 20 years, fighting alongside ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran in the 1980s.

Like the United States and Europe, the Iraq government considers the MKO a terrorist group, although the group says it has renounced violence.

From the beginning of this year, the Iraqi government took over responsibility for the camp's security from U.S. troops, which invaded Iraq in 2003 and later provided protection to the Iranian exiles after reaching a disarmament accord with them.

Iran has long demanded the rebels be expelled from Iraq. Iraq has said it will close the camp without expelling the rebels by force, but has not spelled out where they will go.

"Some 914 of them have dual nationalities and others who want to return to Iran will be allowed to do so," al-Rubay'i said, adding he would discuss the issue with officials from 12 countries.

"They will leave Iraq in a non-forcible way," he said. "Terrorist groups have no place in Iraq."

Amnesty International has urged the United States and Iraq to regard members of the rebel group as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, a 1949 pact that bans the extradition or forced repatriation of people who could face torture or execution.

Iran says Washington supports the guerrilla group to undermine Tehran's ruling establishment. The United States has accused Iran of backing violent Shi'ite militias in Iraq.