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Iran Reopens Pakistan Border For Trade After Blast

Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi
QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Iran reopened its border with Pakistan for trade today more than four months after it closed the frontier following a bombing in southeastern Iran that killed 42 people, a Pakistani official said.

A Sunni Muslim rebel group called Jundollah (God's Soldiers) claimed the suicide bomb attack in Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan Province. Predominantly Shi'ite Iran suggested the group had links with Pakistani security agents.

Pakistan denied that but Iran closed the border to trade nevertheless.

A senior government officer in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran, said Iran decided to reopen the border after Pakistani and Iranian authorities agreed last week to step up border security.

"It has been reopened and security has been enhanced on both sides to check illegal crossborder movements and drug smuggling," provincial interior secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told Reuters.

Iran had never closed the border to travelers, he said.

Ties between Iran and U.S. ally Pakistan have generally been good over recent years, although Iran is suspicious of U.S. meddling from both neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan.

After the October bombing, which killed 15 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, including six senior commanders, Iran warned that the attack would affect relations with Pakistan.

Iran also accuses the United States and Britain of backing the Jundollah group. Both countries have denied that.

Leader Captured

Last week, Iran seized Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi, apparently with Pakistani help.

There have been contradictory reports about how Iranian security forces detained Rigi. Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said he had been arrested on board a plane flying between Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia and Dubai.

Television pictures showed Rigi being taken off an aircraft in handcuffs, accompanied by four masked men.

Pakistan's ambassador to Iran, Mohammad Abbasi, told reporters in Tehran last week that Pakistan had helped Iran capture Rigi. He did not say how.

Pakistan and Iran, which have competed for influence in Afghanistan, have been trying to improve relations recently as regional players prepare for U.S.-led forces to start withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2011.

In a related development, a man who said he was a Jundollah spokesman telephoned reporters in the Pakistani city of Quetta at the weekend and said the group had appointed a new leader.

The man, who identified himself as Abdul Rauf, said the new leader was Abdul Zahir Baluch.

Rauf said U.S.-led forces had arrested Rigi in Afghanistan.

"Iran should not be mistaken that with the arrest of Rigi our movement has ceased to exist," he said.