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Iranian Exiles Say Relatives Arrested In Tehran

People Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) members at a 2006 gathering
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraq-based Iranian opposition exiles accused Tehran on January 18 of arresting their family members as they tried to leave Iran to visit them.

A spokesman for the exiles said about 20 relatives had been detained by Iranian authorities at Tehran's airport on January 17 while trying to fly to Iraq with valid visas.

"They have also raided houses. Now there is no news from the relatives," Shahriar Kia, a spokesman for the group, said by telephone from Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, home to about 3,500 exiled members of the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI).

Iranian government officials in Tehran were not immediately available for comment.

PMOI members -- who had the support of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- say they fear the Iraqi government will try to expel them.

U.S. forces transferred responsibility for guarding the camp to the Iraqi government at the start of this year. Iraq says it wants to close the camp but will not force residents to leave.

Iraq and the United States consider the PMOI to be a terrorist group. The group says it has renounced violence.

A camp resident who gave his name as Ebrahim Saeedi said one of those arrested at the airport was his 85-year-old mother, Jamileh Mohammed Zadeh, whom he said he had not seen in 32 years, since going into exile.

Kia said it was the first time the Iranian authorities were believed to have arrested large numbers of relatives before they visited Ashraf, although some who have visited the camp in the past had been detained on their return.

"The Iranian regime has announced it is going to give amnesty to members of the PMOI," he said. "This is a big lie."