ROME (Reuters) - The leader of an exiled Iranian opposition group rejected a U.S. proposal to move the residents of a dissident camp in Iraq to a new location following deadly clashes in April, saying the plan would lead to a “massacre.”
The settlement known as Camp Ashraf, some 65 km (40 miles) from Baghdad, is the base of the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran, or PMOI, an Iranian opposition group that Washington officially considers a terrorist group.
In April, the camp was the scene of clashes between residents and Iraqi security forces, during which 34 people were killed, according to a U.N. investigation.
“In order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations must step in,” PMOI leader Maryam Rajavi told Reuters in an interview late on Tuesday.
Rajavi, in Rome to meet Italian parliamentarians, called for a permanent monitoring team backed by the United States and the European Union to be set up at the camp to ensure the safety of the residents.
“The U.S. has a legal and moral responsibility to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf,” she said.
The future of the camp has been uncertain since the United States turned it over to Iraq in 2009 under a bilateral security agreement. Baghdad, which also considers the group a terrorist Organization, wants the camp cleared by the end of 2011.
Iraqi authorities said the clashes in April broke out after security forces responded to rock-throwing and threats by residents during an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers.
Following the clashes, U.S. officials drew up a plan to relocate the camp’s residents to a site to be chosen by the Iraqi government.
Rajavi said the proposal would leave the residents open to attack by the same security forces she blamed for the April clashes. She said Iraq was acting under pressure from Iran, which wants to destroy the group.
“Any kind of internal displacement of the residents of Camp Ashraf would lead to more bloodshed,” she said, speaking through a translator.
“If such a displacement took place, they would go to a place which is not known to the international community, they would lose their communications and they would be further isolated. It would lay the ground for their massacre.”
“Not only does internal displacement not serve any problems, it makes the situation worse.”
The PMOI, also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, mounted attacks on Iran from Iraq before the downfall of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In the 1970s, it led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed shah of Iran, including attacks on U.S. targets.
Saddam gave it refuge in the 1980s and some of its fighters joined Iraq in the 1980-1988 war against Iran. The group surrendered its weapons to U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam.
The European Union removed the group from its list of terrorist organisations in 2009.
Editing by Peter Cooney