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January 99, Week 2
|Iran dissident cleric wants secret police purged||January 12|
|Iran Factions Debate Minister's Fate after Murders||January 12|
|U.N. agency denies Iran forcing refugees out||January 9|
|U.S. Praises Iran Murder Arrests||January 8|
Iran dissident cleric wants secret police purged
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's most prominent dissident cleric called in a statement published Monday for a thorough purge of the cou
ntry's secret police after revelations of death-squads in the organization.
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whose statement appeared in the moderate daily Khordad, called for a "deep and complete purge of the (Intelligence Ministry) personnel."
"This purge is an immediate necessity and should not be delayed. This action will regain the people's confidence," said Montazeri , who has often complained about police pressures.
He was echoing demands by backers of moderate President Mohammad Khatami who have called for the resignation of Intelligence Mini ster Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi after his ministry revealed last week that some of its agents were among those arrested for a recent spate of killing of dissidents.
Montazeri, a 76-year-old senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric, has lived under house arrest since he publicly criticized Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 1997.
The demands followed press reports that Khatami might take over the running of the ministry, ousting Dorri Najafabadi, a conserva tive minister imposed on the reformist president by powerful conservatives when he formed his cabinet in 1997.
Meanwhile a shadowy hard-line group hailed the killings and blasted the arrests, saying "brothers and dedicated friends" were tar geted and vowing to take revenge.
"The Devotees of Pure Mohammedan Islam ... are determined this time to block with full force the main source of this sinister plo t and extensive hypocrisy," the daily Hamshahri Sunday quoted the secret group as saying in a faxed statement.
It was not clear if the remarks were a threat against Khatami, who spearheaded the probe into the murders of a husband-and-wife t eam of dissidents and two secularist authors.
A third writer was found dead under mysterious circumstances and a fourth is presumed dead after going missing in August.
Little is known of the Devotees group, which has claimed an attack with sticks and iron bars in November on a busload of U.S. bus inessmen visiting Iran as tourists. No one was hurt.
The hard-line daily Kayhan Monday rejected the widely held view that hard-liners were behind the killings. It quoted Ruhollah Hos seinian, the head of a state archives center, as saying the arrested secret agents were supporters of Khatami.
Conservatives have rushed to Dorri Najafabadi's defense after Khamenei, who outranks Khatami, last week voiced support for the in telligence minister and his colleagues and said the killings were part of a foreign plot.
Iran Factions Debate Minister's Fate after Murders
TEHRAN(Reuters) - A factional debate raged in Iran on Sunday after
revelations of death-squads in the secret police as a newspaper said the conservative intelligence minister
was unlikely to resign despite pressure by moderates.
Backers of moderate President Mohammad Khatami have called for a thorough purge of the Intelligence Ministry after it revealed last week that some of its agents were linked to a recent spate of killings of dissidents.
The pro-Khatami League of Militant Clerics called on the president to "regulate the management of the Intelligence Ministry and to continually supervise the actions of its managers and staff in order to ensure public confidence."
The call followed press reports that Khatami might personally take over the running of the ministry, ousting minister Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, who was imposed on the moderate president by powerful conservatives when he formed his cabinet in 1997.
But a conservative newspaper said Dorri Najafabadi had decided to stay on after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced support for the ministry and its heads.
"Dorri Najafabadi had decided to resign but later changed his mind when (Ayatollah Khamenei) made his statement," said Tehran Times, quoting an unnamed "well informed source."
Khamenei on Friday accused foreign elements of being behind the killings and praised ministry heads, including Dorri Najafabadi, for arresting the agents involved in the murders. He denounced attacks on the ministry as "extremely unfair."
Khamenei's remarks contrasted with a message by Khatami to ministry staff, which did not mention Dorri Najafabadi while thanking the security body for exposing rogue colleagues.
The ministry said it had held some of its own agents over the killings, in which outspoken dissidents Dariush Forouhar and his wife Parvaneh, and two secularist authors died. A third writer was found dead under mysterious circumstances and a fourth is presumed dead after going missing in August.
But both Khatami and Khamenei called for full-scale investigations to continue into the killings.
"All political tendencies and clerics...condemned these crimes and stressed that we must rid our society of this shameful stain," Khatami was quoted by newspapers as saying.
Meanwhile, the Forouhars' son and daughter, who live in Europe, called for an international probe into the murders, newspapers said. Iran has rejected any outside role in the investigations as interference.
U.N. agency denies Iran forcing refugees out
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees denied reports Friday from its own staff and Afghanistan's Taliban militia that Iran was forcing thousands of Afghans to return to their embattled homeland.
The agency said that between November and December, more than 11,000 Afghans had voluntarily left Iran, where about 1.5 million Afghan refugees live.
"There has been no forced repatriation of Afghan refugees by Iran," the U.N. agency's office in Tehran said in a statement.
The Islamic Taliban militia, which rules 90 percent of Afghanistan, accused Iran on Thursday of forcing 10,000 Afghans across the border in retaliation for the killing last year of several Iranian diplomats and an Iranian journalist.
A UNHCR official in neighboring Pakistan and World Food Program officials also said Iran was sending Afghan refugees home.
The World Food Program officials said 400 refugees were crossing each day from Iran into Afghanistan's western Herat province, where there are no facilities to assist them.
However, the U.N. agency's office in Iran said today that the Afghans had returned home "with the coordination of the UNHCR and the Iranian Interior Ministry," and were not forced out.
Iran's official radio also denied there were any forced repatriations.
"Iran's policy toward refugees and especially the innocent Afghans has always been clear," said the radio, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
"Iran's main objective is to cooperate with UNHCR to identify ways for the refugees' voluntary return to their country with dignity and security," it said.
Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran during the 1980s when the former Soviet Red Army occupied their homeland. At the height of the Afghan war it was estimated that more than 2 million Afghans were living as refugees in Iran and more than 3 million in Pakistan.
Relentless fighting between rival Islamic factions that threw out the communists from power in Afghanistan has sharply curtailed the return of refugees.
U.S. Praises Iran Murder Arrests
The United States has welcomed the arrest in Iran of intelligence agents said to be responsible for the assassination of several liberal writers and intellectuals.
The arrests were announced on Monday by the Intelligence Ministry, and were praised by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.
Supporters of the reformist president are now calling for the resignation of Intelligence Minister Qoorban-Ali Dorri-Najafabadi.
US State Department spokesman James Rubin said: "The arrests are a positive step toward maintaining the rule of law in Iran and providing for the security of Iranians to express their beliefs."
BBC Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir says the shock admission is a huge blow to the hardline faction in its power struggle with the reformers.
A series of abductions and murders of liberal intellectuals and writers late last year was widely seen as an attempt by hardline conservatives to crush the reformist movement.
Conservatives had blamed foreign agents for the killings, saying only Iran's enemies - including the United States and Israel - would gain from a terror campaign to destabilise the country.
But a ministry statement on Tuesday said: "Unfortunately a few irresponsible, evil-minded and wilful colleagues of this ministry ... were among those arrested [over the killings]."
It said their actions amounted to treason against fellow Intelligence Ministry agents and had damaged the reputation of the Islamic regime.
The ministry, which is in charge of internal security, is regarded as being in the hands of the hardliners.
A reformist newspaper, whose revelations triggered the Intelligence Ministry admission, is demanding that those higher up the chain of command at the ministry should also be punished.
The ministry statement said a network that included secret service agents acting on their own had been broken.
It said the arrested agents "had no doubt become tools of secret hands and committed these criminal acts in the service of foreign interests".
It added that those responsible for the killings would be brought to justice but did not say how many people are being held.
At least three secularist authors and two opposition leaders died in November and December in mysterious circumstances. The killings sparked widespread fear among Iran's cultural elite.
They were seen as a setback to the movement for change which lifted reformist President Mohammad Khatami to office in 1997.
However, correspondents say the arrests are likely to bolster the position of President Khatami, who has advocated the rule of law as a major part of his liberal political and social reforms.
President Khatami and his fellow moderates have been engaged in a continuing power struggle with conservatives, who are widely regarded as having the sympathy of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei