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News 26 Aug 16

Iranian Opposition Ex-Fighters ‘Transferred to Albania’

Iranian media has reported that 155 members of an exiled Iranian opposition movement have been given sanctuary in Albania - part of a larger number that Tirana has agreed to accept.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
Skenderbej Square in Tirana. Photo: Wikimedia/Pudelek

Iranian media reported on Thursday that a plane has flown 155 members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (People's Mujahedin of Iran), an exiled opposition movement that advocates the overthrow of the Islamic Republic in Iran, to Tirana.

The Fars news agency claimed that a total of 676 of the organisation’s members are scheduled to be transferred to Albania this month.

The Albanian Interior ministry didn't deny the report, although it refused to specify the number of People's Mujahedin of Iran members expected to be transferred to Albania during August.

"The Albanian government has an agreement signed in 2013 for the accommodation of the group so we are continuously expecting them to come to the country in accordance with it," an interior ministry source.

The agreement is believed to have been signed with the US, and the People's Mujahedin of Iran members are believed to have been transferred to Tirana from Camp Liberty in Iraq.

The interior ministry source said that it was not allowed under the agreement to give the numbers of those arriving as this was considered a sensitive information gave the risks involved.

In March 2013, former Prime Minister Sali Berisha disclosed part of the agreement in an official statement after meeting the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Barbara Leaf, and the UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler.

At the time, the government said it had offered asylum to 210 members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran.

After that, no more information about the agreement or the opposition fighters’ arrival has been officially released.

Voice of America reported in February this year however that the number of People's Mujahedin of Iran members coming to Albania might be as many as 3,000.

"In the last two years, Albania has accepted around 1,000 members of this group, and according to a high official of State Department, the country has promised that is going to accept also 2,000 others," wrote journalist Pam Dockins in an article for Voice of America after she was part of the press entourage accompanying US Secretary of State John Kerry to Tirana on February 14.

Dockins’ article also said that during the visit, Kerry thanked the Albanian government for its effort in the taking the Iranians, although the issue was not publicly mentioned while he met the country’s political leaders.

The People's Mujahedin of Iran is a controversial resistance group. Founded in 1965 as a left-leaning opposition to the Shah’s regime, it turned against the Islamic Republic following the 1979 Revolution.

The US listed it as a terrorist organisation in 1997 but it was removed from the blacklist in 2012 after it renounced violence.

Several thousand of its members left Iran for Iraq, where former dictator Saddam Hussein, used them as a tool against the Iranian regime.

After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, alliance forces offered the Iranians protection. Since then, about 3,000 have lived at Camp Ashraf while others were sheltered at Camp Liberty near Baghdad.

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