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POWs of '80s War Finally Return to Iraq

Several dozen prisoners, some in poor health, are said to be the last that Iran had been detaining.

May 06, 2003|From Reuters

BAGHDAD — Fifty-nine prisoners from Iraq captured by Iran in the nations' 1980s war returned to their homeland Monday in what the International Committee of the Red Cross said was probably the last hand-over of captives by either side.

Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani said the prisoners of war, some in poor health, were flown from Iran to the Baghdad international airport, the first such transfer since March 17, when 882 prisoners returned from Iran.

The hand-over, if it is the last, would close long-unfinished business of the 1980-88 war, which cost the lives of 1 million people from the neighboring countries.

The Red Cross said 70,000 people were still missing from both sides.

"The Iranians are saying this is the last group of POWs," Doumani said.

Though the Red Cross has no independent confirmation of that, she said, the group has no reason to doubt it.

"As far as we know, there are no more Iranian detainees in Iraq," she said.

Previous hand-overs have been by land; Monday's was the first by plane. Doumani said that was partly because of security fears in the aftermath of the U.S.-led war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

She said none of the prisoners, some of whom had been held for 20 years, were met by their families, adding that efforts would now be made to contact relatives.

Iraq's communications network broke down during the U.S.-led war, and few people have working telephones.

The Red Cross said it had supervised the repatriation of almost 97,000 Iranian and Iraqi POWs from the 1980s war.

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