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Iran-Iraq conflict: repatriation process may resume

28-12-1996 News Release 96/40

Geneva (ICRC) - On 28 December, 722 Iraqi prisoners of war were released by the Iranian authorities and repatriated under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Five ICRC delegates, including a nurse, travelled to the Islamic Republic of Iran and talked privately with each of the prisoners to make sure that they were being repatriated of their own free will. The prisoners, accompanied by the delegates, were then taken to the Mundharieh-Khosravi checkpoint, where they were handed over to the authorities of the Republic of Iraq. This was the first such operation carried out since May 1993, although Iran had released small groups of prisoners on several prior occasions.

The ICRC believes that this unilateral repatriation is an important step that should lead to an overall solution to the grievous problem posed by those still being held captive in connection with the conflict. Indeed, thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war in Iranian hands have not yet been reunited with their families. Moreover, the whereabouts of tens of thousands of people unaccounted for on both sides remains unknown.

The ICRC calls on both parties to cooperate in resolving this tragic situation which, eight years after the end of the hostilities, continues to affect tens of thousands of families in Iran and Iraq whose relatives are either in captivity or missing. Under the provisions of international humanitarian law, States party to an international armed conflict must release and repatriate all prisoners of war as soon as active hostilities have ended. Between August 1990 and May 1993 the ICRC repatriated more than 80,000 prisoners held by Iran and Iraq.