The US on Monday confirmed it had granted protected status as “non-belligerent foreigners” to 3,800 members of the Iraq-based anti-regime group Mojahedin-e Khalq Oraganization (MKO), now confined to a camp in Iraq under US army supervision. July 27, 2004 - ”The 3,800 members of the MKO (or MEK, according to US State Department) that are in (Camp) Ashraf have been granted protected persons status,” deputy US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, adding that the move gives the MKO staff rights under the Geneva Conventions, but would not shield them from eventual prosecution on possible terrorism charges.
The State Department stressed that the move, which has been criticized by Tehran, had no effect on the US designation of the group -- also known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran -- as a “foreign terrorist organization.”
”This does not relate to their membership in a terrorist organization,” Ereli told reporters. “MEK continues to be a designated foreign terrorist organization,” he said. “We will continue to treat individuals who can be determined to have been involved in terrorist incidents with the MEK (MKO) consistent with the laws that apply.”
Ereli noted that each of the 3,800 militia members were now being vetted to determine if they had been involved in terrorist incidents and those implicated in attacks would be dealt with under applicable laws.
Earlier Monday, Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh gave a cautious warning to the US against making any concessions towards the group.
The Islamic Government has been pushing for repatriation of the several thousand Mojahedin fighters under US military guard at Camp Ashraf northeast of Baghdad, and last December Iraq's coalition-installed leadership voted unanimously to expel them.
The MKO, or MEK, set up base in Iraq in 1986 and carried out regular cross-border raids into Iran.
”The group also participated in Saddam Hussein;s crackdown on an uprising by Shiites and Kurds in 1991,” AFP says in a dispatch from Washington. Several thousand MKO militiamen were disarmed by US forces following the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 and barred from undertaking military operations.
”It was determined that they were not belligerents, and therefore as non-belligerents fall into this category with respect to the conflict with Iraq,” Ereli said