Iran: clashes with Kurds resume as talks break down

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The return of spring to the Kurdish mountains in northwestern Iran has seen the renewal of clashes between the Army and rebel Kurdish groups, following a lull of about four months when both sides were sitting out the severity of winter.

Fighting in vicinity of Oshnoviyeh, the birthplace of the late Kurdish chieftain, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, marks the break-down of negotiations between the Iranian government and Kurdish rebel groups led by religious leader Sheikh Ezzedin Hosseini and the secretary-general of the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP), Abdur Rahman Qassemlou.

Mr. Qassemlou announced at a rally in Mahabad, marking the Persian New Year a few days ago, that the Kurds would not put down their arms until they had achieved autonomy. President Bani-Sadr and the Revolutionary Council also have hardened their stand.

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There are to be no further negotiations with the Kurds, Mr. Bani-Sadr has said, until the various political groups in Kurdistan and other Kurdish regions put down their arms.

The Kurdish population in Iran is concentrated mainly in the provinces of Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshahan, where most of the clashes have occurred in the past year.

There have been charges and counter-charges about how the latest series of clashes in the Oshnoviyeh area began. The Army and the gendarmerie (rural police) claim the fighting began when Army units out on maneuvers were attacked by armed Kurdish groups that still have yet to be clearly identified.

Sheikh Ezzedin says the Army has begun a "war against the Kurdish people."

Gen. Jamshid Haqgou, governor of the province of Azerbaijan and chief government spokesman in the area, has said in repeated interviews with the Iranian media that the Army has the right to enter any territory within the country for maneuvers, and that the government has to establish its sovereignty in all regions.

Groups opposing this, he said, were trying to create a "state within a state."

General Haqgou's line echoes that of Mr. Bani-Sadr. The Iranian President, in one of his first references to the Kurdish problem after being elected, said at a congress organized in mid-February that what the Kurds were demanding was not autonomy but virtually an independent state financed by the central government in Tehran.

This, at any rate, would be the result if the government were to submit to the Kurdish demand that the Army, the police, and other law-and-order forces in Kurdistan should be under the control of local Kurdish authorities. Mr. Qassemlou reacted immediately. Mr. Bani-Sadr, he said, had got it all wrong, and he asked the President if he would receive a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) mission, which would explain the party's position.

This the President accepted, and a five-man KDP mission arrived in the capital a few days later with a six-point plan to restore peace in the region. President Bani-Sadr presented the plan to the Revolutionary Council, which rejected it out of hand. No explanations were given.

This was followed by the clashes in the Oshnoviyeh area over the past few days, with a total of at least 25 fatalities on both sides.

The exact toll is not yet known. One of the men injured in the fighting told a reporter, after struggling back to a hospital in Urmia (formerly Rezaiyeh) about three days ago, that there were still dead and wounded untended in the area of the fighting when he left the place.

There is something almost symbolic about Oshnoviyeh, where the fighting has been going on. It lies about equidistant (some 75 kilometers) from Urmia in the north and Mahabad in the southeast. Urmia is the center of the government authority, Mahabad is the town where Mr. Qassemlou and Sheikh Ezzedin have their center.

Mahabad also is the town where a Kurdish rebel leader, Qazi Muhammad, set up his Kurdistan republic with Soviet backing in 1946. Qazi Muhammad was hanged in Mahabad when his forces were defeated by the Shah's Army.

Many of his followers then fled Iran; others fought the Shah's forces underground. Several of these leaders have resurfaced since the overthrow of the Shah. Other have returned from exile and set up new political groups in the area or rejoined the KDP.

Among those back in the KDP is Qazi Muhammad's grandson, Dr. Rahim Qazi, who had lived for 33 years in the Soviet Union since Qazi Muhammad's execution. He was a member of the five-man KDP mission that recently talked to Mr. Bani-Sadr.

The KDP itself claims to be social democratic in political color, but several other groups allied to it are much further to the left.

These groups claim the government is backing the powerful feudals in the area -- which the government firmly denies.

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