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UN chief Ban urges halt to executions in Iraq

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 4 Apr 2012 20:14 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Ban worried about spike in violent civilian deaths

* UN plans aid appeal for relocating Iran dissidents

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, April 4 (Reuters) - Iraq should impose a moratorium on executions in the country, which has seen a sharp rise in the number of people put to death in recent months, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report released on Wednesday.

Ban said he was "concerned by the continued and increased implementation of the death penalty." His report said Baghdad executed 80 people between December 2011 and February 2012 compared with 68 in January-November 2011.

Most of those put to death were executed under the country's anti-terrorism laws, the report said.

"I therefore ... urge the Iraqi authorities to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty," he said.

Last month the human rights group Amnesty International said the number of executions carried out around the world jumped last year, largely due to a surge in use of the death penalty in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Ban also voiced concern about the increase in the number of civilians killed in Iraq in the months since U.S. troops departed. He said 302 civilians killed were in violent attacks in January, the highest monthly civilian death toll since 2007.

Army and police forces are frequently targeted in Iraq, where bombings and shootings still occur almost daily.

Al Qaeda's Iraq wing and allied Sunni Muslim insurgent groups say that despite the withdrawal of U.S. forces they will not lay down arms and will continue to battle the Shi'ite-led government.

They have claimed responsibility for nearly all the major attacks so far this year, mounting days of coordinated bombings across the country about once a month since the Americans left.

Although overall violence has declined since the height of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, Iraqis fear their government lacks the wherewithal to impose security nine years after the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

Ban also said the United Nations was planning to launch an appeal soon for financial aid to help with the relocation of an Iranian dissident group in Iraq that has been living at a base called Camp Ashraf, which the Iraqi government is closing down.

He reiterated previous calls on the Iraqi government and the Iranian dissidents to cooperate with each other and avoid violent confrontations.

The group, which calls for the overthrow of Iran's Islamist government, has long been based in Iraq. It was supported by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but is no longer welcome in Iraq under the Shi'ite-led government that came to power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and Saddam's downfall.

The Iraqi government plans to expel the residents of Camp Ashraf and is in the process of moving them to a processing center at a former U.S. military base in Baghdad.

Camp residents, who numbered about 3,000 and had been under the protection of the U.S. forces since 2003, agreed to be moved earlier this year. U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December.

Also known as the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran, the group led a guerilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran during the 1970s that included attacks on U.S. targets.

As a result, the United States placed it on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The group has said that it has renounced violence. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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