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IRAN EXPELS ALL FOREIGN RED CROSS STAFF

The Tehran government, apparently angry over a U.N. report criticizing its human rights record, on Saturday ordered the expulsion of all foreign Red Cross staff and froze the group's operations in Iran.

The move came days after Iran accused the humanitarian group of helping the United Nations compile a report on human rights earlier this month.In it, the U.N. Human Rights Commission cited torture of political prisoners and discrimination against religious minorities and said Iran should be kept under special scrutiny.

The report was regarded as a further setback to President Hashemi Rafsanjani's drive to improve his country's international stature, mend fences with the West and lure back Iranian exiles who have the expertise the country needs for reconstruction.

In Geneva, spokesman Thomas Rudin of the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed the expulsion order and said staff had been given a week to leave Iran. He denied any inappropriate activities by Red Cross staff, and said the group hoped to negotiate with Iranian authorities and avoid a suspension of its activities.

Most of the approximately dozen foreign staffers are Swiss, and the case could be another confrontation in a diplomatic dispute over Swiss plans to extradite to France an Iranian wanted in last year's murder of Shahpour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister under Iran's late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Iranian officials have said that Swiss interests in Iran would be jeopardized if Zeyal Sarhadi were extradited. He was arrested on Dec. 23, and the quarrel over his case has led to the closure of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.

Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency said the Red Cross' chief delegate in Iran, Bernard Pfefferle, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and notified of the decision.

IRNA, monitored in Nicosia, quoted Manuchehr Mottaki, deputy foreign minister for international affairs, as saying "violations committed by (Red Cross) officers were in contradiction with the normal expectations and the declared goals" of the organization. It gave no details.

Last week, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, head of the Iranian judiciary, had threatened to curtail the activities of the Red Cross and suggested that it be barred from investigating human rights in Iran in the future.

In New York, Andrew Whitley, executive director of the human rights group Middle East Watch, denounced the Iranian move and disputed Iran's accusation that the Red Cross had contributed to the U.N. report.

He said most of the information was gathered by the United Nations' own envoy, who had visited Tehran, and from sources outside the country.