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RED CROSS VOICES CONCERN OVER END OF OPERATIONS IN IRAN

The International Committee of the Red Cross pulled out of Iran Friday after the Tehran government ordered it to leave because of a critical human rights report.

"The ICRC deplores the decision of the Iranian authorities and calls on the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to allow it to resume its humanitarian activities without delay," said a statement from the Swiss-run committee's Geneva headquarters.The Red Cross delegation of 15 members arrived back in Geneva Friday morning.

Last Saturday, Iran ordered to expulsion of all foreign Red Cross staff within a week and froze the group's operations in Iran. The move came days after Iran charged that the Red Cross supplied information for a U.N. report earlier this month that criticized Iran for human rights violations.

The Red Cross denied involvement in the report.

Friday, the Red Cross said it always acted in Iran in accordance with the standards it maintains everywhere in the world and worked openly with the Iranian government.

The Red Cross said it was "extremely concerned" about the impact the closing of its operation would have "in humanitarian terms" in Iran.

The expulsion blocks an agreement signed Feb. 14 in which Iran and Iraq committed themselves to resuming the repatriation of their POWs this month, the Red Cross said.

"There are still more than 20,000 Iraqi prisoners of war on Iranian territory," said the statement. "Several thousand remain in captivity, and many of them have been held for over 10 years."

It said the POWs were entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention concerning prisoners of war, including a provision that the ICRC must be allowed to visit them.

The number of Iranian prisoners in Iraq is unknown. Iran says there are about 5,000, but Baghdad has said it returned all Iranians during a swap in mid-1990, when about 37,000 prisoners on both sides were exchanged.