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Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK
Iran to free more Iraqi POWs
Iraqi POWs
Some 1,500 men have been released since Saturday
Iran is set to release a further 500 Iraqi prisoners from the two countries' 1980-88 war, in the fourth such exchange in as many days.

The Iraqi news agency INA reported that 1,500 prisoners had been freed in three batches of 500 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Some had been captives for nearly two decades.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) supervised the operation at the Al-Munziriya border post, 190km (115 miles) north-east of Baghdad, the agency said.


Iraqi POW
They came back to an emotional welcome
The head of the ICRC delegation in Baghdad said a fourth and final group of 500 POWs would be returned on Tuesday.

Hundreds of families have spent the last three days at the Al-Munziriya crossing, hoping that their loved ones might be among those coming home.

Iraqi TV showed Monday's returnees being greeted by an emotional crowd lining the road at the border point.

The men walked in a straight line, each carrying a bag. Some bent down to kiss the ground.

Reporters who saw the first handover said many of the POWs looked ill and exhausted.

Families waved Iraqi flags, portraits of President Saddam Hussein and blown-up pictures of their returning relatives in case they could not be recognised after such a long time in captivity.

'Humanitarian gesture'

The releases follow Iran's announcement on Wednesday that it would release 2,000 POWs within a week, as a "humanitarian gesture".

Correspondents say that since the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1988, the issue of POWs has been the main obstacle to improving relations between Tehran and Baghdad.

The two countries have never signed a peace treaty since the conflict, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives on each side.

Baghdad says Iran is holding 9,000 of its soldiers, and that it does not hold any more Iranian POWs, a claim denied by Iran.

It says many of the Iraqis its forces captured do not want to go home.

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10 Apr 00 | Middle East
Emotional homecoming for POWs
09 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran returns Iraqi POWs
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