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Journalists banned from entering camp

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned a decision by Iraqi authorities to ban journalists from entering Ashraf camp north-east of Baghdad, which houses an exiled Iranian opposition group.

The Iraqi army entered the camp on 28 July and at the same time prevented journalists from entering, as clashes broke out between the security forces and the camp's residents.

"The Iraqi authorities should allow journalists to work freely and allow them into Ashraf camp to cover the clashes which have been going on there," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The camp, situated 120 km west of the Iranian border and 60 km north of the capital, was set up in the 1980s to house the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI). The Iraqi regime, then led by Saddam Hussein, used these opposition forces as reinforcements during the Iran-Iraq war to carry out operations inside Iran.

American forces began disarming them after the US-led invasion in 2003 and since then the 3,500 residents of the camp have been protected under the Geneva Conventions. The camp, which remained under American control from 2003 onwards, was handed over to the Iraqi authorities on 1 January 2009.

Clashes first broke out at the start of the month, leaving a large number of people injured, as the Iraqi authorities tried to set up a police station within the camp itself. The camp residents accused Iraq of trying to do the work of the Iranian authorities for them.

Several witnesses said that journalists had been forced to stop at the gates of the camp.

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