UNITED NATIONS – Iraq should extend its Dec. 31 deadline for closing a camp of Iranian dissidents, and third-party nations should accept its residents for resettlement to prevent a violent standoff, the U.N. envoy for the country said Tuesday.
Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative, told the Security Council Tuesday that camp residents' lives must be protected and that their forced removal would be "ill-advised and unacceptable."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said Camp Ashraf, housing more than 3,000 members of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, must be closed by year's end.
Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. Hamid Al-Bayati told the council his country "doesn't want to force anybody to go back to Iran."
But he nevertheless indicated it will close the camp as planned "with the relocation decision ... implemented by the end of the year."
The Iraqi ambassador said about 900 residents hold dual nationality with third countries they may be able to go to.
Kobler told reporters after the session that U.N. officials are working on a peaceful solution to the problem, "but we cannot do it in the remaining time." He asked Iraq again "to give us time, to give us space to bring about a humanitarian solution."
The U.N. envoy also encouraged other countries to take in Camp Ashraf residents so they don't have to return to Iran.
While Kobler was briefing the council, about three dozen Iranian-American protesters gathered in a small park across the street from U.N. headquarters to demand that the deadline for the camp's closure be called off.
Several protesters carried yellow flags that declared "PROTECT ASHRAF" in blue letters, while others carried the flag used by Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"UNSC: Cancel the Deadline, No to Displacement, Blue Helmets for Ashraf," read one protest sign, calling for the council to dispatch U.N. peacekeepers to protect camp residents.
"Ashraf protection is U.N. obligation," the protesters chanted.
The camp in eastern Iraq houses Iranians dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government. Members of the group won refuge at Ashraf decades ago during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who saw them as a convenient ally against Tehran.
Since Saddam's fall in 2003, the exiles have become an irritant to Iraq's Shiite-led government, which is trying to bolster ties with Iran. A deadly April raid on the camp by Iraqi forces drew international criticism of Baghdad's treatment of the group.