Iran offers amnesty to Sunni insurgents

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran is offering amnesty to several hundred Sunni militants whose small-scale insurgency in the southeast had destabilized the border region with Pakistan, a local government official said.

The offer, which has been accepted by 110 former fighters so far, follows the arrest of the leader of the group known as Jundallah, or Soldiers of God.

The group, which Iran claims is linked to al-Qaida, gained notice six years ago after it launched a campaign of sporadic kidnappings and bomb attacks that killed dozens, including five senior commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in October.

Jundallah claims minority Sunni tribes in southeastern Iran suffer discrimination at the hands of Iran's Shiite leadership.

The group's leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, was arrested in February by Iranian intelligence agents when he was flying over the Persian Gulf en route from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.

About 300 people, some of them belonging to Jundallah, have sought an amnesty to "return to the nation's embrace," said Ali Mohammad Azad, governor of Sistan-Baluchestan Province, according to the official IRNA news agency.

"So far, amnesty letters have been issued for 110 such terrorists," he was quoted as saying. "Some of them are handing over their weapons."

Azad did not say who else besides Jundallah fighters were eligible for the amnesty, but the region is also home to criminal groups involved in kidnappings and drug trafficking.

Iran has accused the U.S. and Britain of supporting Jundallah in an effort to weaken the Iranian government, a charge they both deny.

Azad said security has improved in Sistan-Baluchestan Province after Rigi's capture.