- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

SYRIA

Returning exile cites 1,000 political prisoners

DAMASCUS — The kingdom is holding more than 1,000 political prisoners, some of whom are seriously ill, leading opposition figure Haytham Mannaa told Agence France-Presse after returning last week from 25 years of exile in Paris.

“We have a file on more than 1,000 Syrians and Arabs in Syrian prisons, among them some pressing humanitarian cases,” said Mr. Manaa, president of the Paris-based Arab Committee for Human Rights. He cited Fares Murad and Imad Chiha, who have been in prison since 1975 for belonging to the Arab Communist Organization, which no longer exists.

“They are in a poor state of health and it makes no sense to keep them in prison any longer,” he said. He also spoke of six members of the Islamic Brotherhood, who remain in prison after completing their 20-year jail terms.

MOROCCO

Polisario rebel group frees 243 prisoners

RABAT, Morocco — A rebel group trying to win independence for the Western Sahara has released 243 Moroccan prisoners, some of whom had been held for nearly three decades, Red Cross officials said yesterday.

The prisoners were flown from Polisario Front camps in southwest Algeria on Monday to a military base near the Moroccan coastal beach resort of Agadir, said Florian Westphal, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was the first prisoner release since the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in July to urge Morocco and the Polisario to accept a new plan to settle the long-running dispute.

The Polisario, which seeks independence, dropped its opposition to the U.N. plan drafted by former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

IRAN

Jordan’s king hopes visit improves relations

TEHRAN — King Abdullah II began the first visit to Iran by a Jordanian monarch in 25 years here yesterday in what both countries consider an “important” step in improving bilateral relations.

President Muhammad Khatami welcomed to Tehran the king, Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb and his minister of administrative development, Muhammad Halayka. They were expected to discuss the situation in postwar Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and bilateral issues, officials said.

Jordanian Information Minister Nabil Sharif said earlier the long-planned visit “is important because it comes at a crucial time for the region. … All Muslim countries need to coordinate their efforts and understand each other and try to come up with ways to look into the challenges facing the region,” Mr. Sharif told Agence France-Presse earlier this week.

Weekly notes …

Yemeni authorities have released 34 men accused of being members of the al Qaeda terrorist network over the past few days. The Internet site ArabicNews.com said the releases followed counseling meetings with a committee of Islamic scholars. Families of more than 200 detained Yemenis had urged President Ali Abdullah Saleh to release them. … Saudi Arabia beheaded a Pakistani and an Afghan man Monday after they were convicted of smuggling drugs into the country, an Interior Ministry statement said. The executions raised to at least 37 the number of persons put to death this year in the kingdom, which enforces strict Islamic sharia law.

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