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Iraqi POWs Return Home

February 21, 1989

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Eighty sick and wounded Iraqi prisoners of war arrived home Tuesday after being freed by Iran, with some falling to kiss the ground as they stepped off the plane.

Also on Tuesday, a United Nations official said the first U.N.-sponsored meeting between Iraqi and Iranian officers has been postponed indefinitely. It had been scheduled for Wednesday.

The 80 POWs are the first of 260 sick and wounded prisoners Iran said it would free to mark the 10th anniversary of its revolution earlier this month.

Iraqi officials at Baghdad International Airport said the Iranians informed the Red Cross they would repatriate 83 prisoners, but later said three had asked for political asylum.

A senior Iraqi officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the all- Swiss International Committee of the Red Cross had informed them 16 of the 260 prisoners opted to stay in Iran.

Military police kept reporters away from the POWs, who all wore gray track suits. At least 10 were in wheelchairs or carried on stretchers.

Gini Antone, a doctor of the International Committee of the Red Cross who accompanied them on the plane from Tehran, said the prisoners were sick but there were no serious injuries.

Antone said morale was high during the 2 1/2 -hour flight, with prisoners looking forward to returning home.

Iraqi medical staff at the airport said the POWs will be taken to a military hospital for more tests and will stay as long as they need treatment.

Most returnees were taken prisoner in early days of the war, which started in September 1980.

A jet chartered by the Red Cross committee carried them home.

The plane will return to Tehran to bring the second batch of prisoners Wednesday and the final group should arrive Thursday, said Arnold Luethold, deputy director of the Red Cross delegation in Baghdad.

A U.N.-sponsored cease-fire halted the war Aug. 20. But peace negotiations have stalled and an agreement to exchange prisoners in November collapsed over mutual recriminations of bad faith, including the numbers requesting asylum on both sides.

The Red Cross has registered 50,182 prisoners held by Iran and 19,284 Iranians in Iraqi hands, but U.N. officials estimate they total 100,000.

Further delays to the peace process were announced by a U.N. official who said the two countries cannot agree on where their Mixed Military Group should meet.

They were to meet Wednesday along the road between the Iraqi town of Khanaqin and the Iranian border town of Qasr-e-Shirin in the central sector of the war front and cease-fire line.

Officials refused to say which country expressed reservations on the venue. U.N. officials are trying to negotiate a solution.

The military officers were supposed to handle issues arising from implementation of the cease-fire.

Update hourly