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Kurdish Embassy Attacks: Leader of Iran's Kurds chooses non-violent path: Annika Savill on Mustapha Hijri: against terrorism but at risk of assassination

DEATH is an occupational hazard for any leader of Iran's Kurds. Mustapha Hijri's rapid rise to the top of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran is due to the fact that his only two predecessors were assassinated over four years. 'After two assassinations, we carry on as before. I'd like to stress that they have not affected us at all,' he told the Independent this week at a central London hotel chosen for him as one of three safe locations by Scotland Yard.

Mr Hijri's party, whose previous two leaders were shot by Iranian agents, has never believed in terrorism. Both his predecessors fell victim to it: Sadeq Sherefkandi was killed in a cafe in Berlin last year; Abdurahman Ghassemlu, the intellectual mentor of a generation of Kurdish nationalists who formulated the party's anti-terrorist policy, was murdered during 'negotiations' with Iranian envoys in Vienna in 1988.

And so this week, while his Turkish brethren were occupying European consulates, Mr Hijri was re-establishing his party's links with Europe's Social Democratic politicians. 'It's quite terrible,' Mr Hijri, a softly-spoken scholar of Persian literature who has never fought alongside the peshmerga he commands, says about the PKK actions. 'We've never supported those kind of methods.'

Mr Hijri had hoped to arrange a meeting with the Foreign Office. He failed: 'I think it was probably the Conservative policy of protecting the major interest in the region - Iran.' Not far off: a British diplomat said that as Iran was now showing a new conciliatory approach over the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, not meeting Mr Hijri was just 'good housekeeping'. He added: 'The Iranians go bananas over this sort of thing.' And, in keeping with the enemy- of-my-enemy tradition, the KDPI was 'mixed up with the Iraqi regime'.

Mr Hijri makes no bones about links with Baghdad: 'With the Iraqi Kurds, we have a very close relationship of mutual understanding. We also have a link with Baghdad politically. Both sides are aware of these links. We have specifically made it clear that we do not interfere in the internal Iraqi affair concerning Iraqi Kurds.'

Mr Hijri thinks the KDPI worth investing in as a force that could help topple the Iranian mullocracy. 'We are the only force able to stand against the fundamentalists. What the Foreign Office is doing is not only against us, but against its own interest in the region.

'The Kurds are one seventh of the population. We don't believe we alone move against the regime. But our activities can weaken it. There is a new movement in the Iranian people. We see it every day, the growing unhappiness with the system.'

The KDPI's goal remains autonomy, but not independence. 'Originally, we are all from Iran. Culturally, historically - even our language is very close to Persian.' But as for negotiations with the Islamic Republic, he is wary. 'We know this: the aim of the Vienna negotiations was the assassination; nothing else. When they found the notepads on the negotiating table, those of the Iranians contained only doodles. No words.'

(Photograph omitted)