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Swiss fury as French let murder suspects go

FRANCE found itself at the centre of a diplomatic row of its own making yesterday after deporting to Tehran two suspected Iranian intelligence agents who are wanted by the Swiss authorities for the murder of an Iranian dissident. Yesterday, Switzerland made a vigorous protest to France over the affair. It said that 'the French decision not only is surprising, but is a flagrant violation of all international and European conventions on extradition'.

The Swiss are especially galled by the French action because last year Switzerland risked retaliation when it extradited an Iranian wanted by the French in connection with the 1991 murder of Iran's last prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar.

Mohsen Sharif Esfahani, 37, and Ahmad Taheri, 32, were arrested in France on 15 November 1992. They were wanted in connection with the assassination three years ago near Geneva of Kazem Rajavi, whose brother, Massoud, is the head of an Iraq-based dissident group, the Mujahideen Khalq Organisation.

In February, the high court in Paris ordered that the two men be extradited to Switzerland. Instead, the French government secretly deported them to Tehran on Wednesday.

The decision to deport the men was taken, unusually, by the Prime Minister's office. An unnamed French official was quoted as saying that one could only presume that a serious threat had been made against France. In Tehran early last month, grenades were lobbed into the garden of the French embassy and at the offices of Air France. Groups who said that they carried out the attacks explained they were meant as a warning to France for providing a shelter to Maryam Rajavi, wife of Massoud Rajavi.

France's policy towards Iran has been frequently tempestuous. This is not the first time that France has cited 'national interest' to wash its hands of undesirables who were a political embarrassment, in contravention of international convention and in defiance of the rulings of its own courts.

Informed sources speaking on condition of anonymity said Paris has taken 'with great seriousness' Iranian threats of launching a new wave of terrorist operations in France but also against French interests and citizens in both Iran and Lebanon if Paris decided to extradite the two to Switzerland.