TEHRAN, April 24 (Reuters) – Iran is granting amnesty to more than 100 “outlaws and terrorists” in its volatile southeast after the arrest of a Sunni Muslim rebel leader two months ago, a senior official said in comments published on Saturday.
Ali-Mohammad Azad, governor of Sistan-Baluchestan province bordering Pakistan, said security and economic activity had increased in the area after Iran captured Abdolmalek Rigi in February, the official IRNA news agency said. He said 300 criminals and militants, some of whom belonged to Rigi’s Jundollah (God’s Soldiers) group, had sought amnesty “to return to the nation’s embrace.”
“So far letters of protection (amnesty) have been issued for 110 such outlaws and terrorists, and a number of them are turning in weapons and completing the legal procedure,” Azad said in the provincial capital Zahedan.
Predominantly Shi’ite Iran has linked Jundollah to the Sunni Islamist al Qaeda network and accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing it to destabilise the Islamic Republic, a charge the countries deny.
Jundollah, which accuses the Iranian government of discrimination against minority Sunnis, has been blamed for many deadly incidents over the last few years.
Most people in Sistan-Baluchestan are Sunni Muslims and ethnic Baluchis. Iran rejects charges by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.
Close to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the region has seen frequent clashes between security forces and heavily armed drug smugglers, as well intermittent rebel attacks in recent years.
Azad said people were feeling safer after Rigi’s arrest and investments were growing in Sistan-Baluchestan, an under-developed region in the major oil producer.