Iran arrests three over bombings in south

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TEHRAN, Oct 16 (Reuters) Iran has arrested three members of a separatist group on suspicion of involvement in deadly bomb attacks in the country's oil-rich southwest two years ago, official media said today.

In October 2005, bombs killed six people and wounded nearly 100 in Ahvaz, the provincial capital of Khuzestan province, which has a substantial ethnic Arab population. Another double bombing in January 2006 killed eight and wounded 46.

Three other people convicted of involvement in the bombing were executed last month and others are awaiting execution for the same crime.

''The three, who were members of a separatist group, have confessed to having links abroad in order to create insecurity and conflicts between ethnicities,'' state news agency IRNA quoted an Intelligence Ministry report as saying.

It did not give further details.

Just over half of Iran's 70 million people are Persians, with the rest ethnic Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Baluchis and Lors. About 3 percent are Arabs and authorities are sensitive about discontent in Arab territories.

Khuzestan, heartland of the oil industry in the world's number four producer, simmered with unrest among its Arab population last year. Some have complained of discrimination by Tehran.

Iranian media said in August that intelligence officials had uncovered a separatist group in the province, arresting members and seizing weapons.

Last November, Iran's judiciary declared an ethnic Arab party illegal, accusing it of instigating unrest and opposing the Islamic system in Ahvaz.

REUTERS GL PM1925

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