The UNHCR asked countries with Iraqi asylum seekers to delay sending them back by at least a month. Spokesman Ron Redmond in Geneva said the agency had already asked for an initial delay of three months in March, because of the threat of war.

 

Redmond said that the return of small numbers of refugees had nevertheless been negotiated with the Iranian government and Iraq's occupation administration.

  

UNHCR special envoy to Iraq, Dennis McNamara, recently said it would be premature to send back Iraqi refugees in large numbers, citing the lack of security in the country.

  

There are over half a million Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers in the world, the UNHCR said, including 200,000 each in Europe and Iran.

  

More than 51,000 Iraqis filed applications for refugee status in 2002, representing the largest single group of asylum seekers. The majority sought asylum in Britain, Germany, Sweden, Austria and Greece.

 

Kurd mass grave

  

In Arbil, a mass grave containing the remains of Iraqi Kurdish victims of the government of deposed president Saddam Hussein has been discovered near the northern city of Mosul, Kurdish TV (KTV) said on Friday.

 

Yet another mass grave

KTV, which acts as a mouthpiece for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that controls the Kurdish city of Arbil, said the mass grave had been found by Kurdish residents.

 

It said that, so far, the remains of 30 Kurds had been unearthed in al-Hadar, southwest of Mosul. Footage was aired of fragments of torn-up clothing purporting to show that the victims were women and children.

  

KTV quoted residents of al-Hadar as saying the mass graves dated back to 1988 and that there were other mass graves in the area.

  

About 300 Kurdish civilians were buried in mass graves in the region in 1988, they claimed, alluding to the anti-Kurd campaign of 1988-1989.

  

The latest grave is among the dozens uncovered all over Iraq since the United States led invasion.