Iran releases Iraqi sailors

Eight Iraqi sailors detained by Iran after a weekend clash in a shared waterway have been released, but the body of a ninth sailor has not yet been repatriated.

    The sailors were released near Basra in southern Iraq

    General Ahmed al-Khafaji, the deputy Iraqi interior minister, said the sailors were released early on Friday through the Shalamcha border police station near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and Basra, 550km (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad.


    The body of the ninth sailor who was killed in the clash was to be released on Saturday, al-Khafaji added.


    Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.


    Al-Khafaji said two Iraqi boats detained by Iran during last Saturday's clash were to be handed over on Saturday, but Muhammad al-Waeli, the governor of Basra, said Iran was going to keep the vessels.


    Iraqi officials had said the sailors were detained on 14 January following a clash between Iraqi and Iranian coast guard ships near the Shatt al-Arab waterway, or Arvand River, in the Arab Gulf.


    However, the Iranian authorities have denied claims that an Iranian naval vessel fought a skirmish with an Iraqi coast guard ship, instead saying there was a clash between Iranian patrol boats and a merchant ship headed toward Iranian waters.


    The Shatt al-Arab waterway runs along the Iran-Iraq border and has long been a source of tension between Iran and Iraq. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war broke out after former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein claimed the entire waterway.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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