Reuters: Rebels killed in clashes with Iranian forces this week had recently infiltrated border areas of the Islamic Republic carrying U.S.-made arms, an Iranian commander was quoted as saying on Thursday. TEHRAN, May 31 (Reuters) – Rebels killed in clashes with Iranian forces this week had recently infiltrated border areas of the Islamic Republic carrying U.S.-made arms, an Iranian commander was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Ten rebels and seven Iranian border guards were killed in clashes in a northwestern area close to Turkey, according to Iranian media reports on Wednesday and Thursday.
“The weapons … included M16 weapons which are being provided through channels linked to forces present in the region,” General Rastegar-Panah, identified only with his last name, told state radio.
The report referred to “American-made weaponry and arms”.
Tehran often accuses its old foe the United States, which invaded Iraq in 2003, of trying to undermine Iran’s security by backing insurgents operating in sensitive border regions.
The Intelligence Ministry said last Saturday it had uncovered spy networks, mostly near its western borders, working for U.S. and British intelligence services.
Iranian daily Hamshahri said the seven border guards were killed in fighting with “armed terrorists” on Monday. State media on Wednesday reported the deaths of the 10 “anti-revolutionary” rebels in the same region.
The fighting took place near the town of Salmas in West Azerbaijan, a northwestern province inhabited by ethnic Azeris as well as some Kurds, during a three-day operation aimed at clearing the border areas, the media said.
Rastegar-Panah said the rebels were backed by “forces affiliated to the world of arrogance”, rhetoric which Iranian officials have used in the past to denounce Western powers, even though he did not mention the United States by name.
“Hopefully we will be able to destroy the bases they have set up near our borders in order to give a crushing response to such plots hatched by foreigners on the other side of our borders,” he said.
Iranian Kurdish rebels linked to Turkish Kurd guerrilla group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) usually operate in other parts of northwestern Iran.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear arms and of fomenting instability in Iraq. Iran denies the charges and blames the presence of U.S. forces for the violence in its western neighbour.
The two countries, which have not had diplomatic ties since shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, on Monday held their most high-profile talks in almost three decades when their officials met in Baghdad to discuss the situation in Iraq.