Iran dismisses reports of leaflets warning Iraq Kurds

Wed Aug 22, 2007 6:59PM BST

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran denied knowledge on Wednesday of any leaflets warning villagers in northeastern Iraq to evacuate ahead of an Iranian military offensive against Kurdish rebels there.

A government spokesman, asked about the situation in northeastern Iraq, said Iran was ready to deal with groups that threatened the security of people, but without hurting civilians. He did not elaborate.

Kurdish authorities in northeastern Iraq said on Tuesday they were investigating the authenticity of such leaflets after villagers said they had seen them thrown from helicopters the previous day.

Residents said there were no identifying marks on the leaflets, written in Kurdish, apart from the words "The Islamic Republic of Iran" across the top and bottom.

Hundreds of villagers have fled their homes in Iraq's mountainous northeast while others hid in caves after what local authorities earlier this week said was days of intermittent shelling by Iran across the border.

So far there has been no official comment from either Tehran or Baghdad about the shelling.

"These leaflets are aimed at creating concern among our neighbours, especially the Kurds living in northern Iraq, in the process of a propaganda and psychological warfare, if the leaflets even exist," Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told reporters in Tehran.

Elham did not specify who he believed may be behind such "propaganda warfare" and did not make further specific comments about the situation in northeastern Iraq.

But he said: "Iran is ready to deal with groups that jeopardise the security of the people in the region without hurting civilians."

Cross-border skirmishes occasionally occur as Iraq's neighbours Turkey and Iran combat Kurdish separatist rebels operating from bases in Iraq's mountainous north and northeast.

Various Iranian Kurdish rebel groups have fought a low-level conflict against Tehran for many decades, complaining of neglect and discrimination by the central government.

Turkey blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since 1984, when it launched its struggle for an ethnic homeland in Turkey's southeast.