Iran and Iraq began a 10-day exchange of sick and wounded prisoners of war Thursday, but a jet chartered by the International Red Cross shuttled fewer men than than promised between the enemy capitals.
A Red Cross statement issued in Geneva said that only 19 Iranians and 41 Iraqis were flown home Thursday despite an accord with both sides providing for the repatriation of 41 Iranians and 115 Iraqis every day.
The statement said the reduced numbers resulted from “differences of interpretation between the two parties.”
Iraq, which received the first prisoners, accused Iran of reneging on the agreement, according to which 1,570 men are to be repatriated. In retaliation, Iraq reduced the number of Iranians sent home.
A dispatch from Iran’s official news agency, monitored in Cyprus, said fewer Iraqis were returned because 15 of the 115 asked for political asylum, 21 already had been granted asylum and 27 no longer were eligible for repatriation because Red Cross doctors found them recovered from their illnesses.
It said each departing prisoner was given gifts of Persian craft-work and a copy of the Koran, the Islamic holy book.
Iran and Iraq began a cease-fire Aug. 20 after nearly eight years of war, and this is the first prisoner exchange since the truce. It is being made under an agreement they signed earlier this month with the International Red Cross.
Under Red Cross auspices, 765 ill or wounded Iraqis and 613 Iranians have been repatriated since 1981. The Red Cross says it has registered 50,182 Iraqi POWs and 19,284 Iranians, but the total held by both countries is estimated at about 100,000.
Iraqi prisoners arriving at Saddam International Airport had shaved heads, long beards and clean, military-style uniforms. Most wept when they stepped from the DC-9, and many shouted nationalistic slogans.
When the Iraqis were out of the plane, 19 Iranian prisoners dressed in yellow jogging suits boarded it.