Austria accused of bowing to Iran over killings 11:39 a.m. Apr 12, 1997 Eastern

VIENNA, April 12 (Reuter) - Austria's government faced accusations on Saturday that it bowed to pressure from Iran over the 1989 shooting of three Kurdish dissidents in Vienna.

Days after a German court accused Iran of ordering the 1992 killing of four exiled dissidents in Berlin, Austrian media speculated the earlier case could be reopened.

The widow of one of the murdered Kurds alleged the Vienna authorities had allowed the Iranian suspects to flee to appease Iran.

The three suspected assassins were never tried and warrants for their arrest were only issued after they had left the country.

``On the grounds of what was already known, it should not have happened that those suspected of the murder should have been allowed to leave -- one even under police protection,'' widow Susanne Rasoul Rocken-Schaub told state radio.

She accused the authorities of turning a blind eye to the killings because they did not want to jeopardise Austro-Iranian economic ties.

The opposition Green Party has demanded the case be reopened immediately.

Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel told reporters that the arrest warrants had come too late but they were still valid. He said he had not ruled out the possibility of demanding the extradition of the suspects from Iran.

Kenneth Timmerman, a U.S. author and head of a research group which monitors human rights in Iran, alleged in a radio interview late on Friday that the Austrian government had deliberately let the killers go out of political expediency.

``I was told by a senior (Austrian) official that it was really very simple. One, it was money, the Austrian government did not want to cut off trade with Iran; and two, they did not want Iranian retaliation on Austrian soil,'' he said.

Timmerman alleged the Austrian government had held the suspects in police custody. One had then been put on a plane back to Tehran and another sheltered for a couple of months in the Iranian embassy before escaping. He did not say what had become of the third suspect.

``I think the Islamic Republic's intimidation of Austria was really very effective,'' he said. ``Iran's Ambassador to Austria met with Austrian officials, including the interior minister at the time, making it very, very clear that Tehran would not abide by any kind of conviction or detention of its officials.''

Franz Loeschnak, then interior minister, has denied the claims. ``No one put pressure on me. I assume that others were not put under pressure either,'' he told state radio.

There was no official comment from the government.

European Union members, with the exception of Greece, have recalled their envoys to Iran for consultations after a German court found that Tehran ordered the 1992 killings in Berlin. Canada, Australia and New Zealand took similar steps.

Iran has repeatedly denied all involvement in the murders, blaming them on infighting among opposition groups.

Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited