Victims interviewed in Dutch chemical arms case.

Interviews with victims in Iran have strengthened the case against a Dutch businessman accused of complicity in war crimes and genocide by selling chemicals to Iraq, prosecutors said on Friday.

Frans van Anraat, 62, is charged with supplying thousands of tonnes of agents to make poison gas used by Saddam Hussein's troops in the 1980-1988 war against Iran and against Iraqi Kurds, including an attack on the town of Halabja in 1988.

"Declarations from witnesses and victims give a consistent picture of serious injuries following mustard gas attacks," prosecutor Fred Teeven told a pre-trial hearing, referring to a two-week investigation in Iran.

"Several statements show victims are still suffering to this day."

According to testimony from U.S. authorities, Van Anraat tried to cover up the final destination of his exports and knew of restrictions he tried to circumvent using front companies, Teeven said.

Prosecution spokesman Wim de Bruin told the court: "In the period under investigation he was the only possible supplier. Documents exclude the possibility there were others."

U.N. weapons inspectors have called Van Anraat, who was not in court, one of the most important middlemen who supplied Iraq with chemical agents.

The defence said Van Anraat did not know what Iraq intended to do with the materials he provided and halted shipments after the Halabja attack.

There was no convincing evidence linking material he supplied to chemical weapons used by Iraq, the defence said.

Saddam and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", face trial for war crimes, including the Halabja attack, at a special tribunal in Iraq at a date still to be set.

The first Dutchman to be tried on genocide-related charges, Van Anraat could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.

About 40 people from an organisation representing Halabja victims gathered outside the court and put up photographs of victims. One of their banners read: "The souls of Halabja cry and beg: never again!", another said: "No more genocide".

"I hope he gets a very long sentence, life ... We would like him to become a political example," Bestoon Raza, a 38-year old man who said he had been injured by chemical weapons in northern Iraq, said outside the heavily guarded court entrance.

Iraqi forces attacked Halabja after it was captured by Iranian troops in what Baghdad saw as betrayal by local Kurds. The attack caused an international outcry after Iran invited foreign journalists to see the town, still strewn with bodies.

Teeven expected the trial to start in late November at the earliest after hearings of Iranian doctors, more witnesses and victims in Denmark, Iran and Italy.

[Source: By Wendel Broere, Reuters, The Hague, 10Jun05]

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