TEHRAN 17 Feb. (IPS, with report from Jon Swain of The Sunday Times) Saddam Hoseyn hid weapons of mass destruction in Iraqi bases run by Iranian outlawed movement Mojahedeen Khal Organisation (MKO), according to "The Sunday Times" quoting defector members of the rebel group.

"I think Saddam and the Iraqis are very clever in hiding all the weapons", said Assad Pak, 41, a former member of the group, armed, financed and equipped by Saddam and dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government by the use of arms, providing a rare, first-hand evidence of the Iraqi strongman hiding his weapons of mass destruction.

The testimony, if confirmed – and many informed Iranians believe in the authenticity of the claim – would consolidate the Bush Administration in its allegations that not only Saddam possesses such deadly weapons, but also he has maliciously kept them out of the reach of United Nations weapons inspectors.

Baghdad has labelled these bases as the sovereign territory of the Iranian government in exile, claiming it has no jurisdiction over them. Inspectors have been repeatedly denied access to the armed Iranian group.

The MKO, a Marxist-islamist group led by Mr. Mas’ood Rajavi and his wife, Maryam, appointed as the president of future Iranian government, has several bases inside Iraq and has closely cooperated with the Iraqi army during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Pak is a rare dissident to speak out about the camps set up in Iraq for the MKO. He says, backed by the testimony of another former MKO member, that he saw how the Iraqis used the camps as cover for their own activities, which he believes were related to weapons of mass destruction.

The two defectors talked to "The Sunday Times" in a hotel in Tehran last week, describing in detail how the Iraqi dictator uses elaborate subterfuge to move and hide nuclear, biological and chemical weapons at secret sites used by the organisation inside Iraq.

Describing events as late as 1998, he says he once saw MKO officials wearing body-suits for protection during the movement of big guns, missiles and other military hardware.

He also described how six years ago major construction works were carried out at night at Ashraf camp; the MKO’s main military base 43 miles north of Baghdad.

Initially, he and his colleagues were told by their commanders that it was to be a swimming pool. The explanation defied logic as he saw that the cement walls were several feet thick, the building took a year to complete and it was surrounded by high walls and security towers. He thought the structure extended 300- 600ft underground and suspected it may have harboured nuclear equipment.

MKO commanders later officially re-designated the facility as a water treatment plant. Pak recalls in 1996 seeing two UN helicopters, escorted by Iraqi military helicopters, cruising above it on an aerial inspection tour. MKO commanders openly expressed happiness and relief afterwards that the inspectors had been unable to detect any illegal activity in the camp.

The inspectors did not land because they had been prohibited by the special status the MKO enjoys in Iraq, he pointed out.

In their report to the United Nations Security Council on 14 February, both Hans Blix, the Chief inspectors and Mohammad el-Brade’i, the director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency expressed cautious satisfaction with Iraq cooperation on finding sites where weapons of mass destruction could be hide and said so far they have found nothing of the sort. ENDS SADDAM WEAPONS IN MKO CAMPS 17203