Iceland clarifies confusion about its ban on Falun Gong members

REYKJAVIK, Iceland - The government sent several policemen to cities in United States and Europe on Thursday to help Iceland's state-owned airline prevent Falun Gong members from boarding flights to the country.

There was some confusion over the ban that the government recently placed on all Falun Gong members visiting Iceland from June 7 to June 18, in an effort to prevent large demonstrations by the group against Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who arrived here Thursday afternoon on an official visit.

On Wednesday, some media reported that the government had lifted the ban, but they had misinterpreted a statement saying that more than 65 suspected Falun Gong members who had been detained at Keflavik airport were being released from police custody at midnight (0100 GMT).

Those who had been detained were aged between 25 and 60 and included Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Australians, Germans and Danes.

The Falun Gong ban was imposed after the government received reports that suggested the movement, which is outlawed in China, was rallying hundreds of protesters to converge in the Icelandic capital during the Jiang visit.

On Thursday, the government said it was sending three police officers to unidentified European cities and one to Boston in the United States to help Icelandair, Iceland's state-owned airline, prevent more Falun Gong members from slipping through the ban and boarding flights.

In London and Washington, D.C., officials at Icelandic embassies said that despite confusion over the ban it remained in effect and would be enforced.

Chinese officials have long been sensitive to Falun Gong protests in other countries. They banned the group in China in 1999, calling it a threat to communist rule, and describe it as a cult that has caused 1,700 deaths.

Falun Gong followers say it is a peaceful meditation movement that builds health. They say hundreds of followers have died as a result of police abuse and torture during the Chinese crackdown.