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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Straw quizzed over 'Saudi deal'
Guantanamo Bay
Fears have been raised that British citizens were used as hostages
The foreign secretary has refused to comment on reports that the release of six Britons in Saudi Arabia was linked to a deal to release Saudis from Cuba.

The UK citizens were released last year after being convicted for terrorism offences in the Arab kingdom.

The Independent reports their release was linked to that of five Saudis held in Guantanamo Bay - two of whom had allegedly trained with al-Qaeda.

Jack Straw would only say he had worked hard for the release of UK citizens.

Fastidious?

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said deals sometimes had to be done in a "murky world".

"The foreign secretary's reticence may be less due to fastidiousness, and more to do with avoiding embarrassment for the British government and its Saudi counterparts," he added.

"The test of any such bargain has to be that the interests of UK citizens were paramount."

Asked if any deals had been done with Saudi Arabia Mr Straw had replied: "I worked very hard for the release of the British detainees and we were all greatly relieved once they were released. As to the precise circumstances I am not going to comment further."

Dialogue

The Independent quotes a senior British source as saying: "Of course there were government-to-government talks.

"We were all anxious to solve the problem but one should bear in mind that it was the Americans who held the aces with the Saudi detainees, the British government did not have that kind of leverage.

"So the term 'negotiations' should really be applied to the American-Saudi dialogue."

Five British men, along with a British Canadian and a Belgian national were released last August after being granted clemency by Saudi's King Fad.

They had been convicted of a series of bombings that killed one Briton, Christopher Roadway, in November 2000, and injured several other Western expatriate workers.

Shocking

Bill Sampson the British Canadian, who is now living in the north of England, said he has seen documents obtained by fellow captive, Belgian Raf Schyvens, indicating he had effectively been held hostage by Saudi Arabia.

He told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that he was relieved to have been released but the episode had left him with "with a very bad taste" in his mouth.

Mr Sampson along with two of his fellow ex-prisoners is trying to sue the Saudis responsible for their imprisonment.

His solicitor, Geoffrey Bindman, told PM: "It would be very shocking indeed if terrorists were released in exchange for the release of entirely innocent men.

"They of course should never have been arrested or imprisoned and they should have been released without any quid pro quo."




SEE ALSO:
Lawyers hail Guantanamo ruling
29 Jun 04  |  Americas
Legal setback for war on terror
29 Jun 04  |  Americas
Guantanamo base 'lawless enclave'
20 Apr 04  |  Americas
Rights plea over Guantanamo Bay
12 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Saudis deny torture claim
17 Aug 03  |  UK


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