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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 19:51 GMT 20:51 UK
US halts Britons' terror hearings
Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi
Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi are among nine Britons held
The United States has agreed to suspend controversial military court proceedings against all UK nationals held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba pending talks with British authorities.

The move follows Thursday's summit in Washington between Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush.

"A range of options for disposition of the British detainees" would be discussed in talks between US and UK legal experts, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement.

He said the US would also suspend "military commission proceedings against any Australian nationals pending parallel discussions with Australian legal experts next week".

Two British citizens, Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, as well as Australian David Hicks, were among the first group of six suspects that could be tried by a US military court, which has the power to sentence them to death.

Letter from Guantanamo Bay
I am doing OK and trying as patiently as possible to overcome despair
Moazzam Begg to his father

Civil rights campaigners have expressed concern that the men might not have a fair trial.

These concerns were intensified on Thursday, when the US president said the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are "bad people".

But a statement from the Foreign Office in London said: "This shows that the President of the United States has listened to the concerns of the Prime Minister."

BBC Washington correspondent Nick Bryant says the suspension is a significant climb-down by the Bush administration which has been reluctant to try terror suspects in open courts out of fear of compromising intelligence sources.

'Flood gates'

UK Attorney General Peter Goldsmith is heading to Washington on Sunday for two days of talks on the Britons held at Camp Delta.

BRITISH DETAINEES
Shafiq Rasul, 24, of Tipton, West Midlands
Asif Iqbal, 20, of Tipton
Ruhal Ahmed, 20, of Tipton
Martin Mubanga, 29, from north London
Jamal Udeen, 35, from Manchester
Richard Belmar, 23, from London
Tarek Dergoul, 24, from east London
Moazzam Begg, 35, from Birmingham
Feroz Abbasi, 23, from south London

Lord Goldsmith is to ask US justice and defence officials that "if any of the nine British citizens currently detained eventually face charges they will get a fair trial", his spokesman said.

He said Lord Goldsmith would reinforce London's opposition to the death penalty.

"The president and the prime minister are confident that their experts will be able to agree on a solution that satisfies the mutual interests of the US and the UK," Mr McClellan said.

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett is thought to favour a civil trial in America, while Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said he wants the men to be repatriated to Britain for trial.

More than 200 British MPs have signed a parliamentary petition calling for the men to be repatriated.

Two Australians have been held in Guantanamo for more than a year - David Hicks since November 2001 when he was captured while fighting for the Taleban in Afghanistan.

David Hicks and Jodie Sparrow
David Hicks has two children by his common-law wife Jodie
Legal officials in Canberra say they can not prosecute him, because, under Australian law, it is not a crime to fight for a foreign government - which the Taleban was at the time of his arrest.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said he is satisfied that Mr Hicks will not have any of his rights infringed when the trial takes place.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says US authorities have to be seen to be acting fairly to avoid facing similar requests for suspending proceedings that would "open the flood gates".

Other countries supporting the US war on terror - like Yemen and Saudi Arabia - may threaten to withdraw their co-operation if similar action is not taken over their nationals, our correspondent says.


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