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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 05/98: Arms to Africa row  
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Arms to Africa row Tuesday, 3 November, 1998, 09:14 GMT
Arms-to-Africa: the repercussions
Soldiers in Sierra Leone
Ministers have been cleared of any scandal in arms-to-Africa affair
By BBC Political Correspondent Nicholas Jones

Robin Cook's insistence, from the start of the row over the arms shipment to Sierra Leone, that no minister knew about it in advance, has been vindicated in Sir Thomas Legg's report.

The inquiry found that there was no evidence that either ministers or officials had encouraged or approved the supply of weapons by Sandline International.

Official clearance of all those involved will certainly help the foreign secretary as he seeks to restore his authority after what has been a damaging episode.

Nevertheless the mistakes made by foreign office officials, and the lack of caution shown by the British High Commissioner Peter Penfold, were pounced on by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as indicating a shambles in the Foreign Office.

After all his talk of an ethical foreign policy, Mr Cook had to eat humble pie and announce a series of measures which Labour MPs would have assumed should have been instituted once it won the general election.

The government is to re-establish a foreign office unit that will ensure arms sanctions are observed. In future no officials will be allowed to have contact with private military firms without permission and when they do the foreign secretary will have to be informed.

Mr Cook does face further questioning by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

But it seems unlikely there will be any fresh revelations.

That should enable the government to close down once for all an embarrassing saga over who knew what about an arms shipment which as Mr Cook admitted played little or no part in the removal of the junta in Sierra Leone.

See also:

27 Jul 98 | Arms to Africa row
27 Jul 98 | Arms to Africa row
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