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Thursday, May 7, 1998 Published at 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK

UK: Politics

Sierra Leone arms probe criticised
image: [ Up to 30 tonnes of arms and ammunition were allegedly supplied ]
Up to 30 tonnes of arms and ammunition were allegedly supplied

Opposition parties say they are not satisfied by the British Government's announcement of an independent inquiry into claims that the Foreign Office approved arms sales to Sierra Leone.

The affair centres on the overthrow of the Sierra Leone Government in March. A British firm, Sandline International, allegedly supplied up to 30 tonnes of arms and ammunition to the country, breaching United Nations sanctions.

Sandline executive Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer has claimed that the firm was acting with the approval of the British Government.

An arms embargo was imposed following the overthrow of President Kabbah. He was later restored to power with the support of military forces.

Sir Richard Scott: "Ministers should have known" (1'24")
Sir Richard Scott, who investigated the Arms to Iraq affair, said he was surprised that ministers were not aware of the exports to Sierra Leone. "Whatever it was, it was certainly the sort of export that would have had to have the approval of the Ministry of Defence," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Foreign Office denies collusion

BBC political correspondent Huw Edwards: the debate in parliament (1'50")
Announcing the inquiry in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said that at no stage did he or any of his ministers meet the company involved.

[ image: Robin Cook has promised to get to the bottom of the allegations]
Robin Cook has promised to get to the bottom of the allegations
He said in an emergency statement: "At no point was ministerial approval given for the activities of Sandline."

The inquiry is expected to consider the role played by the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, among other issues.

Mr Cook said it would not begin until the Customs and Excise investigation was complete, so as not to prejudice any possible criminal prosecution.

"There will be no whitewash," he added.


The BBC's Mark Doyle: "Some information about Britain's role is already known" (1'28")
Mr Cook said Foreign Office officials formally informed Customs and Excise of the allegations on March 10.

He flatly contradicted statements made by the Foreign Office Minister for Africa, Tony Lloyd, that Mr Lloyd had only been told of the inquiry on Friday, May 1. Mr Cook said the minister had been shown papers on the Customs investigation by officials in mid-April.

Mr Cook added that it was "unsatisfactory" that Mr Lloyd had not been aware of that inquiry when he addressed the House on March 12.

'Ethical foreign policy'

BBC Diplomatic Correspondent James Robbins: "This is not an affair on the scale of arms to Iraq" (1'56")
The affair could be embarrassing for the Labour Government, which has proclaimed a new ethical foreign policy and much closer supervision of arms sales.

The prime minister told the Commons that any official or minister found to have deliberately breached UN Security Council resolutions by assisting in arms sales to help a coup in Sierra Leone would face disciplinary action.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Howard, said: "It is essential that the whole truth of this murky affair should be exposed to the public view."

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