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Friday, May 8, 1998 Published at 18:58 GMT 19:58 UK



UK

UK Government 'approved Sierra Leone arms deal'
image: [ Arms shipments were banned under UN sanctions ]
Arms shipments were banned under UN sanctions


BBC Chief Political Correspondent John Sargeant: "an extraordinary tale" (2'05")
The firm alleged to have shipped arms to Sierra Leone in breach of United Nations sanctions has insisted that it was acting with the approval of UK officials.

Sandline International backed up its claim by releasing the text of a letter its lawyers sent to the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, which details the firm's contacts with the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and British diplomats.

The move follows the admission on Friday by Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd that he misled MPs about the affair earlier in the week.

Sandline is under investigation by UK customs officers for supplying arms and mercenaries to the forces of the deposed Sierra Leone President Ahmad Kabbah in breach of a UN embargo. President Kabbah was eventually restored to power earlier this year.

Mr Cook has insisted he had no knowledge of any approval for Sandline's activities in Sierra Leone.

Claims of official contacts

Sandline insists that it had a licence for its activities from the British Government, which it said wanted to help President Kabbah.


[ image: Lloyd: admits errors]
Lloyd: admits errors
Sandline's letter, which was originally sent on April 24, said the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, suggested that President Kabbah approach Sandline for help in regaining power.

The letter names four Foreign Office officials who, it said, were briefed by the firm about its "operation". The British military adviser to the UN Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Col Andrew Gale, was also said to have been told.

The letter said Sandline was "led to believe that clearance was given at head of department level".

On January 28, just three weeks before the equipment was delivered, Mr Penfold called at Sandline's offices where he was given full details of the arrangements, including the number of personnel involved and the nature of the military equipment, it added.


[ image: The arms may have helped overthrow a military regime]
The arms may have helped overthrow a military regime
It also claimed that American support for the operation was indicated to a British official by the US State Department.

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, called for a government statement on the letter.

"If these allegations are correct then it is clear that there was widespread knowledge of Sandline's activities within the Foreign Office," he said.

Earlier Mr Lloyd said there were "points to correct" in his evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this week.

'A bungle turning into a cover up'

His admission, in a letter to the committee's chairman, Donald Anderson, drew further fire from the Conservatives, who insisted that he should spell out exactly what mistakes he had made.


[ image: Kabbah: Sandline says a British diplomat put him in touch]
Kabbah: Sandline says a British diplomat put him in touch
The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Howard, said: "He says there are 'points to correct' but doesn't state what those points are. He doesn't correct them in full and he doesn't apologise."

The Tory Foreign Affairs Committee member David Wilshire said: "What was a bungle is now rapidly turning into a cover up."

However, Mr Lloyd insisted that Mr Cook had "set the record straight" when he made a Commons statement on Wednesday announcing an independent inquiry into the affair.

The US State Department has said it talked to Sandline about security and humanitarian efforts in Sierra Leone, but not arms.
 





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