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Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 16:32 GMT

MPs demand answers on arms-to-Africa

Tim Spicer: "I believed what we were doing was within the law"

BBC Correspondent John Kampfner: These events "only highlight the confusion at the heart of British policy"
The men at the centre of the arms-to-Africa row have appeared before MPs to give their version of events.

The Foreign Affairs Committee wanted to know who knew what and when about a UN-sanctions busting arms shipment made to Sierra Leone during a coup earlier this year.

Both Colonel Tim Spicer, head of the mercenary company Sandline International, and the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone at the time of the affair, Peter Penfold, made it clear they had not immediately realised importing arms into the country meant breaking the law.

MPs demanded to know how the arms shipment supplied by Sandline International reached Sierra Leone despite the fact that such a delivery was in contravention of UN sanctions and UK law.

[ image: President Kabbah restored to power earlier this year]
President Kabbah restored to power earlier this year
They also wanted an explanation as to why government officials in London had not been made aware that force was going to be used to remove the ruling junta.

Democratically-elected President Kabbah had been deposed by the junta. Although the international community had been anxious to see a resolution to the crisis, it had hoped it could be done peacefully.

Officials were told

Mr Spicer insisted he had made his plans to use force in Sierra Leone perfectly clear to government officials at two key meeting in December 1997 and January 1998.

Tim Spicer: Resolution was aimed "at the junta"
He said that his during his meeting with Mr Penfold and other officials no-one had informed him that his plans would be illegal.

"At no stage was it pointed out to me, as has been stated in the past, that we went through [the UN resolution] line by line. Nor was there a red letter warning that what we were going to do was in some way illegal."

Mr Spicer's mercenary company was partly responsible for restoring President Kabbah to power in Sierra Leone in March this year.

UN resolution

MPs demand of Spicer were you warned?
Turning to the UN arms embargo on Sierra Leone, Mr Spicer said he thought the "resolution was aimed entirely at the junta not at President Kabbah".

Mr Spicer then firmly defended the actions of his company in restoring President Kabbah to power.

He said: "There comes a point, and a number of people realised it over Sierra Leone, where diplomacy was definitely not working and in this case the junta was making mockery of the diplomatic process and doing unspeakable things to its own people.

John Pienaar: Government's critics believe Foriegn Office tried to cover up deal
"The time has to come at some stage where if there is deadlock, military action or some form of action has to be considered. In this case it was absolutely right."

Mr Spicer also described a discussion with Foreign Office officials about how to supply night vision equipment from the UK in a way that circumvented lengthy export procedures.

Penfold: 'No regrets'

Mr Penfold told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that: "I personally have no regrets on what I did.

"I had no doubt at all that everything I did was being done properly in fulfilment of legal requirement and fulfilment of British government policy."

[ image: Peter Penfold: Would not have done anything diffrerently]
Peter Penfold: Would not have done anything diffrerently
Mr Penfold faced tough questions from Labour committee member Diane Abbott.

Referring back to Sir Thomas Legg's inquiry, she demanded to know if it was true that Mr Penfold had never read the UN resolution properly.

She said: "Don't you think it would have been better if you had read it?"

Mr Penfold replied that he had read the document but said it did not change his assumptions that the embargo only applied to the opponents of President Kabbah.

He also said he had kept Foreign Office ministers well informed of developments within the African state.

He said: "It seemed to me that I was keeping them well informed."

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In this section

Foreign Office accused of 'total failure'

Officials 'set-up' over arms-to-Africa

Spicer calls Sierra Leone affair 'ethical'

Ministers cleared of arms-to-Africa charges

Arms-to-Africa: the repercussions

Cook wants no 'scapegoats' over arms-to-Africa