Mon, Apr 09, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Iran denies mistreating British service personnel

CASHING IN A UK Ministry of Defense official said that due to `exceptional circumstances' the 15 marines and sailors would be able to sell their stories


Tehran denied on Saturday that it mistreated 15 British naval personnel it held for nearly two weeks as London's decision to allow them to sell their stories to the media was criticized.

The 15 sailors and marines who were freed on Wednesday described on their return how they had been stripped, blindfolded and handcuffed during their detention.

Royal Marine Joe Tindell, 21, said some of them thought they were about to be executed at one point, and how he, blindfolded with hands bound, had believed one of their number had had his throat cut.

This version of events belied the images shown on Iranian television of some of the group apparently relaxed and joking during their captivity.

But Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that the suggestion of mistreatment was "a lie."

"We envisioned that the 15 sailors would be subjected to pressure by British security and intelligence forces," he said.

"For that reason, President Ahmadinejad asked [British] Prime Minister Tony Blair not to put pressure on the sailors for having told the truth, but [he] did not hear this humanitarian appeal."

As the diplomatic waves from the incident continued to break, Britain's Ministry of Defence announced that, in a highly unusual step, the captives would be allowed to sell their stories to the media. A spokeswoman cited "exceptional circumstances" in the decision.

But the move was immediately criticized by Colonel Bob Stewart, a former senior British army commander, who claimed it would play into Iran's hands.

Asked by the BBC what he thought Tehran would make of it, he said: "I think they'll think we're totally mad ... and they will probably think: `I'm glad we got rid of them because they're self-destructing without us having to do anything."

The Sunday Times reported that the group could make up to ?250,000 (US$496,312) between them and that Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the only woman in the group, could net ?150,000.

Meanwhile, Rasoul Movahedian, Tehran's ambassador to London -- who was repeatedly summoned to talks with British officials during the stand-off -- suggested to the Financial Times on Saturday that the regime wanted a payback for releasing the group.

Tehran wants London's help in getting five Iranians held in Iraq by US forces released and easing international fears about its controversial nuclear program, he indicated.

"We played our part and we showed our good will," he told the business daily. "Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way."

However he denied to the paper that the group's liberation was linked to the case of the Iranians detained in Iraq or the release last Monday in Baghdad of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped at gunpoint in Iraq in February.

Blair has also insisted no side deals were done to secure the release but said on Thursday that diplomatic negotiations had created new lines of communication between Britain and Iran.

Iran wanted to capitalize on this new dialogue to help "defuse tensions in the region," Mohavhedian said.

The eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines were seized on March 23.

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US calls torture claims of Iranian official `theatrics'

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