TEHRAN, Iran - The fate of eight British sailors who were detained after being accused of entering Iranian territorial waters without permission remained unclear yesterday.
A military official told state-run Al-Alam television yesterday morning that the Royal Navy crewmen would be prosecuted.
But Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said later that the matter would be resolved if it could be proved that they entered Iran's territorial waters by mistake.
Three small boats with six sailors and two noncommissioned officers were seized Monday morning when they entered what Tehran says was the Iranian waters of Shatt Al Arab, which marks the border between Iran and Iraq.
"They are going to be prosecuted for illegally entering Iranian territorial waters," a military official told Al-Alam.
"The boats were 1,000 meters inside Iranian territorial waters," the broadcast said. "The crew has confessed to having entered Iranian waters."
The television channel carried footage of the men dressed in military fatigues sitting at an undisclosed location. Later it showed them blindfolded sitting on the floor. It also broadcast confessions and apologies by two officers.
Meanwhile, Shamkhani told the Iranian student news agency ISNA that there were discussions that the crewmen made a mistake and that the issue should be resolved.
"Those violators who do not have hostile intentions should be treated properly, in a way that corresponds with Iranian dignity," he was quoted as saying.
The British military controls areas in southern Iraq around the city of Basra. The Royal Navy was delivering three boats to the Iraqi Riverine Patrol Service when the sailors from the navy training team were stopped by the Iranian military.
The British Embassy in Tehran said it had asked to meet with the detained men.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw discussed the incident by phone yesterday with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, who said he would look into the case.
"What we are concentrating on now is contacts with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and trying to gain access," a diplomat at the British Embassy here said.