Britons held in Iran are OK, official says

March 27, 2007|By New York Times News Service

LONDON -- The stalemate over the 15 British naval personnel seized by Iranian forces north of the Persian Gulf last week continued yesterday, with Britain repeating its demands for their immediate release and Iran refusing to say where exactly they were being held or what would happen to them.

But Geoffrey Adams, the British ambassador to Iran, met yesterday with Iranian officials in Tehran, the British Foreign Office said, and was told that the 15 - eight sailors and seven marines - were in good health.

"He pressed hard for details of where they were being held, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured him that they were fit and well and in Iran," a Foreign Office spokesman said. "They also said they were working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible."

Iranian news agencies had reported earlier that the 15 Britons had been taken to Tehran.

The 14 men and one woman were seized at gunpoint and taken into custody Friday after they searched an Indian boat for evidence of smuggling in the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway, which forms a border between Iraq and Iran.

Britain says the group was patrolling as a matter of routine in Iraqi waters; Iran says it had entered Iranian territorial waters in an act of "blatant aggression."

Iranian state television quoted a government official yesterday as saying the captives were being interrogated by Iranian officials. The official, Deputy Foreign Minister Mehzi Mostafavi, denied that they were being used as pawns in a diplomatic tussle between Iran and U.S. forces in Iraq, where five Iranians are being held on suspicion of providing weapons and money to extremist groups.

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