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Iran Seizes 3 British Military Boats, Crews

Eight held after entering territorial waters, says Tehran. London tries to resolve the situation.

June 22, 2004|From Associated Press

TEHRAN — Iran seized three British military patrol boats Monday in the Shatt al Arab waterway, Iraq's main link with the Persian Gulf, and eight armed crewmen were detained for entering Iranian territorial waters.

Britain confirmed the seizures and said it was in contact with Iran to resolve the situation.

The waterway that divides Iran and Iraq has long been a source of tension between the neighbors. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war broke out after then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein claimed the channel.

Monday's incident follows a strain in relations after Britain, at last week's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, helped draft a resolution rebuking Iran for past nuclear cover-ups. Iran says its program aims to produce only energy, while the United States accuses Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran accused Britain, which it had seen as a partner in the investigation into its nuclear activities, of caving in to U.S. pressure on the resolution.

The British Foreign Office said it was told by Iran that eight Royal Navy personnel were being held. "We've asked for full details on who is holding them, where they're being held and for full access to them," the Foreign Office said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said naval guards, "acting upon their legal duty," seized the boats and detained the occupants when they entered Iran's territorial waters, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Arabic-language Al Alam television reported that the three British boats were seized about 11 a.m. and that crew members were carrying maps and weapons.

The British Defense Ministry said the personnel from the Royal Navy training team based in southern Iraq had been detained while delivering a boat from Umm al Qasr to Basra, Iraq.

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