Wednesday 21 January 2004

Straw accused of covering up Libya weapons seizure

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was last night accused of a diplomatic cover-up over Colonel Gaddafi after refusing to answer questions about the seizure of uranium-enrichment equipment bound for Libya's nuclear weapons programme last October.

The capture by the United States of thousands of centrifuges on board a German-owned vessel, the BBC China, en route to Libya has raised suspicions in Washington and London that Col Gaddafi offered to abandon his weapons programme after threats from America, rather than the lengthy British and American diplomacy vaunted by Tony Blair.

Michael Ancram, the shadow foreign secretary, tabled questions for Mr Straw in Parliament concerning the shipment on a freighter owned by a German-based company, BBC Chartering and Logistic GmbH.

Mr Straw refused to give details about the seizure in his reply, citing a security exemption in the code of practice on access to government information. The code allows ministers to refuse to divulge information which may harm national security or defence, or would harm the conduct of international relations.

Mr Ancram told The Telegraph: "I find this answer incredible. The seizure of the cargo has been reported in The Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal. It is highly suspicious that the Foreign Secretary should refuse to answer on the grounds of security. This smells of a cover-up. Given the serious nature of the information so far divulged, I will be pursuing this further."

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