Britain and Sudan trade blows as US claims VX gas 'evidence'

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SUDAN WITHDREW its ambassador to London yesterday and asked Britain to recall its ambassador from Khartoum.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the Government "regretted" Sudan's decision, which was made in response to British support for the US missile strikes on a factory near Khartoum last week. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was quick to back the attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan.

Sudan's president, Omar Hassan el-Bashir, has already recalled all Sudanese diplomats from Washington. Yesterday he said that US diplomats, who have been working out of Kenya and Eygpt since 1996, would not be allowed to return to Khartoum.

The evidence to justify bombing the factory was a sample of a chemical used for making VX nerve gas, according to the United States administration. It was found in a soil sample collected in a clandestine operation by US intelligence.

"I have no question, the intelligence community has no question, that the factory was used to manufacture a chemical used in making nerve gas," the National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, said.

The chemical, an ethyl-methyl-phosphorus compound, according to Newsweek magazine, has no use in the production of pharmaceuticals, reports said. Two US officials who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the physical evidence was not a sizeable sample of the chemical but rather equipment and containers used in its manufacture, which contained residues of the substance, a material with no commercial uses.

In addition, the CIA used light spectrum data collected by spy satellites to analyse emissions from the plant and may have employed banded migratory birds that fly through Khartoum in hopes of gathering information about production at the plant. Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, told reporters: "Our confidence that that facility was manufacturing chemical weapons precursors is quite high."

The Sudanese government and the staff at the factory have protested that it was making drugs for use in Sudan and for export, including anti-malaria, anti-parasite and other treatments. It had a contract to export medicines to Iraq.

Sudan has protested to the United Nations, and wants an independent team to visit the site to verify that it was not a chemical weapons plant. The US last night told the UN Security Council it would have no business launching an investigation of its missile attack.

Ambassador Peter Burleigh said after a Council meeting in New York: "Putting together a technical team to confirm something that we already know would seem to have very little point to us." Sudan had suggested that "a neutral respected person like ex-president Carter" could lead an inquiry team.

A report in the Arabic press last year suggested that Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, met Sudan's Islamic leader, Hasan al-Tourabi, regarding the plant.

They decided to find new financing to develop its chemical and bacterial weapons- producing facilities. US reports suggested the plant had a secure perimeter and was patrolled by Sudanese military. The US launched cruise missile attacks on camps in Afghanistan and the factory in Sudan within two weeks of bombings at its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The operation, codenamed Infinite Reach, was so secret that even staff within the office of the US Defense Secretary, William Cohen, were not aware of it, according to Newsweek.

The scale of the damage suffered by the US in the 7 August bombings has also become clearer. The US embassy in Nairobi contained not just a CIA station, but was the key to America's electronic intelligence-gathering operation in East Africa, Jane's Intelligence Review reported. It was also the operational control centre for the US Army's Central Command in the region.

At the time of the bombings, the CIA staff based in the embassy were focused on investigating ties between Iraq and Sudan, especially with regard to the dispersal of Iraq's manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, the report said. Among the dead after the embassy bombings were military and CIA personnel. Reports in Washington said Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were two of the few remaining CIA stations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Details emerging of the attack suggest the bombing was carefully planned to hit back at the CIA, which has been conducting a covert war against Osama bin Laden for at least 18 months.

John Pilger, Review, page 4