Parliament: Foreign Office checks MI6 link

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS PROMISED action to curb the activities of mercenaries last night in response to the arms to Sierra Leone affair.

Robin Cook is also overhauling his department's links with MI6 amid criticism that intelligence reports on shipments of arms by British mercenaries were not seen by officials. But the official response to a critical report by the Foreign Affairs Committee rejected suggestions that Mr Cook's most senior official had failed in his duties.

Ministers will now hope to put the affair behind them. It deepened after the mercenary company Sandline International broke an arms embargo on Sierra Leone but escaped prosecution by claiming officials were aware of its activities. A further row broke out after a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ernie Ross, was forced to resign after admitting leaking a draft of the report to Mr Cook.

The Foreign Secretary had said that failings by his department had already been addressed after an official report into the debacle was published last July. He criticised the MPs for deciding to go ahead with their own, subsequent inquiry.

But although last night's response to the MPs' report defended officials and ministers, it also made several concessions. It accepted calls for a consultative Green Paper on the activities of mercenaries and announced that arrangements for liaison with intelligence agencies were being modernised.

It added that allowing Britain's High Commissioner, Peter Penfold, to go into exile in Guinea with the Sierra Leone government, when Britain had no permanent diplomatic post there, may have been foolish.

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Donald Anderson, said he was encouraged by the progress that had been made.

But the Conservatives attacked the Government for its refusal to admit a string of failings in the Foreign Office.