Sierra Leone: FO `was urged to recall envoy'

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FOREIGN OFFICE staff had a "heated discussion" with Britain's High Commissioner to Sierra Leone after he advised the country's exiled president to recruit British mercenaries to help to reinstate him, MPs heard yesterday.

One official told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that he had recommended the recall of Peter Penfold after being told he had "a tendency to freelance".

Craig Murray, who was deputy head of the Foreign Office's equatorial Africa department, said he was warned off by a more senior official when he raised the issue of Britain's policy on the country.

Ministers said they were committed to restoring the government, deposed in a coup last year, by peaceful means but officials, including both Mr Murray and Mr Penfold, liaised with representatives of Sandline International who were aiding plans for an invasion.

Sandline escaped prosecution for breaching a United Nations arms embargo because it argued the Foreign Office knew what it was doing. Mr Murray said yesterday he had been "set up" by Sandline's chief executive, Tim Spicer.

Mr Murray said when he asked the Foreign Office Africa director, Richard Dales, whether there was dichotomy between government policy and the actions of Mr Penfold and Britain's special envoy, John Flynn, he was told: "There is no dichotomy in our policy. Our problem is getting Messrs Penfold and Flynn to pursue it."

Mr Murray said Mr Dales had admitted that Mr Penfold had a "tendency to freelance".

Mr Murray said that Mr Dales told him: "He had rather gotten into that mode of operation."