Sudan invites UN to inspect factory

Khartoum: Washington insists it has proof of biological and chemical weapons work - but declines to give details
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The Independent Online
SUDAN STEPPED up demands yesterday for American and United Nations observers to visit the El Shifa factory in Khartoum destroyed by United States cruise missiles to see whether there is any evidence it was used for making chemical weapons components.

"The rubble is here. Any investigating committee is welcome to come and search for itself," said Abdel-Aziz Shenou, an aide to the Sudan parliament speaker.

The UN is expected today to discuss Sudan's request for ameeting. The UN Security Council's sanctions committee had approved supplies to Iraq from the El Shifa factory.

Amid a growing controversy over what was actually produced in the bombed El Shifa plant, a British engineer who worked at the factory was reported in The Observer newspaper as saying it was not used to make chemical weapons.

Tom Carnaffin, who worked as technical manager for the plant's owners between 1992 and 1996, said: "I have intimate knowledge of the factory and it just does not lend itself to the manufacture of chemical weapons."

The Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, insisted that he believed in the evidence Washington had obtained that the Khartoum factory was used to produce components for chemical weapons. "I have spoken to the American Defence Secretary myself ... and the Americans are absolutely sure that they have compelling evidence that this factory was engaged in developing biological and chemical weapons," he said.

"To many people ... it is not easy to distinguish between an ordinary chemical or pharmaceutical plant and the elements that are required to produce the precursor chemicals that can make up the toxins that can be used against civil populations."

Sudanese officials, doctors, lawyers and plant employees say the plant produced antibiotics and drugs for malaria and tuberculosis. It was privately owned and was not a secret installation.The plant was on a site in an industrial area, next to a plant for generating the capital's electricity.

Four main buildings were on the site, three one-storey factories and a four-storey administration building that is now half-standing.

The plant began production in December 1996. It offered a line of 87 products, 12 of them for veterinary use, said Adam Umbadi, a production engineer at the factory, who helped install the machinery.

El Shifa was the biggest of six pharmaceutical plants in the Sudanese capital, employing 306 people, said Mr Umbadi. Its main products were the antibiotic amoxycillin, an anti-malarial drug, and the pain reliever paracetamol, Mr Umbadi said.

Sudanese doctors say they fear the plant's destruction may mean higher prices for medicine for Sudan's poorest people.

Washington officials have said they believe Mr bin Laden had a stake in the ownership of the El Shifa factory.

The owners of the plant, however, deny this, insisting they never even met Mr bin Laden. "The Americans are not well briefed," said Ghazi Suleiman, a lawyer for Salah Idris, the factory owner.

"It would have been prudent before destroying the plant to come and investigate the site," he added.

Mr Idris purchased El Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries in March from another Sudanese businessman, Bashir Hassan Bashir, and Baboud Marine and Trade, a business based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Mr Suleiman is a leading Sudanese opposition figure who spent 25 days in prison earlier this year. Mr Idris, he said, had no political affiliation and never met Mr bin Laden. Mr Idris was in London when the attack occurred, he said.

Mr Suleiman said Mr Idris may seek $50m (pounds 30m) in compensation from the US.

Paul Spike, Review, page 4