Tories draw PM into fray over Sandline

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The Independent Online
THE TORIES are seeking to ensnare Tony Blair into the web surrounding embargo-busting arms shipments by challenging the Prime Minister to disclose whether he was alerted by MI6 to the clandestine operation by Sandline.

The Prime Minister is to be questioned next week over the regular reports he receives from the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in the weekly "red book" provided by the Joint Intelligence Committee covering MI6 and MI5.

Tory MPs believe that the Prime Minister should have been informed in the intelligence reports to No 10 about the clandestine supply of arms involving Sandline, the private security company hired to help overthrow the military coup in Sierra Leone.

Mr Blair has made it clear that the Foreign Secretary was in charge of the Foreign Office's handling of the affair but the Tories believe the trail leads to the Prime Minister.

Robin Cook last week confirmed that officials had received intelligence reports on Sandline's activities from MI6, contrary to earlier assurances, but he maintained the line that ministers had not been informed.

The Tories insist that the Prime Minister should have been informed. John Butterfill, Tory MP for Bournemouth West, has tabled a question to the Prime Minister for answer next Monday on how many intelligence reports on the activities of Sandline were submitted to him.

"The Prime Minister gets regular reports from the MI6 and he should have known about Sandline. Does this mean he did not tell his own Foreign Secretary, because Mr Cook is saying he did not know about Sandline? Or are we saying that MI6 never informed the Prime Minister?"

The Foreign Secretary made it clear last week that Sir Thomas Legg's inquiry into the Foreign Office's handling of the Sandline affair will have access to the intelligence reports, written between 8 October 1997, when the UN passed its resolution banning arms to Sierra Leone, and 10 March this year, when the Customs and Excise investigation into Sandline began.