Britain seeks evidence of prisoners in former Soviet Union

BRITAIN IS to formally ask the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to disclose any evidence relating to British prisoners from the Korean and Second World Wars who may still be alive in the former Soviet Union.

The approach by the British embassy in Moscow is the latest development in the Ministry of Defence inquiry launched after President Boris Yeltsin's startling admission last month that American PoWs from Vietnam and Korea were also sent to Soviet prison camps and might have survived.

Archie Hamilton, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has told Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, that the CIS would be approached formally for any evidence relating to missing British soldiers from the Korean and Second World Wars.

'If evidence comes to light of British servicemen having been held in Russian custody we will investigate further and, if any were still alive, we would follow their wishes regarding repatriation,' Mr Hamilton said in a letter.

The letter also pledges that appropriate arrangements for recovery and reburial would be made if any remains were discovered. According to the MoD, 100 British servicemen went missing in action in Korea but more than 80 were presumed dead, while 2,780 were unaccounted for after the Second World War.

Mr Dalyell, who has raised the issue in the Commons, said yesterday that no one would have given the possibility a thought had it not been for Mr Yeltsin's statement.

'It would be astonishing if prisoners were found, or if they were, that they would be recognisable,' he said. Mr Hamilton's letter likewise gives little cause for hope that survivors will be found. Referring to past claims that British servicemen were sent to Russia and kept there after hostilities ended, it says: 'Careful investigations into all the cases of those unaccounted for were made during and after both these wars had ended and, again, when these allegations were made. I regret that none of this extensive research supports these allegations.'