UK flouts deal to give Sudan minister a visa

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Ministers were accused last night of breaching international agreements when the Foreign Minister of Sudan flew to Britain for a visit.

Ministers were accused last night of breaching international agreements when the Foreign Minister of Sudan flew to Britain for a visit.

Mustapha Osman Ismail was granted a visa despite a United Nations resolution restricting travel by members of his government.

He is to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, the International Development Secretary, Clare Short, and the Foreign Office minister Peter Hain and attend a lunch in his honour.

Sudan is regarded as a pariah because of its association with terrorism and because of rights abuses connected with its civil war. The European Union has urged an end to investment in its emerging oil industry.

This year The Independent disclosed that British trade officials had promoted a "tremendous opportunity" in Sudanese oil, development of which led to the death of untold numbers of civilians as the government imposed an exclusion zone. It was also claimed oil revenues were used to fund the civil war.

Tomorrow Mr Ismail attends a lunch at the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce and on Thursday meets George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1996 the UN passed a resolution restricting travel by members of the Sudanese government until it handed over three men suspected of trying to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. According to the Foreign Office, pressure for the extradition has eased, but the resolution remains in place.

Last night Jenny Tonge, Liberal Democrat international development spokeswoman, wrote to Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, saying: "This decision beggars belief when you consider the appalling violations of human rights taking place in southern Sudan. Once again this Government's so-called ethical foreign policy has been shot down by the Department of Trade and Industry. This is proof that the Government makes furthering British business interests abroad a priority over protecting human rights."

Dr Tonge recently visited Sudan to see how the Nuer people were being driven from their homes by the war. She said it had led to famine, misery and slavery.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the UN resolution restricted travel rather than banning it. It might have been rescinded by now if there had not been objections by the United States, he added. "This is very much part of the Government's general policy of constructive engagement with countries like Sudan."

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