Terrorists to lose 'political status' tactic

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THE European Union last night took the first step towards denying 'political status' to suspected terrorists and removing an established IRA tactic to avoid prosecution in Britain.

The assault on 'political status' as an obstacle to extradition came in a declaration from EU home affairs and justice ministers meeting in Brussels.

It suggests the exclusion of political offences 'as a motive for resisting extradition' from one EU country to another - a device that has provided an escape route for suspected IRA terrorists in the past.

For years, the Government has wrestled with lengthy, complex extradition procedures in other member states - for example the Netherlands, where the political dimension to certain criminal acts receives more attention and can prevail.

However, the new mood of cross-border co-operation in the wake of the Maastricht treaty has seen the 12 strive to streamline procedures to tackle terrorism, drug smuggling and illegal immigration.

Charles Wardle, Home Office minister, joined colleagues in backing last night's declaration, which aims to end the notion of the political offence throughout the EU.

It is one of a number of possible changes to the web of national regulations and will now be considered by the European Commission.

Commissioner Padraig Flynn, from Ireland, last night presented the ministers with his plans for an agreement to strengthen the EU's external border controls, making it easier for governments to accept greater freedom of movement for people. Britain is continuing its frontier controls despite the terms of Maastricht.

Mr Flynn wants the 12 to agree a list of countries whose citizens would need a visa to cross the external boundary into any of the EU member states. He has named 129 countries whose citizens he suggests would be required to carry documents.

Agreement on an external borders convention is being held up by the long-running dispute between Spain and Britain over Gibraltar. Mr Flynn has made it clear that the issue can only be resolved by London and Madrid, but he has offered the commission's support as a referee.