Eritrea claims seized Britons are 'terrorists'

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The Independent Online

Four Britons being held in Eritrea have been accused of terrorism and espionage, six months after they were found with a store of guns and ammunition.

The maritime security workers, whose firm yesterday offered an unreserved apology in an attempt to secure their release, were found in possession of an array of arms when they were captured on 23 December.

Though Protection Vessels International (PVI) said its four employees were equipped with the weapons to protect ships off the east coast of Africa from pirates, a report from the Eritrean Foreign Ministry obtained yesterday by Reuters claims there were other motives. Indicating the men held 18 sniper rifles and 1,700 bullets, it said: "There is high possibility that such military hardware is intended for perpetrating acts of terrorism and sabotage.

"The members are accountable for infiltrating into the sovereign Eritrean island of Romia and stashing weaponry, besides orchestrating futile acts of espionage and terrorism."

PVI has denied this, acknowledging the men "mishandled the situation" but saying they only stopped in Eritrea because they had encountered "rough weather".

Relations between the UK and Eritrea, already bad, are likely to get worse as the report also blamed officials in London: "The British Government is equally to be held accountable for issuing a permit that was used as a cover for the criminals."