Plea to free captured Britons dismissed by Eritrea's President

Fears are growing for the safety of four British private contractors captured during a gun battle in the Horn of Africa.

Isaias Afewerki, the President of Eritrea, made a belligerent address on Saturday in which he condemned the group's possession of "countless numbers of arms" and refused to be drawn on their release.

The comments escalated a diplomatic rift that has been widening since Christmas Eve, when the four men were stopped near Eritrea as they travelled across the Indian Ocean. The confrontation resulted in a round of gunfire and saw the men arrested before being taken back to the mainland for incarceration.

British diplomatic sources say that numerous requests for access to the group have been turned down by authorities in Asmara, the capital. And this weekend, Mr Afewerki compounded fears after an address on state television in which he refused to say whether the group would be granted consular access. "They should ask what they were doing in our territory," he said. "They are citing the [Vienna] Convention when our laws were being violated."

He added: "They possessed countless amounts of arms, including sniper rifles. If you come into my house with a gun, don't I have the right to defend myself?"

The men, one of whom is Adrian Troy, 47, a British-born Western Australian, are contractors working for a Hertfordshire-based security company, Protection Vessels International (PVI).

Founded in 2008, PVI accounts for more than 40 per cent of all armed escort vessels operating in the Gulf of Aden, East Africa, and the Indian Ocean. Two of the men detained are former British military personnel.

Relatives of Mr Troy's are frustrated with the lack of progress from their British counterparts, and have lobbied the Australian government to accelerate discussions. Last week Mr Troy's regular employer, Steven Arrow of Arrow Pearls, said that his family and friends were "consumed with concern and worry".

Yesterday, a spokesman for PVI said: "In response to the recent comments by the Eritrean President, Protection Vessels International remains acutely concerned for the state of the four detained personnel ... still being held in Eritrea. It is working closely with the FCO to secure their release through diplomatic channels. Negotiations are ongoing and the issue continues to be sensitive for all concerned; however, we fully support the Eritrean government's ongoing investigation into this matter."

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has instructed the British embassy to raise the urgency of the issue "as a matter of priority", while diplomatic negotiations are being sought in New York, Brussels, Khartoum, Tripoli, Nairobi and Beijing.

Last month, the Conservative foreign minister Henry Bellingham warned Britain was ready to take "robust action" if Eritrea remained silent on the issue. Bellingham said consular access to check on the men's welfare should have been granted within 48 hours under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, signed by both Britain and Eritrea.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: "We have been urgently seeking consular access since we became aware of their detention. We are deeply concerned at the failure of the Eritrean authorities to allow us to speak to or visit the men. The minister for Africa, our ambassador and other officials continue to demand access."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?