Britain and Canada press for policemen held by Serbs on terrorism charges to be released

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The Independent Online

The Yugoslav government yesterday authorised British diplomats to visit two British policemen arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities as international pressure mounted on Belgrade to release the pair.

The Yugoslav government yesterday authorised British diplomats to visit two British policemen arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities as international pressure mounted on Belgrade to release the pair.

Diplomats in Belgrade said last night that the visit may proceed today or tomorrow.

Detective Sergeant Adrian Prangnell and Constable John Yore had spent the weekend on the Montenegrin coast with two Canadian colleagues when all four were picked up on the border with Kosovo by the Yugoslav army as they returned to their base in the UN-administered Serbian province.

The Britons are police trainers in Kosovo for the Organisation for Security (OSCE) and Cooperation in Europe while the Canadians, Shaun Going and his nephew, Liam Hall, work for a building contractor.

They are accused of training units of the pro-Western Montenegrin army.

"It is simply not acceptable to say that they were in any way responsible for any sort of unsavoury activity," said Keith Vaz, the Foreign Office minister."They were merely there with their Canadian friends on a holiday when they were apprehended by the Yugoslav army."

The Yugoslav army said the men were carrying military equipment and explosives, suggesting they were specialists in sabotage. Police photographs and short film clips of the four men, wearing casual shirts, were shown on state television late on Thursday along with items supposedly found in their possession, including foreign currency, a penknife, wiring and a map of Kosovo.

The Foreign Office has condemned the arrests and strongly denied that the men were armed. Det Sgt Prangnell's partner, Wendy Prison, said in Fratton, Hampshire: "He is just doing a police job which he thoroughly enjoys."

The Canadian chargé d'affaires in Belgrade yesterday travelled to Andrijevica, where the four were detained.

However Mr Vaz made it clear the consular access met only one of the Government's demands. He said he wanted the men released unless they could be charged with a proper offence. Britain is also calling on Yugoslav authorities to provide full information about any charges. The only response so far was the agreement "in principle" for the consular access.

The Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has sent messages to the secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and the OSCE to pressure Belgrade into releasing the men.

Montenegro, which is the junior partner of Serbia in the Yugoslav Federation, fears that the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will use the arrests to provoke a crisis before the 24 September elections. Montenegro plans to boycott the poll.

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