The hoax letter was published in a Bosnian newspaper based in the Croatian capital Zagreb. The Foreign Office said it understood at least one copy of the letter, which was first received by British newspapers, was transmitted from the UK-based Muslim Institute run by the Islamic activist Kamal Siddiqi.
Dr Siddiqi is a close friend of Iran and a leader of the campaign against Salman Rushdie. Dr Siddiqi was unavailable for comment yesterday. His son, Iqbal, said the institute had played no part in propagating an obvious forgery.
The fake letter would reinforce the Muslim argument that they are being abandoned by the West.
The hoax, faxed to the Independent, was accompanied by a note from 'a sympathiser . . . in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office'. It was written on what appears to be Downing Street paper, addressed to Douglas Hogg, the Minister of State, and signed 'Yours Sincerely, John M' It states, in part: 'We must at all costs make sure that no state that can be deemed 'Muslim' is allowed any say on the West's policy actions in this area . . . It is therefore necessary to continue with the sham of the 'Vance-Owen' peace talks in order to delay any such possible actions until Bosnia-Hercegovinia (sic) no longer exists as a viable state and its Muslim population is totally displaced from its land.'
A facsimile, dated 2 May, was published by Ljiljan in Zagreb, under the headline 'Secret documents: What Europe plans to do with Bosnia's Muslims - The Vance-Owen deceit continues'. It was also published by the Muslim youth weekly Q News in London.
A spokeswoman for Ljiljan, a 30,000-circulation paper, said: 'Our judgement was that the letter was real - because the actual situation matched the explanations in the letter itself.' One French journalist thought it genuine because it appeared 'to reflect convincingly Britain's arguments'.
The letter plays on putative differences between Mr Major and the Foreign Office: 'While this may seem a hard policy I must insist with you and the policy makers within the FCO . . . that this is in fact 'real-politic' (sic) and in the best interests of a stable Europe in the future, whose value system is and must remain based on a 'Christian-Civilisation' and ethic . . . I expect all those that serve this government to obey 'Cabinet Responcibility (sic).' ' A Downing Street spokeswoman said the letter was 'obviously a fake - we didn't even need to read it to know that'.
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