Iran defends `humanitarian' arms lift

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The Independent Online
Tehran (Reuter) - Iran, responding to reports that it secretly sent arms to Bosnian Muslims, said yesterday it had supplied humanitarian aid to Bosnia through legal channels.

The Iranian ambassador to Sarajevo, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, quoted by the official Iranian news agency, Irna, said: "Iran's humanitarian assistance to Bosnia was carried out through legal and official channels." He did not say what kind of support Iran gave Bosnia. "He stressed the assistance was offered through various channels, especially Islamic countries and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and there had been no need for US approval," Irna said.

Last week the Los Angeles Times said President Bill Clinton gave the green light to secret arms shipments from Iran to Bosnia's embattled Muslim- led government.

"Based on our Islamic beliefs and our nation's deep sympathy with the Bosnian Muslims, we considered ourselves bound to support and offer assistance," Mr Taherian told Irna.

In Washington, the State Department did not deny the report, but said that despite its opposition to the UN arms embargo - which helped lock in a weapons advantage for Serbs over the Muslims - the administration complied with it.

Eight Islamic states, including Iran, last July declared the UN arms embargo against the former Yugoslavia invalid for Bosnia. In August, Tehran and Sarajevo said they discussed the possibility of Iranian military aid. They gave no details and Iranian officials have denied any arms had been sent.

Iran's assistance at a critical time when the Muslims had few other allies has helped establish a foothold for Tehran in Bosnia. Reports of Iranian fighters in Bosnia, denied by Tehran, have caused tension between the US and Sarajevo.