Iran releases eight British servicemen

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The Independent Online

Eight British servicemen held by Iran have been released into the care of UK diplomats and are heading for the capital Tehran, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today.

Eight British servicemen held by Iran have been released into the care of UK diplomats and are heading for the capital Tehran, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today.

He said the men were in "very good spirits" and had been well cared for. They will be taken to the British embassy on arrival in Tehran, said Mr Straw.

The Foreign Secretary, speaking in Downing Street as he made his way to the weekly Cabinet meeting, said the question of the return of the men's equipment, including three boats, was the subject of further talks.

The men, two Royal Navy sailors and six Royal Marine Commandos, were held by Iran on Monday after allegedly straying into Iranian waters on the Shatt al Arab waterway.

They were on board three boats and were reported to be delivering at least one to the fledgling Iraqi Riverine Patrol Service.

Mr Straw told reporters: "We have now had confirmation from our officials inIran that the eight British servicemen have been handed into British care.

"At the moment, I understand they are on an aeroplane from the south of the country to Tehran and they will then hopefully be taken to the British embassy compound in the centre of Tehran.

"I'm obviously very pleased indeed, as, I know, their families and service colleagues will be, that they are now in British care."

Mr Straw thanked his Iranian counterpart, foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi, "for his assistance" and also praised British diplomats involved in the protracted talks "who have worked so hard to secure their release".

The Foreign Secretary went on: "These things do sometimes take time. Would that it had taken less. At least now we are pleased that they have been released.

"I'm told they are in very good spirits and were well cared for."

Mr Straw stressed that Britain had worked hard on its relationship with Iran: "We work hard on these relationships and sometimes these relationships are complicated.

"But I'm in no doubt that our policy of engagement with the government of Iran and the Islamic People's Republic of Iran is the best approach."

Asked if the boats and the men's other equipment would be returned, Mr Straw replied: "That's another matter and the subject of further discussions."

The father of one of the British servicemen spoke of his joy when he heard the news of their release.

Graham Reid, 49, said he was "absolutely delighted" to be told his son David, 24, a Royal Marine based at Faslane naval base on the Clyde, had been freed.Mr Reid, of Kemnay, Aberdeenshire, said: "Well, it's the news we've been waiting for, we're absolutely delighted.

"There were some dark moments over the last few days, especially when we saw them on TV blindfolded, but this is brilliant.

"Hopefully we'll see him either late tonight or early tomorrow, I can't wait to just see him and give him a hug."

Mr Reid, a roofing contractor, said he does not expect his son to leave the services after his spell in captivity.

"He must have been scared but he's strong both physically and mentally. I don't think he'll quit, though. He loves his job as a marine too much," he said.The release today of the six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors brings to an end a three-day diplomatic stand-off.

They were detained on Monday and held in the remote south-western town of Bandar Mahshahr where they were visited yesterday by British diplomats.

The men were paraded blindfolded on Iranian television during their ordeal while two "confessed" to crossing into Iranian waters.