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The Bosnia Crisis: M & S sells Serbian shirts despite embargo

MARKS & SPENCER is selling Serbian-made shirts and blouses to British schoolchildren - despite the UN trade embargo and worldwide condemnation of the Serbian regime.

Lorries from Burlington Ocean Express, a Reading-based road haulage company, were this weekend on the way to Serbia to bring back more of the clothes in time for the new school term.

The uniforms are assembled at a factory at Ivanjica in Serbia from cloth, buttons and labels sent from Britain before sanctions were imposed. Department of Trade and Industry officials have given permission for the garments to be imported on the grounds that they do not contain Serbian raw materials.

'The licences we have allow us to supply to Yugoslavia buttons, cloth and labels and to bring the finished product out,' said an M & S spokesman. 'Sanctions only apply to garments that originate in Serbia. The DTI has told us they do not originate in Serbia because the only thing added in Serbia is Serbian labour.'

Nine lorry loads of the shirts and blouses, marked 'made in Yugoslavia', have been imported so far, with five more expected. The total contract is believed to be worth pounds 10 m.

A DTI spokeswoman said she could not comment on an individual case. However she confirmed that if the goods did not 'originate' in Serbia an import licence could be issued in accordance with UN resolutions.

Alan Draper, a director of Burlington, said his firm had 'the full blessing of the British Government. We have import licences and the DTI has written letters in a whole variety of languages that we are not in contravention of the UN.'

When asked if the lorries, which are sent empty to Serbia, could not be used to take food and drugs or even bring out refugees, he replied: 'We are not in that line of business. That is more for aid organisations.'