Travel: PASSPORT - DAVID YALLOP

Other people collect butterflies or stamps; I collect passports. As an investigative writer, having multiple passports is invaluable. I have a number of them, all acquired completely legally, but there are three that I will admit to publicly: two UK and an Irish. Since I travel a great deal in the Middle East, two UK passports are essential. There are certain Arab countries that simply will not let you in if you have Israeli stamps. Although I always travel with my two UK passports, there are many countries where a British passport is not as welcome as one might think, and the Irish passport has acted as a metaphorical bullet- proof vest on a number of occasions.

Ideally, I'd like to have a passport for every country on the planet. I don't think it's realised in this country what resentment we are stacking up for ourselves in the Middle East by our participation in the bombing of Libya and Iraq. I was in Damascus in the late Eighties, when there was that huge earthquake in San Francisco, and I was quite shocked to find that there were celebrations in the street at the sight of American people suffering. I felt that I was in a country where, as a British or American person, you could disappear without a trace - as we saw with Terry Waite and John McCarthy.

For reasons of bravado I'm fond of my 1988 Lebanon stamp: there wasn't really a more dangerous place to be at that time. I also like my Venezuelan stamp. I acquired it while researching my current book, Unholy Alliance, about the United States' financial involvement with the South American drug cartels. Due to my (successful) efforts to free a close friend from jail, a place known as "Hell's branch in Caracas", I'm persona non grata in Venezuela.

My friend was the former Venezuelan drugs tsar. When he realised that the administration he was working for had, as he put it, stopped being part of the solution and become part of the problem, he went public. The next thing I heard was that he had been implicated in some terrorist bombings of Caracas. Anyway, due to the fuss I kicked up I am no longer welcome in Venezuela but the charges against him were dropped.

My mother is Irish, and I came up with the idea of utilising this, passport- wise, when I had problems getting an interview with Colonel Gaddafi. At the same time America and the UK were bombing the hell out of Libya, so the situation was rather sensitive for a British passport holder. The Irish passport was acceptable, the interview went ahead and now I have all these exotic Libyan stamps in my little Irish passport.

Gaddafi is an intelligent and very charming man; quite contrary to the demonised figure that Britain and America portray to the world. The interviews were held in a tent just outside Tripoli. I used a government translator and after the interview, as we left the tent, the translator's robes brushed against the camp fire and caught alight. Rather than jump up and down in an undignified manner in front of his leader, the translator simply retreated slowly, smouldering, into the dark desert night. Gaddafi nudged me as if to say, "Look! The stupid man hasn't noticed he's on fire," and then disappeared into a clutch of body guards. The translator appeared seconds later jumping around like a mad man whispering, "Has the Colonel gone now?" and only when I confirmed this would he let me put him out.

David Yallop's latest book, `Unholy Alliance', is published by Bantam Press (pounds 9.99)

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