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UK plotted sale of sailors' stories before their release - report

London, April 13, IRNA - Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) plotted to sell the stories of 15 sailors detained in the Persian Gulf days before they were released by Iran last week, it was revealed Friday.

The Daily Mail reported that it was told by government sources that officials worked out a detailed strategy on how to deal with media bids for articles while the marines were still being held by Iran.

"The revelation severely undermines claims by Defence Secretary Des Browne that he did not know in advance about the controversial decision to allow the accounts to be sold," the paper said in the latest twist in the controversy that backfired on the government.

"It was inconceivable that he - and in turn (Prime Minister) Tony Blair - would not have been aware of the plan," it said quoting government insiders.

The Mail also suggested the plan also showed the MoD took an active part in controlling rather than being pressured by the media as claimed.

Browne, who has accepted responsibility for the debacle, has claimed that the decision to allow some of the sailors to sell their stories for propaganda purposes was made by the navy after they returned to Britain on April 5.

But his version of events was also disputed Friday by the Times newspaper Friday, which said it had seen official guidelines that showed that requests for interviews with military personnel must be first cleared with the MoD.

The new rules requiring authorization were said to have been brought in following the suspicious death of former Iraqi arms inspector David Kelly in 2003, after it was revealed that he was the source of the first claims about exaggerating Iraq's arms threat.

The revelations come as over 1,000 people have signed a petition, posted on Blair's website by naval personnel, demanding the sacking of those responsible for the 'sailors-for-stories' scandal that has damaged the UK's international reputation.

Adding his voice to the controversy, Conservative MP Mark Lancaster, who is also a serving Major in the Territorial Army, said that the scandal embroiling the government was getting worse.

"The more we delve the worse it gets. It is one thing saying they were forced to react in a difficult situation, but to actively plan is an entirely different story and I have great concerns about that," Lancaster told the Daily Mail.

In an attempt to distance the prime minister from the developing scandal, Blair's office issued a statement on Wednesday night, insisting that his director of communications David Hill played no part in the negotiations of the media deals.

With Browne due to make a parliamentary statement about the debacle on Monday, veteran British journalist Robert Fox suggested that there was little choice for Blair to accept demands and set up an official inquiry into the events to stem the controversy.

"The government and the Navy are now in the centre of what the military would call a 'cascade' of problems which can only be resolved by rigorous public inquiry," Fox said Friday in the online publication, First Post.

... Payvand News - 4/13/07 ... --

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