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Blair apologizes for british abuse of prisoners { May 10 2004 }

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Time is GMT + 8 hours
Posted: 10 May 2004 0728 hrs

Blair apologises for British abuse of prisoners in Iraq

PARIS : British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologised for British soldiers' mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq, in the first official admission of abuse by his forces since shocking pictures were published 10 days ago.

"We apologize deeply to anyone who has been mistreated by our soldiers. This is totally unacceptable," Blair, who was on a one-day visit to France, told public television station France 3.

"Those responsible will be punished according to the army disciplinary rules."

Blair said the majority of British soldiers did not act like those responsible for the abuses.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is to make a statement to parliament on Monday about the situation in Iraq.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman told AFP she could not say whether the statement would also be about a Red Cross report voicing concern over Britons' treatment of Iraqi prisoners.

Britain and the United States, the two powers who jointly launched the war on Iraq, have been rocked by a deeply damaging abuse scandal which came to light with graphic images released in their national media of Iraqis being humiliated and mistreated.

US President George W. Bush first apologised on Thursday for the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by US troops at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, calling the ill treatment "a stain on our country's honor."

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld followed on Friday - taking full responsibility for the abuse by American soldiers and apologising during testimony to Congress.

Britain's Daily Mirror, in its April 30 issue, published photos which appear to show British soldiers beating and urinating on an Iraqi prisoner in a camp near Basra in British-controlled southern Iraq, but military experts later questioned the authenticity of the shots.

Blair at the time expressed indignation at the scene, were it to be true.

"Let me make it quite clear, if these things have actually been done, they are completely and utterly unacceptable," Blair said.

Since then, both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the London-based rights group Amnesty International have revealed they have been warning the US-led coalition about abuses and prisoner mistreatment for over a year.

"We have had a series of meetings and correspondence with the government over this for a year now. Now it is saying it only became aware of the allegations in February," an Amnesty spokesman said in London.

Amnesty has charged that instead of an impartial civilian enquiry into the abuse charges, investigations were being conducted by military police who did not have the independence required by international law.

Former foreign secretary Robin Cook, who resigned in protest at the Iraq war, said on Sunday it was in the public's interest for the government to publish the Red Cross report.

The document highlights concerns about British-run prisons in southern Iraq, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"I hope we will get a statement in the House of Commons tomorrow (Monday) and I hope in that statement the British government will say: 'We are going to publish this report from the Red Cross'," Cook told BBC television.

"I find it intolerable that all we know about this report is what is actually leaked in Washington."

The Red Cross said Friday it had expressed concern to Britain over prisoners held in British-run detention centres in Iraq. It added that the abuse it had found in Iraq's US-run prisons was systematic and amounted to torture.

A spokesman for Blair's office confirmed late on Saturday that the government had seen a copy of the ICRC report in February, the same time as the US administration had.

But a London-based spokesman for the ICRC said on Sunday the organisation's policy of confidentiality meant it could not go into details about the document.

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