Four Britons held in Eritrea: ministry

11th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Four British citizens have been detained in Eritrea, the Foreign Office in London said Friday, amid reports that the men were former soldiers guarding a merchant ship from pirates.

A statement said Britain was "deeply concerned" that authorities in the Horn of Africa nation had not allowed consular officials to speak to or visit the men, adding that ministers and diplomats were continuing to demand access.

The Sun newspaper reported Friday that four ex-Royal Marines working for a security firm were seized eight weeks ago by the Eritrean navy while guarding a merchant vessel against pirates.

Piracy off the coast of nearby Somalia has been an international concern for years, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said last week that it "seems to be outpacing the efforts of the international community to stem it."

The four British men were approached by the Eritrean navy and asked for their papers before shots were exchanged, The Sun reported, adding that they were accused of spying and are now languishing in a single cell.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said: "We can confirm the detention of four British nationals in Eritrea.

"We have been urgently seeking consular access since we became aware of their detention. We are deeply concerned at the failure of the Eritrean authorities to allow us to speak to or visit the men.

"The minister for Africa, our ambassador and other officials continue to demand access."

Eritrea has been led by the authoritarian regime of President Isaias Afeworki since it gained independence in 1993 from neighbouring Ethiopia following a 30-year war. Tensions with Ethiopia remain high.

© 2011 AFP

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