iran frees brits

TEHRAN - Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have released five Britons detained in the Gulf after their yacht apparently strayed into Iranian waters, Britain's Foreign Office said yesterday.

TEHRAN - Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have released five Britons detained in the Gulf after their yacht apparently strayed into Iranian waters, Britain's Foreign Office said yesterday.

Britain had stressed the five men, detained on November 25, were civilians and called for their speedy release. A senior Iranian official warned on Tuesday that Iran would take serious measures against the five if it proved they had "evil intentions".

"After getting necessary guarantees, Iran released the five," state radio reported the Guards as saying.

"We reached the conclusion that they entered Iran's territorial waters by mistake."

David Miliband, Britain' s foreign secretary, said he had received confirmation that the men were heading towards international waters on the way to Dubai.

"I welcome the fact that this has been dealt with in a professional and straightforward way by the Iranian authorities. As I said yesterday this is purely a consular case," he told reporters.

Britain and Iran are at loggerheads over Iran's nuclear programme, which Washington and its European allies fear is a cover to build bombs. Iran says its nuclear work is aimed at generating power.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Britain on Tuesday of "tainting the tranquillity" of Iran's talks with six powers over its nuclear activities, state television reported.

Iran's foreign ministry said the detention of the five Britons was not politically motivated.

"Britain exaggerated about the detention. They wanted to use this case to pressure Iran," said spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast.

Miliband agreed there had been no wider significance. "It was never a political matter. It shows that diplomacy can work," he said. - Reuters

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