Freed British personnel return to UK soil
BRITAIN welcomed home their 15 freed sailors and marines today, marking the end to a difficult chapter in this country's military role in Iraq.
The 14 men and one woman arrived at London's Heathrow airport at midday aboard a commercial flight from Tehran, ending two weeks of diplomatic drama involving two governments that rarely see eye-to-eye. The 15 were then flown via helicopter to the Royal Marines Base Chivenor, near Barnstaple in Devon, where they had a brief opportunity to meet with family before they were to undergo medical examinations and a military debriefing.
One Scots native was among returning group. Royal Marine Daniel Masterton, 26, is from Muirkirk in Ayrshire. His father, Danny, is a former professional footballer for Clyde and Ayr United.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said he "rejoiced" at the return of the British Armed Services personnel, who only 24 hours ago received the surprise news of their release from Iranian captors.
The homecoming was tinged by the sobering news from earlier in the day that four British soldiers and a Kuwaiti interpreter were killed in an overnight ambush in southern Iraq. Also today, five US troops were killed across Baghdad.
"Just as we rejoice at the return of our 15 personnel, so today we also grieve and mourn for the loss of our soldiers in Basra who were killed as a result of a terrorist act," the Prime Minister said.
The release of the military personnel followed talks reported to be at uncharacteristically high levels of the British and Iranian governments. The 15 were held captive since 23 March. They received their unexpected freedom after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, on Wednesday granted the group a full pardon for allegedly entering Iranian waters in the northern Persian Gulf.
Giving promise for improved relations between the two countries, Mr Blair said today: "new and interesting lines of communication" had been opened up with Tehran that was "sensible" to pursue. But, whilst not linking the latest British military deaths to Tehran, the Prime Minister cautioned Iran to heed international pressure and resist supporting terrorism in Iraq.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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