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Liberia Drops Spy Charges

August 25, 2000

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Under mounting international pressure, the Liberian government dropped all charges Friday against a detained British television crew accused of spying in this West African country.

Justice Minister Eddington Varmah said the government had agreed to release the four journalists from London-based Insight News Television _ two Britons, a South African and a Sierra Leonean _ in exchange for an apology.

``As far as the government is concerned, with the dropping of these charges, this case is closed,″ Varmah said at a news conference.

In a short handwritten letter to President Charles Taylor, the journalists apologized, ``To both his excellency the president of Liberia and the people of Liberia for any offense which our action or statements have caused.″

Incite News has repeatedly insisted that the four were in Liberia for valid journalistic purposes and were innocent of all charges.

It was not immediately clear when the journalists would be released, though it was expected to be soon.

Defense and persecution lawyers met throughout the day Thursday to work out the deal.

The journalists had been in Liberia for three weeks working on a documentary film when they were arrested Aug. 18 at their hotel in the capital, Monrovia.

They were formally charged Monday after authorities reviewed their videotapes and found material they said was ``damaging″ to the Liberian government and the security of the state.

The indictment said the government believed their documentary would try to support British and American allegations of Liberian government involvement in diamond-smuggling and gunrunning for neighboring Sierra Leone’s brutal rebel army.

Taylor, a former warlord with longtime ties to the Sierra Leone rebels, has repeatedly denied Liberia is acting as a conduit for rebel diamonds or weapons.

Channel 4, the British network that commissioned the documentary they were making, said the men had suffered ``mental abuse″ while being held overnight Tuesday at the headquarters of the National Security Agency, a criminal investigation unit under Taylor’s personal control.

The arrests angered international leaders and press freedom groups. Former President Carter, American civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson and former South African President Nelson Mandela joined a chorus of appeals for the journalists to be released.

The men are award-winning Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samura; British director David Barrie; British cameraman Tim Lambon; and South African cameraman Gugu Radebe. Samura has been honored for his film ``Cry Freetown″ about the 1999 invasion of the Sierra Leonean capital.

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