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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK

World: Middle East

UK and Sudan restore links

The UK supported the attack on the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant

By Arab affairs specialist Tarik Adbel Magid

Sudan and the UK have formally announced the return of diplomatic staff after a break of 10 months. They say this will lead to a full resumption of relations.

Links were severed after the UK supported a missile attack last year by the United States on a pharmaceutical factory on the outskirts of Khartoum.

In a statement issued on Friday, both countries said they were pleased to announce the return of British and Sudanese staff to Khartoum and London.

The statement also said that there would in due course be a meeting between the British and Sudanese foreign ministers.

British staff will return to Khartoum in stages, starting with a new charge d'affaires, who will oversee the restoration of relations.

Rift over US bombing

Those staff were withdrawn from Khartoum after Sudanese anger at London's support of the American bombing of the Shifa pharmaceutical plant.

[ image: The US strike caused severe strains]
The US strike caused severe strains
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was alone among western leaders in supporting the American claim that the plant was producing a precursor to deadly nerve gasses and was partly owned by the Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden.

The missile attack was part of Washington's retaliation for bomb attacks on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, in which more than 250 people died.

Doubts over evidence

The 'compelling' evidence that Washington and London said at the time proved the link between the pharmaceutical plant and Osama Bin Laden has never emerged.

There is now a consensus among observers that the plant was mistakenly targeted by the United States.

[ image: The UK is concerned about the war in the South]
The UK is concerned about the war in the South
British Foreign Office sources have said that the Shifa plant was discussed in talks, but that both countries are trying to look to the future and the issue was put to one side.

Britain is, according to the Foreign Office, keen to normalise relations so that it can resume its humanitarian work in Sudan.

London will also seek to reinvigorate the peace talks between the Khartoum government and the rebels in the south of the country.

Last year, the late Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett played a key role in brokering a ceasefire between the warring sides.

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