Blair Apologises to Iraq over Abused Prisoners; Government Knew of Cases, Says Amnesty

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TONY Blair last night apologised to any Iraqiprisoners abused by British soldiers.

The Prime Minister said any such action was ``absolutely and totally unacceptable''.

And he pledged any soldier found guilty of mistreating prisoners would face the full force of Army discipline.

``We apologise deeply to anyone who has been mistreated by any of our soldiers,''he said.

``That is absolutely and totally unacceptable. Those who are responsible for this -if they behaved in this appalling way - they will be punished according to the Army discipline and rules.''

Mr Blair was speaking on French television during his trip to France to mark Europe Day.

He insisted the vast majority of British soldiers had behaved well.

``I hope people understand though that is not what the majority of soldiers are doing there,''he said.

``The activities of a few people who have brought shame to their situation should not detract from the work done by the vast majority.''

Downing Street said Mr Blair's apology was not an admission that the allegations were true.

A spokesman said: ``Of course, if any Iraqiprisoner has been mistreated by UK forces then the Prime Minister believes it would be right to apologise for such unacceptable behaviour and that those responsible should be punished.''

The apology came as campaigning group Amnesty Interntaional revealed that the Government was told of allegations that British troops abused Iraqiprisoners a year ago.

The group said it warned the Government prisoners had been tortured and killed in British custody last May.

Amnesty said it first raised the allegations last May in a memo to the Ministry of Defence.

The revelations come after Downing Street last night admitted the Red Cross told it in February about the abuse of prisoners. An Amnesty spokesman said: ``We have had a series of meetings and correspondence with the Government over this for a year now. Now it is saying it only became aware of the allegations in February. …