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U.K. sailors to be released after Iran president's news conference

RIA Novosti

04/04/2007 17:59 TEHRAN, April 4 (RIA Novosti) - Iran's president said Wednesday that the 15 British sailors detained in late March have been amnestied, calling it "a gift" to the British people.

Iran detained the Royal Navy personnel March 23, citing violation of its maritime border with Iraq. Britain has insisted the servicemen were in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate to search shipping in the Gulf. The sides began negotiations Tuesday.

"The British sailors have been freed and can go home," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told British journalists.

He added that they would be officially released after the press conference.

He accused British authorities of hiding the true information. "The British government has no courage even to admit that their military violated Iran's border," Ahmadinejad said.

The Iranian president said the release was not the result of a deal between Tehran and the U.S. and Britain.

"The release of the British sailors was... a gift from the Iranian nation to the British nation," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Ahmadinejad decorated the head of the Coast Guard for the operation to detain the 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf.

"I would like to thank Iran's border service for their courageous defense of Iran's territorial waters," Ahmadinejad said.

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