AFP: Three Finnish nationals arrested by Iran at the weekend after entering Iranian waters by mistake during a fishing trip in the Gulf have been released, Finland’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
by Gael Branchereau
HELSINKI, June 6, 2007 (AFP) – Three Finnish nationals arrested by Iran at the weekend after entering Iranian waters by mistake during a fishing trip in the Gulf have been released, Finland’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
“We have received information from their relatives that they had contacted them and told them that they have been released,” a foreign ministry senior officer, Pasi Tuominen, told AFP.
Iranian officials recognized that the Finns had entered the waters by mistake, the foreign ministry said, and Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen stressed that the incident had “no political implications”.
Their release was also confirmed by their employer, the Finnish-German company Nokia Siemens Networks in Dubai, Tuominen added.
In a statement, the company said: “Nokia Siemens Networks can confirm that the three Finnish citizens working for the company in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, have contacted the company with the information that they expect to return to Dubai shortly.”
The men’s identities have not been disclosed.
The trio, detained on Saturday off the island of Abu Musa in a contested area of the Gulf, had been held in a secret location.
Abu Musa, a strategically-located island with potential oil reserves, is claimed by both the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Controlled by Iran since 1971, the 12-square-kilometre (4.8-square-mile) island is located half-way between the two countries.
News of the trio’s release came five days after their arrest but less than 12 hours after the first media reports of their detention.
Their release followed frantic diplomatic efforts between Finland and Iran on Wednesday, and Finnish Foreign Minister Ilka Kanerva hailed the “smooth cooperation” between the two countries.
Efforts earlier this week to obtain the Finns’ freedom had been hampered by a two-day holiday in Iran commemorating the death of Ayatollah Khomeini on June 4, 1989 and the uprising against the Shah on June 5, 1979, said Finland’s charge d’affaires in the United Arab Emirates, Esa Hurtig.
The Finnish foreign ministry on Wednesday issued a fresh warning to its nationals visiting the Gulf region.
“The United Arab Emirates dispute their territorial waters with their neighbours. Westerners who have travelled by boat in politically-sensitive areas have in recent years been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms,” it said.
“Avoid travel near the disputed islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb in the Persian Gulf.”
The incident came amid increasing tensions between Iran and the international community over Iran’s refusal to halt its uranium enrichment activities as ordered by the UN Security Council.
The United States, among others, accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons — a claim that the Islamic republic strongly denies.
A number of foreigners in the Gulf region have been arrested by Iran in recent months.
On March 23, 15 British navy personnel were arrested while on patrol in the Gulf. They were held for two weeks before being released.
In April, two Swedish engineers were released after spending a year in detention in Iran. They were arrested in March 2006 for taking pictures of military installations on Iran’s southern island of Qeshm and sentenced to two years in prison.
Two other Europeans, German tourist Donald Klein and French boat skipper Stephane Lherbier, were also both freed earlier this year before completing 18-month sentences for violating Iran’s territorial waters.