Britain withdraws threat to enter Ecuador embassy

 

THE BRITISH government has withdrawn its threat to enter Ecuador’s London embassy in order to arrest Julian Assange, the president of the South American country confirmed at the weekend.

President Rafael Correa said his government had received a note from the British foreign office “retracting” a previous warning that it could revoke the diplomatic immunity of the embassy, where Mr Assange has sought refuge for the last two months.

“We consider this unhappy incident overcome, [it was] a grave error of British diplomacy to say they were going to enter our embassy, but we consider it overcome,” said Mr Correa during his weekly radio broadcast.

The British government warned Ecuador in a diplomatic note that it could employ a little-known law in order to enter the embassy to arrest Mr Assange. This provoked fury in South America and was criticised by former British diplomats, who said such an action could leave Britain’s own diplomatic missions vulnerable in the future.

The WikiLeaks founder is wanted in Sweden for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations made against him by two women. He entered Ecuador’s Knightsbridge embassy seeking to avoid British attempts to extradite him there.

Twelve days ago Ecuador granted Mr Assange diplomatic asylum, saying he risked eventual extradition to the United States for prosecution over his publication of thousands of secret government files on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and a huge trove of secret US diplomatic cables.

Britain says it is determined to execute the extradition warrant and has refused to provide Mr Assange with a safe-conduct pass to Ecuador, leaving him holed up in the small embassy which is surrounded by police.

On Friday the Organisation of American States (OAS) declared its “solidarity and support” with Ecuador over its dispute with Britain, and rejected “any attempt that might put at risk the inviolability of the premises of diplomatic missions”. In the face of overwhelming regional backing for Ecuador, reservations expressed by British allies the US and Canada were confined to a footnote of the resolution adopted by the 34-member bloc.

Speaking at the debate, Britain’s permanent observer at the OAS reiterated London’s position that at no time did it threaten Ecuador’s embassy.

The OAS’s backing for Ecuador follows that of the 12-member South American Union and the region’s left-wing ALBA bloc, which is led by Cuba and Venezuela.

In his radio broadcast President Correa reiterated his hopes that negotiations with London and Stockholm would find a “consensual exit” to the Assange stand-off but that his country “would never negotiate the human rights of a person”.