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Poland admits error on missiles

WARSAW -- After a protest from President Jacques Chirac of France, Poland said yesterday that it had been mistaken in reporting that its troops had found new French-made antiaircraft missiles in central Iraq.

Chirac, who was in Rome for a European Union meeting, swiftly denied selling Iraq weapons in violation of a 1990 UN weapons embargo against Saddam Hussein's regime. The assertions, he said, "are as false today as they were yesterday."

An aide to the Polish prime minister, Leszek Miller, said an initial report that the Roland missiles found by Polish troops days ago were produced in 2003 was incorrect. France said it stopped producing any type of Roland missile in 1993.

Miller met with Chirac twice to explain the mistake, said the aide, Tadeusz Iwinski. They met at the EU summit in Rome.

"There can be no 2003 missiles, since these missiles have not been made for 15 years," Chirac told reporters in Rome. "Polish soldiers confused things. I told . . . Miller so frankly."

"It was wrongly said that the rockets were produced in that year," Iwinski said by telephone from the summit. "The matter is cleared up now. President Chirac has accepted Prime Minister Leszek Miller's explanation."

The Polish defense minister, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, "expressed his regrets" for the mistake, a ministry statement said.

The report was made in a statement by a ministry spokesman to Polish state television that the troops had uncovered French-made Roland missiles in the town of Hilla, in the zone of central Iraq where the Poles lead a peacekeeping force. A ministry statement said the missiles had been destroyed Wednesday.

Since Hussein's fall in April, US troops and journalists have seen Roland missiles at some weapons sites. During Hussein's leadership, Baghdad and Paris had close ties that led to a number of deals.

Paris supplied arms, in exchange for oil, in the 1980s, during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. The French Foreign Ministry statement issued yesterday said that Roland 1 missiles and their launchers were exported to Iraq in 1980 and 1981, whole Roland 2 missiles were exported from 1983 to 1986. France stopped making Roland 2s in 1988 and Roland 3s in 1993, it said.

The ministry emphasized that France has not authorized the sale of weapons, or parts, to Iraq after July 1990. The United Nations imposed sanctions on weapons sales to Iraq after Hussein's regime invaded Kuwait in 1990.

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