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By Jon Boyle

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, July 5 (Reuters) A French terrorism trial was thrown into turmoil today by a report that French agents secretly interviewed the six accused during their detention at a U S military camp on Cuba's Guantanamo Bay.

The Liberation daily published a French diplomatic telegram referring to intelligence agents conducting interviews at least twice while the men were held without charge on the Caribbean island.

A top French court has already ruled that the detention of suspects in the U S naval base was illegal, and defence lawyers said the prosecution's case was based in large part on information gleaned from the secret interviews.

The failure to include the interviews in the case file was a serious breach of defendants' rights which could later see a superior court rule the trial invalid, lawyers told reporters.

''(The document) shows that there has been cheating, there's been lying. It's clearly of great seriousness,'' defence lawyer William Bourdon said.

''If the law is respected, an interview statement has to be drawn up, the person placed under arrest and a lawyer be present. In short, it is a fundamental violation of the rights of the defence and the founding principles of a fair trial.'' Nevertheless, lawyers and friends of the accused said the trial should go on to allow the six men to clear their names and gain closure on a traumatic chapter of their lives.

Khaled ben Mustapha, Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi, Imad Achab-Kanouni, Redouane Khalid and Brahim Yadel are accused of links with a network plotting terrorism attacks.

The six, who have all spent lengthy periods in detention in Cuba and in France, deny the charges and face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

Their trial comes amid a heated debate on Guantanamo after the U S Supreme Court last week struck down as illegal a military tribunal system set up by the United States to try Guantanamo prisoners.

COURTROOM SMILES Some of the suspects arrived at the main Paris Criminal Court brandishing Liberation's front page and appeared relaxed and all smiles inside the courtroom as they discussed the surprise development.

Presiding Judge Jean-Claude Kross noted wryly the diplomatic telegram was dated April 1, 2002 -- April Fool's Day -- but refused to halt the three-day-old trial over a document whose authenticity had not been fully established.

He said he would take a view on the matter at the end of the trial, which is expected to last until mid-July.

Public prosecutor Sonya Djemni-Wagner said she had only learnt of the telegram referring to the secret interviews in the morning's newspapers, and denied any conspiracy by prosecutors to use information illegally obtained.

Djemni-Wagner acknowledged there were now serious questions about the case but said it contained other reliable elements that backed up the prosecution's charges.

She told the court the state had a duty to probe whether the men remained threat after their alleged links to al Qaeda networks, but added: ''Doubtless, not all of them are.'' The prosecution alleges the six men joined a terrorism network based in Britain and the Afghan-Pakistan border, passing through Britain en route to al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

REUTERS PKS HT1825

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