Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

UN promises heightened security over spy claims

AFP , UNITED NATIONS

The UN vowed to tighten security on Thursday after shocking claims by a former British minister that London spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the runup to the war in Iraq.

Annan's spokesman said that, if true, the spying could have undermined his efforts to stave off the US-led war that brought down Saddam Hussein, and that such action would be a clear violation of international law.

"We would be disappointed if this were true. Such activities would undermine the integrity and confidential nature of diplomatic exchanges," spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

"The secretariat routinely takes technical measures to guard against such invasions of privacy, and those efforts will now be intensified," he said.

Former minister Clare Short, a thorn in British Prime Minister Tony Blair's side since stepping down in protest over the war, told the BBC on Thursday that British intelligence had bugged Annan's calls.

"These things are done, and in the case of Kofi's office, it's been done for some time," Short said, adding that she had even seen transcripts of Annan's conversations. Blair blasted the allegations as "deeply irresponsible."

Eckhard said the UN did not know if her claims were true and that there were no immediate plans for an inquiry, but the world body would insist that the UN's legally mandated international territory was "inviolable."

"We want this action to be stopped if indeed it has been carried out. It undermines the secretary-general's conduct of business with other leaders. It's therefore not good for United Nations work and it's illegal," he said.

The UN complex in New York is international territory, and a 1946 convention on the world body underlines that its premises cannot be violated in such a manner, Eckhard said.

"All this needs to be investigated by UN security," Russia's UN ambassador Sergey Lavrov said.

"This shows that the British intelligence services at least technically are very professional, I assume," he said.

Wang Guangya (王光亞) of China, the current president of the 15-nation council, said: "We certainly regret that if it is true."

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