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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Iraq says UN officials were 'spies'
UN vehicle with portrait of Saddam Hussein
The UN has several teams in Iraq
Iraq has accused five United Nations officials it expelled on Tuesday of being spies.

The five - four Nigerians and a Bosnian - worked for the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq.


[The Iraqi authorities]...have not provided any detail or supporting evidence to charges levelled against the five staff members

Benon Sevan
UN Undersecretary-General
Baghdad originally said they infringed on Iraq's national security, but the BBC's Middle East analyst, Roger Hardy, says it is now using plainer language and saying that the five were spying.

A foreign ministry official in Baghdad said Iraq was ready to make public its evidence against them.

Infringement

On Sunday, the Iraqi Foreign Affairs Ministry handed the UN a note saying the five had 72 hours to leave the country.

"They are not allowed to enter Iraqi territory," the note said, according to the Reuters news agency.

"This is due to their performing of activities that infringe on the national security of the Republic of Iraq, which are inconsistent with their assigned responsibilities."

Iraqi soldier with UN vehicles at border
Iraq has protested at the UN presence in the past

Benon Sevan, the UN undersecretary-general in charge of the Iraqi programme, sent a note to the Iraqi authorities stating that they had "not provided any detail or supporting evidence to charges levelled against the five staff members."

Mr Sevan said Iraq had violated an international treaty governing the treatment of UN staff.

In his view, Iraq should have given UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan details of the charges, for him to decide on the appropriate response.

Despite this protest, the UN has complied with the order for what it described as security reasons.

Oil-for-food

The oil-for-food programme allows Iraq to sell oil internationally to enable it to buy food, medicine and other approved goods under UN supervision.

The programme was introduced in December 1997 as a way of easing sanctions.

Iraq has protested in the past that it is another way of extending the sanctions introduced after the Gulf War in August 1990.

Our correspondent says that this latest friction between Iraq and the UN comes at a time of heightened tension between Baghdad and Washington.

US fighter planes have launched four attacks against military targets in southern Iraq over the past two weeks, in response to what US officials describe as hostile threats directed at American and British planes.

See also:

30 Aug 01 | Middle East
US strikes at Iraqi radar
08 Aug 01 | Middle East
Saddam renews no-fly zone warning
30 Aug 01 | Middle East
Iraq tops world 'disappeared' list
26 Feb 01 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Bitter legacy of sanctions
29 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iraq outburst over UN sanctions
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