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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 19:37 GMT
'Equipment missing' at Iraq arms site
Inspectors arrive at Bakuba alcohol factory
Two inspection teams were in action on Monday
United Nations weapons inspectors say equipment has gone missing from a missile factory in Baghdad they inspected four years ago.

"In 1998, the site contained a number of pieces of equipment tagged by the United Nations Special Commission [Unscom] and several monitoring cameras," the statement issued by the inspectors said.

It was claimed that some [equipment] had been destroyed by the bombing of the site

Hiro Ueki
Unscom inspector
"None of these are currently present at the facility."

The monitors made the discovery during a surprise visit to the plant on the fifth day of inspections in Iraq.

The disclosure marks the first setback for Iraq since the inspections resumed under a tough new UN mandate.

The inspectors said the Iraqis claimed some of the equipment had been destroyed in allied bombing raids, and some had been transferred to other sites.

A UN spokesman said that Iraqi officials had informed the inspectors as to where the equipment had been transferred.

"When the time comes, our inspectors will verify their claims," he said.

The al-Karama site has in the past helped manufacture control systems for medium-range Scud ballistic missiles, which are banned under UN rules.

Since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, UN resolutions have permitted Iraq to possess only short-range missiles.

Three alcohol plants near Bakuba, just north of Baghdad, were also inspected on Monday.

The inspections took place as a dossier of human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by the Iraqi regime, including torture and rape, was released by the UK Government.

Sprawling complex

The inspectors have come to Iraq after a four-year absence, operating under a new UN Security Council mandate that gives Iraq a "final opportunity" to shut down its alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes or face "serious consequences".

They arrived on Monday morning at al-Karama, a sprawling complex guarded by watchtowers and hidden from view by high walls and barbed wire.

The BBC's Ben Brown in Baghdad says the surprise visit was one of the most dramatic incidents during the UN arms inspections, with the experts driving in at high speed through the gates of the base and preventing anyone from leaving or going in.

The inspectors stayed for more than six hours, in one of the longest visits yet to a site since they began inspections last Wednesday.

The site's director, General Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, said the inspection had gone smoothly.

"All went well and the inspection was carried out without a hitch.

"The inspectors were able to see for themselves that all the American and British allegations are a pack of lies," he said.

A recent British Government dossier on Iraq claimed that Saddam Hussein had kept 20 Scuds with ranges of up to 650 kilometres (400 miles), which could threaten his neighbours and even British military bases in Cyprus.

Extended range

The factory is previously known to have made guidance and control systems for so-called "stretch Scuds", Soviet-made missiles with extended range which were used in the Gulf War.

They surprised us with a visit today - they did not find anything because we are a company that produces alcoholic beverages

Bakuba plant manager

There are fears that Iraq may be able to arm its Scuds with chemical or biological warheads, though the missiles have never been deployed with such weapons.

Inspectors also visited the area near Bakuba in the 1990s, but at least one of the plants is thought to have not been seen by previous teams.

"They surprised us with a visit today," Albert Moussa Younan, manager of one of the sites, told the Associated Press news agency.

"They did not find anything because we are a company that produces alcoholic beverages."

Meanwhile, Iraq has submitted a complaint to the UN about US and British air strikes in the northern and southern no-fly zones.

Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said in the letter that 10 people had been killed and seven injured in raids over the past month, and denounced them as "state terrorism".

The US military said that warplanes bombed air defence sites in northern Iraq on Monday after coming under anti-aircraft fire.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"As far as we know inspectors have not discovered anything incriminating"

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See also:

02 Dec 02 | Politics
02 Dec 02 | Middle East
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