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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
US apologises over body search
George Fernandes
Fernandes says he was body-searched
The US has apologised to former Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes after he was body searched during visits to Washington in the last two years.

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said on Wednesday he was "horrified" at the way immigration officials had treated Mr Fernandes.

Mr Fernandes says he was forced to take off some of his clothes. But he denies that he was made to strip.

US officials say proper "diplomatic procedures" were not followed.

'Clothes removed'

The controversy over Mr Fernandes' treatment in the US began at the weekend when details emerged in a book by former senior US diplomat Strobe Talbott.

The defence minister of India wasn't carrying bombs. There was no need to search him
Lalit Mansingh
Former ambassador to US

Mr Talbott said Mr Fernandes had told him that he had been "strip-searched" twice at Washington's Dulles international airport - once on an official visit in early 2002 and again en route to Brazil in 2003.

Mr Fernandes went public with his version of events for the first time on Wednesday.

"They told me to take off my coat. I did that. They told me to take off my shoes and socks. I did that. Then they told me to spread my arms and body searched me," Mr Fernandes said.

"They did not tell me to take off all my clothes."

Wednesday's developments came as Mr Armitage was taking part in a day of talks with senior Indian government and opposition figures.

He said he was horrified at the way Mr Fernandes had been treated.

"I did call my friend George Fernandes - to offer my sincere apologies," Mr Armitage told journalists in Delhi.

"He's been a great friend of mine, a great friend of the United States."

Discrepancy

Earlier in the day the US embassy in Delhi issued a formal denial that Mr Fernandes had been strip-searched.

But there remains a discrepancy between his account and the US embassy's of what actually happened.

Mr Fernandes "did have a security wand placed over him when a key in his pocket set off the metal detector", a US embassy spokeswoman said.

She added that the US had established procedures for such security procedures to be waived for heads of states, government ministers and diplomats if the authorities are notified in advance.

It is not clear why these were not followed in Mr Fernandes' case.

The Indian ambassador in Washington at the time, Lalit Mansingh, says that an exception should have been made.

"I protested to the security detail that the defence minister should not be searched, that he was a guest of the US government, but the security personnel accompanying Mr Fernandes stood aside and said that they had no jurisdiction to intervene," he told The Hindu newspaper.

"The defence minister of India wasn't carrying bombs. There was no need to search him," he said.

Earlier this week, Mr Fernandes was reported to have said he would not visit the US again after what he called his "ordeal".




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