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Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Diplomatic life behind bullet proof glass
Pro-Pinochet protestors outside of the British embassy in Chile
Chile: Demonstrations outside British Embassy
The public may consider the lifestyle lavish, but diplomats can often find that they are unable to live normal everyday lives - a fact brought home with the shooting dead in Greece of the British military attache Stephen Saunders.

Few would think Athens dangerous. Mr Saunders worked in a European capital, visited annually by tens of thousands of Britons.


Brigadier Saunders' local car after his shooting in Athens
Security: Brigadier Saunders used local car
He had also followed security advice and was driving in a car carrying normal rather than diplomatic registration plates.

Menzies Campbell MP, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said that Brigadier Saunders' death would send shockwaves through the Foreign Office.

"There are many more dangerous places around the world where we send diplomats," he said.


Physical security
Bullet proof cars
Body guards
Secure compounds
Carrying of small arms
"But there will be an immediate reassessment of the level of security for Brigadier Saunders, though as a military attache he would have had a clear idea of how much security he required.

"We do take precautions where we think there is an identifiable risk.

"I hope that this will put in place an end to stories we see about British diplomats living in subsidised comfort. They are often subject to very considerable risk."

Recent incidents

Prior to the killing of Brigadier Saunders, there have been two recent and highly public security theats to British personnel abroad.

The arrest and near extradition of Chile's Gen Augusto Pinochet prompted demonstrations outside the UK's Santiago embassy, forcefully broken up by riot police.

And in 1999, China was accused of standing by as demonstrators attacked the British and US embassies following what Nato described as the accidental bombing of China's Belgrade embassy during the Kosovo war.

'Common sense'

Sir John Moberly, the UK's former ambassador to Iraq, said that personal safety repeatedly affected his diplomatic life - but the initial advice had been "use your common sense".


Tactical security
Using local cars
Varying routes
Unpredictable travel
Knowing political temperature

"Diplomatic staff are not always drinking champagne as the public perception has it," he told BBC News Online.

"But for the most part security was something that you picked up as you went along and was dependent on the threat."

Sir John said that one of the greatest recent threats to British diplomats has long been the Provisional IRA.

"We had two senior ambassadors murdered and it did cause considerable worry.

"I received a threat when I worked in Washington [in the 1970s].

But when we realised that it was not specific, that others were also receiving the threats, that changed the picture."

Basic advice

Sir John said that even when diplomats are based in countries where the threat is considered low, the basic advice would often be to avoid forming identifiable pattens linked to your daily routine.



Beijing: British embassy attacked 1999
This would involve British diplomats changing their daily routes to and from the office and the times at which they came and went.

Even regular walks in public spaces are often considered too risky.

As an Ambassador in Jordan, prior to his posting to Baghdad, Sir John said that he witnessed a stepping up in security.

There, the diplomatic staff were provided with security guards trained to deal with potential kidnapping situations.

In many Middle Eastern capitals, official vehicles are still fitted with armour plating and bullet proof glass.

By American standards, this level of security would still be considered low.

US diplomats often live in secure compounds and rarely move around without armed security personnel.

But this can also rankle with the British. One civil servant who is working in one of the most dangerous areas of the world, told BBC News Online that there had been, at times, considerable disquiet beacuse staff believed that there was "very little, if any" special security arrangements.

In contrast, the local US staff slept knowing that there were armed Marines guarding every building.

Subtle approach

Sir John Moberly said that the British often take a different view.

"Security is very much a case of horses for courses," he said.

"There are certain areas where staff would always be provided with security guards, such as Beirut.

"But you have to balance security with the job.

"The ambassador and his staff want to be able to carry out their duties. We want to be available to meet local people, an important part of the job.

"If you have total security with everyone living in a fortress that will totally nullify the purpose of having an ambassador there."

"In Iraq the situation was quite different.

"There, we were considered by Saddam Hussein to be in some sense a threat.

Their objective always seemed to be to estrict our movement as much as possible to prevent us meeting the middle class."

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