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Standoff between UN team and Iraqis

BAGHDAD - United Nations weapons inspectors, locked in a dispute with Iraqi authorities yesterday over access to a government building, said they would spend the night in their cars watching the complex.

Karen Jansen, leader of a UN team overseeing the destruction of Iraqi chemical warfare manufacturing facilities, said she would stay as long as necessary. 'We are in a stand-off,' she said.

Asked whether the Security Council and a commission which oversees Iraqi compliance with the Gulf war ceasefire resolutions would take action to resolve the situation, she said: 'The Executive Chairman of the Special Commission has been notified. Consultations among the people who will make decisions are ongoing. We hope in a matter of hours something will be resolved.'

Ms Jansen, an American, said the Iraqi decision not to allow her team access to the building was 'a serious breach of the UN ceasefire resolution'. But Iraq said permitting UN inspectors to enter the building, which houses the ministry of agriculture and irrigation, would insult the sovereignty of the country. 'The inspection of well- known buildings has got nothing to do with Iraq's commitments to Security Council Resolution 687,' a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Ms Jansen said the Security Council resolution says the Special Commission has the right to go anywhere in Iraq. 'The only other times that a team had been denied access has been in cases where there was something inside,' she said. Her team had noted people leaving the building 'with briefcases' - a charge denied by Iraq. The building is near a car-park where a previous team of 40 nuclear experts was kept for almost four days last September.

Thirteen hours after their arrival at the building, the inspectors were spending their time reading magazines, or taking turns to visit a nearby Sheraton Hotel for a drink or a snack. They protected themselves from Baghdad's summer heat by staying in their air-conditioned cars. The Iraqis were treating the UN inspectors' presence around the building very lightly. Officials from the ministry chatted with the inspectors but denied them permission to enter.