UN arms team at halt after Iraq bar

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The Independent Online
Baghdad - A team of United Nations arms experts has suspended its inspection programme after being barred by Iraq from entering a "sensitive site", a senior UN inspector said yesterday.

Nikita Smidovich, the chief inspector, said: "We are waiting here. We have suspended our operations."

Mr Smidovich said that since his arrival earlier this week at the head of 34 international arms experts, he had been allowed into one site Iraq deemed crucial to its national security. "The other site we were not even allowed to approach," the veteran Russian inspector said.

Rolf Ekeus, chairman of the UN Special Commission scrapping Iraq's banned weapons under the 1991 Gulf war ceasefire, informed the Security Council on Wednesday of the problems facing Mr Smidovich's latest task.

The Security Council has asked Baghdad to give Mr Smidovich unimpeded access to any site he wishes to inspect.

On a visit to Baghdad last month Mr Ekeus and the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, signed an agreement in which Iraq pledged to grant UN inspectors immediate access provided they fully respected Iraq's concerns over sovereignty when visiting "sensitive sites".

Iraq's ambassador to the UN, Nizar Hamdoon, said on Wednesday that the latest confrontation was exceptional and did not signal a breakdown of June's agreement.

Mr Smidovich said he was awaiting instructions from Mr Ekeus on what to do next. His experts, he said, were back at their base in Baghdad.

The latest row over access is the second in less than a month. The previous incident, the Iraqis barred Mr Smidovich and about 50 international arms experts from entering military sites belonging to Iraq's elite force, the Republican Guards, in and around Baghdad. Mr Smidovich would not describe the site he was prevented from entering.