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UN security chief fired over Iraq security flaws
Updated: 2004-03-30 09:00

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan rejected his deputy's offer to resign but fired his security chief after a blistering report on security missteps before last year's deadly bombing of U.N. offices in Baghdad.

Annan asked U.N. Security Coordinator Tun Myat of Myanmar to resign after the report concluded Myat "appeared oblivious to the developing crisis" in Baghdad before the Aug. 19 blast, which killed 22 people including mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello, U.N. chief spokesman Fred Eckhard told a news conference on Monday. Myat was put on paid leave in November.

But Annan rejected a resignation offer by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, a Canadian who chaired the U.N. Steering Group on Iraq at the time the world body decided last May that its senior staff could return to work after the U.S.-led invasion in March.

Frechette tendered her resignation but Annan instead sent her a letter -- in her capacity as the steering group's chair -- "expressing his disappointment and regret" over the security flaws identified by the report, Eckhard said.

"The secretary-general, taking into account the collective nature of the failures attributable to the Steering Group on Iraq as a whole, declined to accept the resignation," he said.

The August bombing led to the withdrawal of all U.N. international staff from Iraq. They have still not returned to Iraq, apart from small teams recently sent in to help with the shift to a transitional Iraqi government, expected by June 30.

Security officials "appeared to be blinded by the conviction that U.N. personnel and installations would not become a target of attack, despite the clear warnings to the contrary," said the report by an outside panel led by Gerald Walzer, former U.N. deputy high commissioner for refugees.

The report was given to Annan earlier this month, and a summary was released on Monday along with a list of personnel actions taken by Annan on the basis of its findings.

The report, the second to be issued by the world body since the bombing attack, focused on which officials were responsible for serious security lapses identified in an earlier study, conducted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.

It broadly faulted U.N. officials for failing to send an assessment team to Iraq before sending back senior staff, and for failing to either withdraw some staff or take strong measures to improve security at the Baghdad site, the former Canal Hotel, once they became aware of the growing risks.

It blamed the steering group for failing to ask "some searching questions about the security aspects" of the plan to let staff return before approving it.

It harshly criticized two U.N. administrators on the spot in Baghdad, accusing them of "a dereliction of duty" and "a lethargy that is bordering on gross negligence" for failing to quickly shield office windows with blast-resistant film.

The two, Boulos Paul Aghadjanian of Jordan and Pa Momodou Sinyan of Gambia, were being charged by the United Nations with misconduct and would be the subject of formal disciplinary proceedings, Eckhard said. Medical officials at the site after the bombing estimated that as many as 90 percent of the injuries were caused by flying shards of glass. About 150 people were wounded.

Another senior aide, Ramiro Lopes da Silva of Portugal, was fired from his current post as an assistant secretary-general and reassigned to a previous job at the World Food Program. He had been the designated security coordinator in Baghdad at the time of the bombing, and was placed on paid leave in November.

Annan "regretted the failures identified by the panel and expressed his determination to take all corrective measures, within his authority, to enhance the safety and security of all U.N. staff, especially those deployed in dangerous conflict areas," Eckhard said.

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