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Iraq's Expulsion of UN Workers Brews Controversy - 2001-09-06

Controversy continues at the United Nations over Iraq's recent decision to expel five U.N. workers.

Iraq says the five, four Nigerians and one Bosnian were ordered out of the country because they were infringing on national security. Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations says flatly that the five, who worked in the U.N. oil-for-food program, were spies, "maybe working for the United States."

But, in a private meeting with members of the U.N. Security Council, Benon Sevan Director of the oil-for-food program said there was no evidence of improper conduct. Mr. Sevan later told reporters Iraq has an obligation to reveal the specific allegations against the workers. "It is only fair to provide the Secretary-General with the necessary information detailing the charges made," he said. "We presume everybody to be innocent until proven to be guilty."

Mr. Sevan withdrew the five U.N. workers from Iraq, but only, he says, out of concern for their personal safety.

Iraq's ambassador, Mohammed al-Douri told reporters his government has no obligation to reveal the specific allegations. He says the five U.N. workers knew they were spying and he suspects the United States was involved. "I think it is very well known, they know that," he said. "I can imagine that the United States may be behind those people."

A State Department spokesman had no direct response to the spy allegations. But he said the expulsions could undermine U.N. humanitarian efforts in Iraq.