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UN fires official over Iraq explosion

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary General Kofi Annan fired one senior official and demoted another yesterday for failing to protect staff before the Aug. 19 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, which left 22 people dead.

Acting on the findings of a scathing report detailing mistakes made by several senior officials, Annan singled out security coordinator Tun Myat, who was asked to resign from the UN and did so.

The report said Myat and others "appeared to be blinded by the conviction that UN personnel and installations would not become a target of attack, despite the clear warnings to the contrary."

The secretary general also chastised his deputy, Louise Frechette, who chaired a steering group on Iraq when the United Nations decided last May that UN staff could go back into the country after the US-led attack. She submitted her resignation, but Annan refused to accept it, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The tough action appeared to be unprecedented at the United Nations, where senior leaders are almost never rebuked in such a public fashion.

But the bombings were extraordinarily traumatic for UN staff, who refer to the tragedy as "our Sept. 11."

Annan's action was based on the recommendations of a panel he appointed in November to investigate who was to blame after an independent group the month before pointed to "dysfunctional" UN security for unnecessary casualties in the bombing, which killed top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and wounded more than 150 others.

Annan's harshest move was reserved for two UN administrators at the Baghdad headquarters in the Canal Hotel. The two -- Paul Aghadjanian of Jordan and Pa Momodou Sinyan of Gambia -- were charged with misconduct and will face discipline before the UN personnel management office.

According to a statement releasd by Eckhard, the two never made any effort to heed a request to buy and install blast-resistant protective film for the hotel windows. Officials have said that flying glass caused the vast majority of the injuries.

Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the acting head of the UN mission who was responsible for security at the time of the bombing, was demoted from assistant secretary general and will take up a post at the World Food Program that does not involve security issues.

The bombings led the United Nations to withdraw all staff from Iraq. The only United Nations staff that have returned were a small security team and election teams that are working with Iraqi officials on the transition of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, a UN official, Carina Perelli, said yesterday that better security in Iraq is vital for elections to take place by a Jan. 31 deadline.

Elsewhere, a US soldier was killed in a bomb blast west of Baghdad, and British troops in the south fired rubber bullets to disperse anticoalition activists.

Also yesterday, the US military said an investigation has concluded that American soldiers accidentally shot and killed an Iraqi reporter and cameraman for the Arab satellite television station Al-Arabiya on the night of March 18.

Correspondent Ali al-Khatib and cameraman Ali Abdel-Aziz were shot near a US military checkpoint while covering the aftermath of a rocket attack on the Burj al-Hayat hotel in Baghdad.

"We regret the accidental shooting of the Al-Arabiya employees," said a military statement that was released yesterday.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior US official said soldiers had acted within the rules of engagement, and did not comment on whether they would face disciplinary action. He said the military would discuss compensation with the families of the slain men.

A spokesman for Al-Arabiya, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, said the all-news station was studying the results of the US investigation and had no immediate comment.

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