Monday, August 11, 2003

NEW YORK — The United Nations, under pressure from the Bush administration, has decided to move a stash of submachine guns out of the organization’s New York City headquarters.

The MP5s, made by Heckler and Koch of Germany, are to be moved to U.N. peacekeeping operations overseas, State Department sources said.

The United Nations purchased the restricted weapons for the personal protection of Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his travels around the New York metropolitan area.

The weapons often were visible in the support van of Mr. Annan’s motorcade as it moved throughout the city.

It was not clear why Mr. Annan’s bodyguards needed such weapons, said sources within the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

Under a U.S. agreement with the United Nations, DSS bears ultimate responsibility for Mr. Annan’s protection within the borders of the United States.

Models of the MP5 made since 1986 may be purchased only by law-enforcement agencies.

The U.N. security force does not have “law-enforcement status,” explained a source at the U.S. mission in New York.

U.N. Security Chief Michael McCann made the decision to obtain the weapons in 1998, U.S. government sources said.

Mr. McCann declined to comment but said through a spokeswoman: “The United Nations has been working closely with the United States” to resolve the issue.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which regulates the sale and purchase of the MP5s, originally denied the United Nations permission to purchase the guns.

Key factors were the U.N. security department’s lack of formal status as a law-enforcement agency and the risk of non-U.S. citizens gaining access to the weapons, State Department sources said.

The United Nations, aided by senior officials in the Clinton administration, persuaded the ATF to grant permission.

In February 2002, the Bush administration ordered a review of the U.N. security officers’ use of the weapons.

Shortly after the 2002 ATF examination, U.N. security officials told The Washington Times, the MP5s were removed from Mr. Annan’s security detail and locked up.

State Department sources said the United Nations and ATF never reached an accommodation that would have allowed the rifles back on the streets of New York.

The United Nations agreed to transfer the weapons outside the United States. It was not clear when the weapons were to be moved.

“We were told that the guns are headed to U.N. peacekeeping operations,” said one U.S. diplomat.

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