Vilnius ambassadors disturbed by police

  • 2001-11-22
  • BNS
VILNIUS - The embassies in Vilnius of some of the most powerful states in the world are up in arms over local police chiefs' plans to withdraw guard posts from in front of their buildings due to funding difficulties.

First secretary at the U.S. embassy in Vilnius, Michael Boyle, said the issue of security was "particularly sensitive" for American diplomats at the moment in time.

U.S. embassies around the world undertook increased security measures after bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Sept. 11 and the subsequent air campaign against Afghanistan this year have raised already heightened concerns over security another notch at U.S. diplomatic facilities everywhere.

Boyle pointed out that states give treaty guarantees for the protection of foreign embassies located on their soil. "I would hope that nothing like that would happen without consultations with us," he said.

The U.S. embassy in Vilnius is due to receive a contingent of U.S. marines later this year. The marines will be used to provide security, but Boyle said their functions are different from those of the police standing guard outside. Marines have no jurisdiction outside embassy turf, which is technically U.S. territory surrounded by Lithuanian territory, and therefore cannot, for example, control crowd outside the perimeter.

All U.S. embassies are receiving marines.

Mariya Urazova, the public relations officer at the Russian embassy in Vilnius, said much the same thing. "Doing away with embassy security is undesirable bearing in mind the international situation," she said, adding that states enter treaties obligating them to protect one another's diplomatic and consular sites.

General Police Commissioner Vytautas Grigaravicius issued warnings last week about the possible withdrawal of officers from posts outside foreign embassies in Vilnius.

He said those operations cost the police $2 million annually, while cash-strapped departments often cannot even afford to fuel up patrol cars and keep their telephone lines from being disconnected.

Petras Zapolskas, director of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry's Information Department, called the commander's statement "unexpected," and said, "After the acts of terror in New York and Washington, the only thing being considered has been how to increase security for embassies of foreign states.

"We understand the difficult situation the police, like other institutions financed from the budget, find themselves in. But being convinced that issues of security for embassies is not solely the concern of the Foreign Ministry or the police, we believe this problem will be solved," Zapolskas reassured.

Grigaravicius said he was not about to call off all security. " But it would be much cheaper to set up patrol routes instead of police officers guarding the entrances to embassies, and to make patrols outside embassies and consulates more frequent."

He would only consider changes to security for foreign embassies, he added, if state funding to the police continued to decline.

A Lithuanian police unit called Vytis currently guards 31 buildings belonging to 18 foreign embassies in Lithuania.