The United Nations today launched an investigation into Iraqi charges that a U.N. employee secretly sought to unleash a plague of locusts to destroy the country's already battered crops.
Baghdad accused a mine removal specialist from New Zealand, Ian Broughton, of burying several boxes filled with locust eggs in April near the village of Khanaqeen, 110 miles northeast of Baghdad. In a letter to the U.N.'s humanitarian relief representative in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, the Iraqi foreign ministry demanded that Broughton leave the country within three days.
Sponeck is scheduled to meet with the foreign ministry Wednesday to discuss the case. It remained unclear today whether the United Nations will accede to Bagdhad's demand that Broughton leave.
Broughton is just the latest U.N. contract relief worker charged this year with plotting to harm or spy against the regime. In January, Baghdad demanded that all British and U.S. relief workers operating mine removal programs in northern Iraq be withdrawn to prevent spying.
On June 10, the United Nations dismissed a previous Iraqi allegation that a British individual, identified only as Reed or Reid, was responsible for planting the locust eggs. At the time, Benon V. Sevan, executive director of the U.N.'s humanitarian program for Iraq, said the United Nations had no employees in Iraq with that name and no British citizens under contract.
U.N. officials remained skeptical about the latest Iraqi charge. But a U.N. source said it will carry out a second investigation "out of respect for the Iraqi government."
Broughton is among some 400 U.N.-affiliated relief workers operating in Iraq.
In its letter, Baghdad said that Broughton, who works for the British mining firm Greenfields, goes by the nickname "Red." They charged that Broughton had traveled to the site, located in the province of Sulaymaniyah, in a car carrying the name and number of the U.N. office, unloaded the boxes and buried them. They said the locust eggs were later discovered by locals.
"Broughton acted in a criminal manner, which contradicts with the norms of behavior of an international employee working for the United Nations," said a statement from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.