2008-06-01 : Diplomats take refuge behind security gates

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2008-06-01 : Diplomats take refuge behind security gates

Postby GOSA » Wed, 2008-07-16 13:40


Diplomats take refuge behind security gates
Crime rate puts embassies on defensive

June 01, 2008 Edition 1

Boyd Webb

Security compounds reminiscent of those found in war-torn areas like
Baghdad are being built in Pretoria to house members of the diplomatic corps.
The official line is that the main reason for the compounds is to provide
"high quality" housing for staff. But improved security in a situation
where diplomats and foreign visitors have fallen victim to crime is also a

Chinese embassy staff in Pretoria have been living in a compound near the
Union Buildings for three years.

Now the British High Commission is following suit. It is in the process of
signing a lease agreement for a "gated residential complex" in Pretoria,
which it hopes to occupy early next year once it has been built.
For security reasons the high commission refused to reveal where the
compound was being built but said it was expected to house about 40 staff

"We are having continued increases of staff and given the difficulties of
renting large numbers of properties in the area at the same time we decided
on leasing a complex under construction," high commission spokeswoman
Apsara McNaught said yesterday.

The increased staffing level is said to be a result of South Africa
becoming the regional headquarters for British interests in Africa.
McNaught said the recent xenophobic violence, which had sent shockwaves
around the world, had been unsettling but was not the reason for opting to
get a compound.

The new village would be cheaper to run and more energy-efficient, she said.
However, insiders said the security situation within the country had played
a significant role in the decision to adopt the concept, which is also used
in places like Moscow and Kuala Lumpur.

Security and the safety of America diplomatic staff living in South Africa
is said to weigh heavily on the shoulders of United States ambassador Eric

While the US has not decided to develop its own compounds, the suitability
of homes for diplomatic staff is reviewed regularly.
"Security is a serious concern of Ambassador Bost and carries a heavy
weight in the reassessment process.

"As new embassy personnel arrive we try to place them in multi-unit secure
compounds, replacing the stand-alone houses of the departing families," US
spokeswoman Sharon Hudson-Beam said.

South Africa itself is said to have created its own security villages for
staff based in several other countries.

British diplomats have fallen victim to criminal attacks several times,
including when a staffer was hijacked shortly after she and her partner
arrived in the country.

A day after the devastating spectacle of a Mozambican burning to death
after being set alight by a mob was splashed across the front pages of
international newspapers, several countries including Britain and Germany
issued travel advisories warning their citizens of the danger of visiting
certain places in South Africa.

South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs could not be reached for comment.
South Africa now has diplomatic relations with more than 180 countries
where it is represented by 121 ambassadors, high commissioners and
consuls-general worldwide.
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