National Security Council advises new location for RFE

RFE building

The Czech Republic's National Security Council advised the cabinet on Tuesday to begin talks with the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe, on moving the station to a new location. RFE's headquarters are currently right in the city centre, a stone's throw from Wenceslas Square. Since the September 11th attacks on the United States, however, several senior Czech politicians have said the station's present location poses too much of a risk to security. Dita Asiedu has more:

Following the attacks on the U.S. Czech intelligence officials admitted that Iraqi agents had developed a close interest in the RFE building, confirming that an Iraqi diplomat named Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim al-Ani was seen taking photographs of the glass and steel structure. Mr Al-Ani was expelled from the Czech Republic in the spring for "activities inconsistent with his diplomatic status" - diplomatic shorthand for spying.

There were also intelligence reports claiming that one of the leading suspects in the attacks on the World Trade Centre, Mohammed Atta, met Mr Al-Ani in Prague to discuss plans to attack Radio Free Europe. The attack was to involve a truck loaded with explosives. Those reports have now been downplayed, with no confirmation of what the two men really discussed.

The station, which broadcasts to sensitive areas in Central Asia and the Middle East, is funded by the US Government. One of its services in Arabic is Radio Free Iraq, and another project currently being planned is Radio Afghanistan in the local Pashto and Dari languages.

Although security has been tightened around the building - with concrete barriers, armoured personnel carriers and heavily armed soldiers patrolling the area around it - there has been hot debate in the past few months over the re-location of Radio Free Europe. The plan to launch Radio Afghanistan, has fuelled that debate, with some saying it was too risky for the station to stay in the city centre.

Radio Free Europe itself says it has no plans to move, and any relocation would have to be approved by the U.S. government. However five buildings in quieter parts of the city have been selected by the Czech Defence Ministry as possible locations. The Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, himself a member of the National Security Council, says the Czech government will begin talks with RFE officials as soon as possible, adding that this is an issue that has to be resolved quickly, in the interest of not just RFE but the people of Prague.