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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Romania plans to reduce power of secret services

BUCHAREST, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Romania plans to reform its secret services before joining the European Union, increasing state control over agents and limiting their power to run undercover activities, a senior official said on Thursday.

Local media and pro-democracy groups have repeatedly criticised current legislation for giving the secret services excessive power, fuelling corruption and rights violations.

Many Romanians believe the corrupt practices are a legacy of the communist-era Securitate secret police, which recruited hundreds of thousands of Romanians as spies, creating an atmosphere of repression and fear.

Romania hopes to join the EU next year but faces a possible one-year delay if the bloc decides the poor Black Sea state needs more time to reform.

"Under current legislation a secret agent can put his boots on a man's neck and kill him, and nothing happens to him because he was on a mission. What world are we living in?" Marius Oprea, the prime minister's adviser on national security issues, told Reuters.

The government is expected to clear the draft legislation at a meeting next week and send it to parliament for approval.

The proposals include merging some secret service agencies, focusing on telecommunications and the protection of top officials, and putting them under the control of ministries.

Secret agents will have to obtain a court order before carrying out most activities, except for those related to fighting terrorism, and will no longer be able to infiltrate the media, courts, state institutions or religious organisations.

"The law will improve efficiency, boost state control over the services and reduce costs," Oprea said.

The draft also bans secret services from economic activity. At present, agents can set up businesses to help fund their operations, and local media have been awash with allegations that some companies are fronts for the secret service.

In recent weeks, a wide-ranging debate has started in Romania about the legacy of the Securitate.

Independent groups and some politicians have put pressure on the state institute which holds former agents' files to speed up checks on whether many public figures collaborated with the secret service.
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