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Israel Says Won't Arrest Vanunu After Jail Term Ends

February 24, 2004

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided on Tuesday that nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu will be placed under supervision but not arrest after he completes an 18-year prison term in April, Sharon's office said.

It gave no details about restrictions but Israeli security sources said Israel would ban the former atomic reactor technician from traveling abroad, monitor his movements in Israel and tap his telephone.

Vanunu, who worked at Israel's main reactor in the southern desert town of Dimona, gave Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in 1986 details about the facility, leading independent experts to conclude Israel had between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads.

Sharon convened a meeting of top security and legal advisers to discuss the possibility of muzzling Vanunu, who was convicted of treason, to ensure he does not spill any more secrets after he completes his full sentence on April 21.

``A proposal to place Vanunu under administrative arrest on his release from jail was rejected,'' Sharon's office said, referring to detention without trial under long-standing emergency regulations that could be hard to defend in court.

But it said in a statement that ``proper supervisory measures will be applied to Vanunu in accordance with the law to prevent him from committing additional security crimes.''


During the meeting in the prime minister's office, speakers voiced concern that even if Vanunu had no secrets left to tell, he could spread harmful disinformation about Israel's nuclear program, the security sources said.

But, they added, experts said at the session there was no legal cause to put Vanunu in ``administrative detention'' once he left jail, although such a move could be defended in court if his future monitors discovered he had broken secrecy laws.

Spirited home by Israel's Mossad spy agency, which used a female agent to lure Vanunu into the hands of his kidnappers, the now gray-haired prisoner is a hero to some anti-nuclear campaigners and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He has won little public sympathy in Israel.

Israel maintains an official policy of ambiguity about its nuclear program, saying only that it will not be the first to introduce atomic weapons to the Middle East.

``All he wants to do is just be able to move about freely, to talk freely and lead a life that every other human being enjoys,'' Nicholas Eoloff, an American who with his wife Mary legally adopted Vanunu several years ago, told Israel Television.

Asked whether Vanunu planned to reveal more secrets, Eoloff, speaking from Arizona, said that under prison restrictions they had never discussed the issue with him. The couple last visited Vanunu in jail in November.

Israeli media reports said agents from the Shin Bet internal security service went to Vanunu's prison earlier on Tuesday and questioned him for three hours about his plans. The reports said Vanunu did not shed any light on his intentions.

Vanunu, who converted to Christianity, was recently reported to have told his brothers that he wants to leave the Jewish state permanently.

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