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UN diplomat missing for six months

Liviu Bota is the highest-ranking Romanian official employed by the UN. He is also the highest-ranking UN official ever to disappear. Mr. Bota, the director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, has been missing from his post for six months. UN sources say they believe he is being detained in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, and has been forbidden to return to his post in Geneva, for reasons still unknown.

UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar has twice appealed to the Romanian leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, on Bota's behalf. The United States and a number of West European and African governments have also taken up the matter with the authorities in Bucharest.

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Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar has refused to accept the Romanian government's explanation that Bota has resigned his UN post, according to Fran,cois Giuliani, the Secretary-General's spokesman. P'erez de Cu'ellar insists that the resignation be submitted by Bota personally, in accordance with UN staff rules and regulations.

The Romanian has worked for the United Nations for 14 years. His mysterious disappearance and the lack of cooperation from the authorities in Bucharest have unsettled UN officials. Between November 1976 and May 1986, 41 other UN staff members have been detained or imprisoned by their governments or have simply disappeared.

Affable, well-liked, and dapper, Liviu Bota was the antithesis of a professional bureaucrat. There have been some suggestions that his outgoing, cosmopolitan ways may have been deemed inappropriate by more conservative officials at home. There are also indications that another Romanian official may have coveted his Geneva post. Although the position is not reserved for a Romanian national, there has been a tradition among East European UN officials to pass certain posts along. So far, however, Bota's post has not been filled.

In the meantime, the case took a tragic twist. On May 11, Bota's wife, Sandra, was found unconscious in the couple's car, parked outside their apartment in a Geneva suburb. She was found to have an overdose of tranquilizers in her system. After nearly a month in Geneva's state hospital in the intensive care unit, Mrs. Bota and her daughter are reported to be living in Geneva at an undisclosed address.

A UN appeal to the Romanian authorities to allow her husband to visit her has met with no response.

Bota left his wife and their teen-aged daughter in Geneva last Christmas Day, believing that his recall to Bucharest for ``urgent consultations'' was to be a routine visit. Sandra Bota tried a number of times to make phone calls to her husband, but was finally told by the Romanian Foreign Ministry that her husband had resigned his Geneva post and was being reassigned to the foreign office.

UN friends who have managed to contact Bota by phone say that he is keen to return to Geneva and that the ostensible post which was to be created for him at the Foreign Ministry never materialized.

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``We are limited in what we can do,'' one UN official said, ``but the idea is to put on pressure, pressure, pressure until we get some response.''

The United Nations has indicated that it could put a freeze on hiring Romanian nationals until Bota returns to his job.

There are now 35 Romanian UN staff members serving around the world. Bota is at the Director-2 level, the highest-ranking, and falls just below the level of an assistant secretary-general. At that level, according to UN conventions, he should have diplomatic immunity.

Such niceties, however, do not apply to his 41 UN colleagues detained, imprisoned, or missing around the world.

The largest number -- 12 -- are imprisoned or detained by the Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. All 12 are officials of the UN Relief and Works Agency which deals with Palestinian refugees. The longest held, Hasan Hassan Abu Gray, arrested on Jan. 21, 1983, has been detained for 1,253 days.

Nine UN staff members are detained, missing, or imprisoned in Syria; eight in Afghanistan; and five in Lebanon. Around the world, five have been killed or executed in the past 13 years.

Gheorghe Tinca, counselor of the Romanian permanent mission to the UN, would not discuss Bota's case when contacted by telephone. Mr. Tinca said Bota had resigned from his position in Geneva, and that calling attention to the matter ``would not be a positive contribution to anything right now.''

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