UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations announced today that some Nazi war crimes files were missing from its archives and Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar ordered an immediate investigation.
"The secretary general was surprised and disturbed to learn, through press reports and for the first time, that a number of files of the U.N. War Crimes Commission archives are missing," his spokesman, Francois Giuliani, told reporters at a regular briefing.
Giuliani said that except for its archives section, the U.N. Secretariat had no knowledge of the missing files. Perez de Cuellar ordered a full investigation by Richard Foran, assistant secretary general for general services.
The announcement followed today's disclosure by the New York Post that more than 400 previously sealed U.N. War Crimes Commission files have disappeared.
In a copyright story, the newspaper quoted Alf Erlandsson, the archives director, as saying the missing files apparently vanished soon after they were compiled following World War II.
He said that 433 of the 8,100 recently opened files have disappeared.
"We've had no time to determine how they disappeared," Erlandsson told the Post. "Now, we'll see if we can reconstruct what happened."
Erlandsson was not in his office and could not be contacted immediately for further comment today.
The U.N. statement said the investigation will try to determine whether the missing files were separated from the archives while they were in U.N. custody, whether they ever were received by the United Nations and whether the files concerned adjourned and withdrawn cases which are filed separately.
Israeli officials, involved with the archives on a daily basis since war crimes allegations against former U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim surfaced last year, were reportedly stunned by the news.
"It means that vital information concerning the greatest criminals in history may have been destroyed," said Israel's U.N. ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Some of the records stored at the U.N. headquarters, particularly on the reel of microfilm containing Yugoslavia's Waldheim file, are missing in blocks of up to six consecutive documents, the New York Post reported.
Loss Discovered in '86
"It's very, very difficult to give any real explanation," said Erlandsson, who suggested that "they must have disappeared when the records were filed" in the late 1940s.
Erlandsson said officials learned that files were missing in the summer of 1986 when they began microfilming the aging records.
According to Erlandsson, the missing records, all involving accusations of atrocities by Germans, include:
--123 of the 2,231 files submitted by France;
--51 of the 672 files submitted by Britain;
--26 of the 1,563 files submitted by Poland;
--20 of the 561 files submitted by Yugoslavia;
--2 of the 258 files submitted by the United States;
--An undetermined number of files submitted by Belgium.
The United Nations recently expanded access to the files, to include individuals, and the files officially were opened Nov. 23.
More than 36,000 names are contained in the files.