Geneva assault prompts warnings from UN, Swiss

AP News
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Posted: Aug 15, 2011 4:20 PM
Geneva assault prompts warnings from UN, Swiss

The United Nations has warned its staff about going out alone in Geneva at night after a vicious assault on the son of an American diplomat in this self-styled "city of peace."

The attack also caused alarm at the top tier of Swiss government, with the Foreign Ministry saying Monday that President Micheline Calmy-Rey has written to Geneva authorities to voice her concern at "the deterioration of the security situation in Geneva in recent months."

Serious violent crime is rare in wealthy Switzerland, but reports of the attack have spooked Geneva's large foreign and diplomatic community, prompting water cooler tales of muggings, break-ins and assaults.

Geneva police spokesman Jean-Philippe Brandt said nobody has been arrested in connection with the attack, which took place in the center of Geneva during the early hours of July 17.

The victim _ who was identified only as the son of an American U.N. diplomat _ was attacked by up to a dozen assailants who beat him with metal rods and attempted to throw him into the river Rhone before a passing cyclist raised the alarm.

The U.N., which has its European headquarters in Geneva, sent a series of emails to staff including a note warning that "one should not, repeat not, be out alone late at night in the city center."

A subsequent toned-down U.N. memo urged diplomats to "exercise caution and prudence when out in the evening or early morning hours in downtown Geneva" and added that the victim "could have lost his life" in the attack. U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the victim suffered fractures and bruises and was recovering.

The global body accounts for a large portion of the over 40,000 diplomats and international civil servants in this city of 200,000 inhabitants. Their presence and that of the Red Cross _ not to mention the frequent peace talks hosted in neutral Switzerland's second largest city _ have led Geneva authorities to label it the "city of peace."

U.S. officials said they had been in contact with Swiss authorities over the attack.

"We regret the violence committed against this young American and have confidence in the Swiss authorities' ability to apprehend those responsible," Alex Daniels, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in the Swiss capital Bern, told The Associated Press. "We also appreciate the Swiss government's cooperation on security and safety matters."

Last year, Geneva authorities published a survey showing more than two-thirds of foreigners felt security in the city had worsened. The survey, which questioned 1,082 people working for international organizations, diplomatic missions and multinational companies, found one in ten had been victims of burglary or street crime in the past three years.

The Foreign Ministry said Monday it considered the presence of international organizations in Geneva to be a pillar of Swiss foreign policy, and that their concerns should be a priority, "in particular any questions linked to security."

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John Heilprin contributed to this report from Bern, Switzerland.