The new United Nations secretary general expressed support Wednesday for New York City's goal of recouping nearly $18 million USin traffic fines owed byUN diplomats and members of the consular community.

Most of that debt came prior to a city crackdown four years ago on envoys who routinely were cited for illegal parking on city streets but rarely paid because of diplomatic immunity.

When asked what he would say to diplomats to get rid of the backlog, Ban Ki-moon said: "It is important for diplomatic officials who enjoy diplomatic immunities and privileges to abide by and comply with all necessary regulations in force in the countries where one is working."

According to the New York City department of finance, 99 per cent of the outstanding debt by the diplomatic and consular community was incurred before a 2002 agreement between the mayor's office and the U.S. State Department to help the city collect on the unpaid tickets.

The number of tickets issued to diplomats at the United Nations and consulates in New York has been dropping since the deal and as of late December had decreased by 94.4 percent, according to the city.

Walk to work, UN advises

UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq suggested a way for delegates to avoid the problem altogether— walking.

He noted that Ban has been walking to work from a midtown hotel while his residence is being renovated. "So maybe some people can follow his example."

Topping the Department of Finance list of countries owing the most was Egypt, racking up about $1.9 million in fines, followed by Kuwait with nearly $1.3 million. The Egyptian mission to the United Nations said no one was available for comment.

Ban's home country of South Korea, one of 177 countries that have yet to pay city fines, owes $17,000.

Delinquent countries have not gone unpunished.

As part of the 2002 agreement, the U.S. government has been withholding, in the form of aid, the amount owed by each country, plus 10 per cent on fines dating back to 1997.

Last year, two economists from Columbia and Berkeley universities examined which countries' diplomats had the most parking violations between 1997 and 2002.

Kuwait's nine diplomats topped the list with an average of 246 parking violations each. Rounding out the top10 list was Egypt, Chad, Sudan, Bulgaria,Mozambique, Albania, Angola, Senegal, and Pakistan.

Canadian diplomats had zero violations.