British police on Monday removed a round-the-clock guard from outside the Ecuadorean Embassy hideout of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying it wasn’t “proportionate” to keep up the operation when no end to the three-year stalemate is in sight.
The Metropolitan Police said the force would still do its best to arrest Assange, who sought refuge at the London embassy in June 2012 while facing extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sex crimes.
The force said that because there is “no imminent prospect of a diplomatic or legal resolution to this issue” a round-the-clock police presence is “no longer proportionate.”
Ecuador has granted Assange political asylum, but he faces arrest if he leaves the embassy.
The head of Britain’s diplomatic service, Simon McDonald, summoned Ecuador’s ambassador to the Foreign Office on Monday to express “deep frustration” at the lack of progress in resolving the standoff.
The 24-hour police operation has been controversial in part because it is so costly. Police say the operation cost 11.1 million pounds ($17.6 million) through April 2015.
The police force said in a statement that Assange is still subject to arrest for jumping bail and holing up in the embassy while wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden. It said if he leaves the embassy, the force will “deploy a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him.”
In August, Swedish prosecutors dropped cases of alleged sexual misconduct against the 44-year-old Australian computer hacker, but still want to question him about accusations of rape made after his visit to the country in 2010.
Assange denies all the allegations and believes extradition to Sweden is merely the first step in efforts to bring him to the U.S. over WikiLeaks’ secret-spilling activities.
Swedish officials have held talks with Ecuador about questioning Assange at the embassy in London, so far with no result.
Earlier this year, Metropolitan Police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe said the force was reviewing the Assange operation because it was “sucking our resources.”