OSLO - NORWAY has demanded an explanation from the United States after a television documentary said its embassy had conducted illegal surveillance of hundreds of Norwegian residents over the past decade.

According to the TV2 News channel, the US embassy in Oslo employed between 15 and 20 people, including former high-ranking police officers, to monitor local residents in a bid to ward off attacks on US interests in the country. The surveillance had been going on since 2000, said the report.

Embassy-hired employees photographed people taking part in demonstrations and added their names and personal data to a special computer database, SIMAS (Security Incident Management Analysis System), TV2 reported. If the report is correct, the embassy conduct would constitute a violation of Norwegian laws.

The Norwegian foreign ministry said it had held a meeting with the US embassy Wednesday to try to find out what had taken place. The ministry had asked for information on whether Norway had ever been informed about the surveillance programme and what it involved, ministry spokesman Marte Lerberg Kopstad said in a statement.

'The meeting did not clarify these matters much. It is therefore important that we now get all the facts on the table,' she added. Speaking to reporters, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere meanwhile refused to speculate on the accuracy of the TV2 report but said 'if Norwegian laws were broken it is serious.'

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told TV2 that Norwegian authorities had been informed in advance about the surveillance activities, but later told journalists they may not have known everything. Officials in the Scandinavian country insist they knew nothing about what was going on.

US embassy accused of spying