LONDON — Police officers who have been stationed for more three years outside London's Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were withdrawn Monday, officials said.
Assange took refuge in the embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault and rape allegations against two women.
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London's Metropolitan Police had stationed officers 24 hours a day outside the building, ready to arrest him if he left.
On Monday, the force said it was "no longer proportionate to commit officers to a permanent presence."
In a statement, it added that officers remained "committed to executing the arrest warrant and presenting Julian Assange before the court" and vowed to "deploy a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him."
"Despite the efforts of many people there is no imminent prospect of a diplomatic or legal resolution to this issue"
The cost of the police guards stationed outside the embassy earlier this year was estimated at £10 million (around $15 million).
Assange faces arrest for breaching British bail conditions if he leaves the embassy, which has been giving him sanctuary. The decision to withdraw the officers came after a “continual review” and “has not been taken lightly,” according to the Metropolitan Police, which said it discussed the move with the U.K.’s Home Office and Foreign Office.
“A significant amount of time has passed since Julian Assange entered the embassy, and despite the efforts of many people there is no imminent prospect of a diplomatic or legal resolution to this issue,” the statement said.
The force added it had to balance the interests of justice “with the ongoing risks to the safety of Londoners,” referring to the resources devoted to the constant watch over the building.
Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.