The organisation that manages the Internet's technical core on Wednesday said it was running tests to determine whether countries can register web addresses in their own language, an option expected to further boost the Internet's global appeal.

  But the move was not without risk, as misapplication of the feature could result in the web breaking up into unlinked components, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said.

An increasing number of users from different countries have been requesting the right to register domain names and online addresses such as .uk and .fr - in their native languages, in order to open up access to the Internet to users who cannot write in English, said participants in a four-day UN forum on Internet governance, held in the southern Athens suburb of Vouliagmeni.

ICANN on Wednesday said it was conducting laboratory tests to see whether it would be possible to accept internationalised domain names (IDNs), and was expecting to reach a resolution by the end of 2007.

"The Net is now expanding in countries where people are not familiar with the Latin alphabet," Nitin Desai, special advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Internet governance, said.  "There is a lot of pressure for the internationalisation of domain names from countries such as China," he said.

"We are now in the final stages of a very complex process," said Paul Twomey, president and CEO of ICANN, a non-profit corporation that has managed the Internet’s domain names since 1998.  "If we get this wrong, we could very easily and permanently break the Internet," Twomey said in a statement.

Were this to happen, users typing the address of a website would get a different result depending on their geographical location, experts at the forum warned.

Even if successful, the project will require more debate to determine whether ICANN or the countries themselves should manage these new adddresses, said Patrik Faelstroem, a senior consulting engineer at Cisco Systems and a member of the Swedish government's IT policy and strategy group.  "We have to find a standard that makes people as little unhappy as possible," he said.