Sun, Feb 18, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Ambassadors back UN secretary-general

APPEASEMENT Some ambassadors had been angered by the way Ban Ki-moon pushed certain UN reforms, but he seemed to have won most of them over on Friday


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon picked up support for his proposed reforms on Friday, dropping a proposal to downgrade the UN disarmament chief and providing details on his plan to split the overburdened UN peacekeeping department.

Ambassadors emerging from a closed-door meeting with the UN chief on Friday were much more positive about his reforms than they were after an initial meeting on Feb. 5 -- but Ban still faced questions about the chain of command in the field in UN peacekeeping operations with two departments instead of one.

Ban, who took over as UN chief on Jan. 1, was confronted with a barrage of questions when he presented the proposals and was criticized by some ambassadors for trying to push them through quickly -- without going through the normal committee and budget procedures in the General Assembly.

"I think the atmosphere is clearly much better," Pakistan's Ambassador Munir Akram, head of the powerful Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, said after Friday's meeting.

Germany's UN Ambassador Thomas Matussek, whose country holds the EU presidency, said "everybody supports the secretary-general" but many ambassadors expressed "a certain dissatisfaction" with the way the proposals were presented "and said they expect from him more transparency in the future."

In his speech to envoys from the 192 UN member states, which was released to reporters, Ban said: "I have taken account of your concerns and revised my proposals." He said he would also submit the reforms for full General Assembly consideration.

Ban initially wanted to merge the important UN departments dealing with political affairs and disarmament, both currently headed by undersecretaries-general, but was forced to abandon that idea because of opposition from developing countries.

He then agreed to keep the portfolios separate, but proposed that the Department for Disarmament Affairs become part of the secretary-general's office and be headed by a high representative with the lower rank of assistant secretary-general. That also drew widespread opposition, from developing countries as well as some developed countries who viewed the proposal as downgrading disarmament.

"Having heard strong views from member states," Ban told the ambassadors on Friday "I am ready to propose that the high representative would be appointed at the rank of undersecretary-general."

Ban said the high representative would report directly to him and be part of the top policy decision-making process in the UN Secretariat -- which would be a new and upgraded responsibility for the disarmament chief.

"The fact that he intends to keep it at undersecretary-general level certainly goes to dispelling ... some of those misgivings now," said Japan's UN Ambassador Kenzo Oshima. "And the fact that the secretary-general takes disarmament issues more closely into his hand is a move for the better in terms of strengthening the UN involvement on disarmament issues."

Pakistan's Akram said he expects the General Assembly to adopt a resolution broadly supporting the disarmament plan "very soon" as Ban requested.

But Akram said he would reserve judgment on the proposal to create a Department of Peace Operations and a Department of Field Support, both headed by undersecretaries-general, until after a committee meeting next week.

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