Sunday, January 29, 2006

UN Secretary General contenders square off at Davos, January 2006

AFP on contenders to succeed Kofi Annan as Secretary General, debating at Davos, January 26, 2006:

Contenders for UN's top job face off at Davos

Agence France-Presse
26 January 2006S

Some of the contenders touted to replace UN chief Kofi Annan set out theirstalls when they faced off at a debate here on the future of the worldbody.

Joining Annan on stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,were Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moonof South Korea and senior Sri Lankan diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala.

All three promised to continue sweeping UN reforms, with Vike-Freiberga in particular lashing the make-up and influence of the Security Council's fivepermanent, veto-wielding members.

Annan, who took office on January 1, 1997, ends his second term next year, and Asia believes the UN tradition of regional rotation means it is owed the next turn at the helm.

While it is considered undiplomatic to campaign for the post, Annan drew some laughter by acknowledging the jostling. "I understand several membersof this panel may be interested in the position," he quipped at the end of his opening address.

They did not shirk either when asked what their top priorities would be if they became UN chief on January 1, 2007.

Vike-Freiberga said the international community must intervene faster and more efficiently in humanitarian crises, as it did after natural disasters.

"When these are acts of man that are responsible, as we are now seeing inDarfur, the reaction is not nearly as swift or as great," she said, referring to the ongoing crisis in the Sudanese region.

South Korea's Ban listed deep-rooted reforms -- a process already begun by Annan -- as a top priority.

"It's high time that the UN should change, adapt itself to cope with all the changes" of an increasingly globalised society.

Sri Lanka's Dhanapala also cited UN reform but pleaded notably for better understanding between the developed and developing worlds.

"There's a very serious need to address the North-South divide," he said.

The end of the Cold War had brought down the East-West barrier and "we do not want to have it replaced by a North-South" rift.

He cited the response to the devastating December 2004 tsunami as symbolic of how the developed world could help poorer nations.

Vike-Freiberga argued for "radical" UN reform that would include a debate over whether the five permanent Security Council countries -- Britain,China, France, Russia and the United States -- should have their powers curbed.

"The UN is made up of 191 members. We still have five who have a veto, and without their approval nothing can move. Is it really proper for five to have such an important say and if so, are these the right five?"

She said other nations "look with alarm on the chances of ever sitting on the Security Council as the years roll by, and it simply never happens."

South Korea's Ban called for closer cooperation between the United Nations and public and private sectors and institutions, giving all a "stake" in how the organisation acts. Despite best intentions, "the international community has not been able to maintain momentum," he added.

Taking up that theme, Dhanapala lamented a "paralysis" that had prevented the UN reaching a consensus on weapons of mass destruction.

"We need once again to inject a sense of urgency" over the issue, he added, saying there were around 27,000 nuclear warheads around the world. "

As long as states have nuclear weapons, other states will also want to acquire them."

01/26/2006 06:37:26 PM EST
Copyright © 2006, Agence France-Presse

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