UN job: Tsunami chief, peacemaker or secretary general?
NEW YORK - Bill Clinton as the new peacemaker in Sri Lanka? Whatever
happened to the Norwegians?
When the UN announced last week that the former US president had
been selected as Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for
countries affected by the tsunami disaster, Clinton was expected
to bring "energy, dynamism and focus" on post-tsunami
reconstruction efforts in south and south-east Asia.
his role as a new-found peacemaker -- apparently with no prior consultation
with Sri Lanka -- came as a surprise.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard was quoted as saying that Clinton would
most likely be called on to "facilitate peace negotiations"
in the longstanding political disputes between governments and rebel
forces -- specifically in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
was expected "to make political advances with the rebel movements
in those two countries" and "capitalise" on the willingness
of the rebel groups to cooperate with their respective governments
to rebuild their devastated regions.
great, but was the UN really trying to "capitalise" on
Clinton in order to seek a mediator role for itself in the separatist
disputes in both countries?
Clinton's political reach, however, was not intended to extend to
two other tsunami-affected countries: India and Thailand. Perhaps
because the disputed territories of both those countries had no
direct impact on current post-tsunami recovery efforts.
Indonesia nor Sri Lanka has sought any UN assistance to resolve
their domestic disputes. Nor has India or Thailand.
India is so sensitive to any UN role in Kashmir that, on more than
one occasion, the government has politely turned down Annan's request
even for routine visits to New Delhi on the grounds that the "time
is not appropriate" for such visits by the secretary-general.
Even on his recent tour of tsunami-affected countries last month,
Annan was forced to skip India.
than 24 hours after its announcement of Clinton's appointment and
his possible role as a peacemaker, the UN retracted its statement.
Asked why the UN changed its mind on Clinton's original mandate,
Eckhard said: "That was just my mistake and I apologize for
that." To a follow-up question whether the UN was pressured
to make the change, he said: "No. That was just my misunderstanding
of the mandate."
this may not be the final chapter in the continuing saga. When the
government advised Annan against visiting LTTE-controlled Mullaitivu
last month, it was obviously not being honest in its justification
for blocking his trip. The government told the secretary-general
that it could not guarantee his safety, among other things.
no one in the government made a public statement on the real reason
for keeping him out of Mullaitivu: if the secretary-general visited
Mullaitivu he would have provided legitimacy to LTTE-controlled
territory in violation of the country's national sovereignty.
The government may have advised Annan in private but it was not
forthright with the public.
who takes over his new assignment in March, is expected to visit
all of the tsunami-affected countries. What would be the government's
reaction if he decides to visit Mullaitivu? That would be a great
photo-op for the LTTE leader. But will the government and the foreign
ministry be forthright this time?
Meanwhile, Clinton's appointment has also revived speculation that
he may be a candidate for secretary-general when Annan completes
his second five-year term in December 2006, thereby undermining
Asia's chances of fielding a candidate for the job.
Clinton appeared before the UN General Assembly on the eve of a
growing sex scandal in the Oval Office of the White House, the 191
member states gave him a standing ovation -- thereby delivering
a slap in the face of his political opponents who were trying to
By all accounts, Clinton has been one of the most popular US presidents
within the precincts of the UN, as much as the current president,
George Bush, is one of the most reviled.
Clinton's popularity does not make him a candidate for the job of
secretary-general. According to a longstanding tradition, the post
of secretary-general would NOT go to a national of a country which
is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council -- the
US, Britain, France, China and Russia.
At a political level, the secretary-general is a servant of the
191-member states and only the chief administrative officer of the
world body. He is at the political mercy of member states -- and
former Nigerian ambassador once told reporters that he was at a
conference in Africa when one of his friends told him: "I was
in New York recently, and I met your boss."
"My boss?" retorted the Nigerian ambassador. "Yes,"
said his friend, "I met Secretary-General Kofi Annan."
secretary-general is NOT my boss," the Nigerian envoy shot
back. "I AM his boss." And that was a statement of fact
not known to many outside the perimeters of the UN. If, in the unlikely
event, ex-president Bill Clinton becomes secretary-general, would
he be willing to take that political insult from his own ambassador
at the UN?