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Peacekeeping reforms rejected

Developing nations at the U.N. viewed the plan as a setback to disarmament efforts.

February 06, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon faced one of his first tests Monday when developing nations sent him back to the drawing board with his plan to restructure the U.N.'s peacekeeping department.

The setback could foretell troubles for the new secretary-general, who faces the task of reforming the U.N. at a time when its peacekeeping demands are growing in nations such as Sudan and perhaps Somalia.

But his desire to do it quickly, without the ritual rounds of consultations, has revived long-standing tensions between rich and poor countries on a topic that is vital to developing nations, where most of the world's conflicts are occurring.

The developing countries fear that Ban's changes could endanger peacekeeping troops and make disarmament affairs less of a priority.

Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram, who represents a group of 114 developing nations, said Ban would have to win consent from two committees and submit to more consultations before his group could approve the proposal. His statement served as a warning to Ban, as well as to nations such as the United States and Russia, that reform will not be quick.

"He must understand: The ambassadors are not his staff," Akram said. "When he asks for our opinion, he must show that he is listening."

Akram said that the way Ban handled his first high-profile restructuring would set the tone for the rest of his reform program. "If he pushes hard and he fails, then the rest of his agenda goes off the rails," he said.

Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan, faced similar resistance from developing countries and from the United States, which had its own vision for changing the world body. Ban, a self-described "harmonizer," had hoped to avoid divisions and jockeying.

Stung by the initial rejection, Ban pleaded for the cooperation of all 192 member nations during a closed-door General Assembly session. "Every one of you has the right to be listened to, whatever the size of your country or budget, whichever hemisphere you call home," he said.

Ban singled out peacekeeping and disarmament as the U.N.'s most fundamental and urgent areas of activity, and said they must be updated swiftly. The U.N. has 18 peacekeeping operations, with about 100,000 personnel in the field.

The U.N. peacekeeping apparatus "is dramatically strained and overstretched," Ban said. Improving peacekeeping, he added, is "a matter of life and death to millions of people who depend on us."

Ban's proposed reforms would lower the rank of disarmament affairs, but make it more directly accountable to the secretary-general through a Department of Political Affairs post expected to go to the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, B. Lynn Pascoe. Ban also would separate the policy and planning of peacekeeping from the side that supplies troops and equipment.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro D. Wolff said that Washington supported Ban's efforts and wanted to avoid debating the issue "indefinitely."

"It is his responsibility to deliver a Secretariat that is responsive, that does its work well, that is efficient, that is transparent," Wolff said. "We hold him accountable for that and therefore we ought to give him the authority to do the necessary changes."

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he hoped the process did not stall in endless meetings. "Various views were expressed, but I think there is a general feeling that we want to support the secretary-general," he said.

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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