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Give Asia A Chance To Lead UN, Says Sri Lankan Envoy

By P. Vijian

KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 (Bernama) — Sri Lanka may be a small island state saddled with civil war for the past 23 years where more than 50,000 people have been killed but it harbours a lofty ambition.

It wants to lead the world’s largest decision-making body — the 60-year-old United Nations (UN) — by wresting the secretary-general’s post.

Sri Lanka has nominated its senior diplomat, Jayantha Dhanapala, who has some 36 years experience in international relations, to contest the most coveted and powerful position when it falls vacant after incumbent Kofi Annan completes his second term end of this year.

According to UN convention, it is Asia’s turn to lead the august body and for the moment, Dhanapala is expected to compete against two other Asian rivals — from Thailand and South Korea.

Dhanapala said Asia is capable of producing high calibre diplomats and ought to be given a chance to head the UN, with nearly 200 members.

"If you are looking for the most qualified candidate, then Asia is the most suitable candidate. Asia is rich in human resources because of its 50 per cent global population.

"Lots of ancient cultures have roots in Asia and we can produce as good diplomats as any other region. So it is slightly patronising to say that Asia has no best candidate," the 64-year-old envoy told Bernama on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement Coordinating Bureau Ministerial Meeting in Putrajaya recently.

Despite the prolonged civil war at home, which sickened its once healthy economy, displaced thousands of refugees and put the country under the global microscope, and the likelihood of strong censorship from the international community, Dhanapala is confident that it would not hamper his challenge for the top post.

"Sri Lanka is a country traditionally following a moderate stance in international affairs and has been a consensus builder. Coming from a small country, we think we fit the profile as the UN tradition is to take (the lead) from a small country. Big countries may have their own big agenda," he said.

In fact, the seasoned soft-spoken bespectacled Sri Lankan thinks that the domestic conflict would give him an edge to help handle conflicts, especially terrorism, a raging hot debate now.

"There are many countries which have conflicts affecting them. We have Northern Ireland that is unresolved, we have the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is unresolved, and in Spain we have Basques (separatist) problems.

"That does not disqualify a diplomat from that country from assuming responsibility in international organisations because the experience in dealing with terrorism in your own country gives you the necessary lessons which you can learn from and use for the future in conflict resolutions," he said.

He has a point. The other two Asian candidates too have their own problems at home.

Thailand is still grappling with its economically-deprived Muslim community’s rift in the south, a conflict which burst into violence last year, while South Korea’s candidate comes from a divided country, with nuclear-armed North Korea on the other end.

The contest is about six months away and diplomatic circles feel that it would be tough for Dhanapala to win the post, but he has stacked up his action plan if elected. Surely, reforms and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) top his list.

"There is a need to continue with agenda reforms which Kofi Annan has initiated and are approved by member states. We have to reform the institution to ensure that the Human Rights Council that has just been established is working smoothly, avoiding any pitfalls of the past.

"(We) must ensure that the peace building commission functions efficiently in order for countries saved from conflicts not to go back into conflicts again and that we reinforce the recovery programme by building institutions and giving them economic resources.

"But there must be more reforms within the secretariat itself. I have to ensure there is highest integrity and efficiency so that the UN can be a model for all countries in terms of an international civil service which does not tolerate any kind of dishonesty or inefficiency," he added.

Asked what extra credentials he has compared to the other two Asian rivals, the diplomat said the management experience he gained while working within the UN system would be the most precious asset.

"I have hands-on working experience within the UN system. I come from a small developing country for which MDGs are extremely important. I come from a country which has experience in terrorism so the urgent need for international cooperation to combat terrorism is something I feel deeply important," he said.

When Dhanapala was 17 years old, he penned "The World We Want" for an essay contest which won him a trip to the United States (US) in 1957 where he met US Senator John F. Kennedy and US president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

His distinguished career includes being a national and international diplomat, peace builder, disarmament expert and champion of MDGs.

Currently he is the senior advisor to Sri Lanka’s president and has held several senior positions in the UN, which include Director of the Geneva-based UN Institute of Disarmament Research, and was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN. Source: News Tip (IN BOX)

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June 5, 2006 - Posted by | Media Journalism, News, Press Release, South Asia, World News

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