Only viable UN leadership candidate faces probable French veto


MR KOFI Annan of Ghana, the UN official in charge of peacekeeping, yesterday emerged as the only viable candidate so far in the race for UN secretary general, but he still faces a possible veto from France.

The Security Council conducted three unofficial ballots yesterday and two on Tuesday, with Mr Annan ending up as the only candidate to get more than the required nine votes. But each time the votes against him included one by a permanent member, which diplomats said was France.

Paris envoys were backing the Ivory Coast Foreign Minister, Mr Amara Essy, a former president of the General Assembly, who remained in second place, ending up with six votes. He was opposed in each ballot by two council members with vetos, which diplomats said were the United States and Britain.

The Security Council President, Mr Paolo Fulci of Italy, said another vote would be taken and added: "No conclusive result has yet been reached, and therefore the straw poll goes on for the four names that you already know." He also said no new names had been submitted so far.

Diplomats said the next step might be high level discussions to persuade France to change its mind or possibly to throw the race, open to an Asian nominee.

The other two candidates in the balloting, Mr Hamid Algabid of Niger, secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and Mr Ahmedou OuldAbdallah of Mauritania, a former UN special envoy for Burundi, at no point achieved the required nine votes. Both also were opposed by the United States and Britain, envoys said.

The vote at the end of the fifth round of balloting was:

. Mr Annan - 11 in favour, 4 against, including one negative vote from a veto bearing permanent member.

. Mr Essy - 6 to 4, including two negative votes from permanent members.

. Mr Algabid - 3 to 9, including two negative votes from permanent members

. Mr Ould Abdallah - 2 to 10, including two negatives votes from permanent members.

The contest is rapidly developing into a test of wills between the United States and Britain against France.

Mr Annan, the undersecretary general for UN peacekeeping operations, speaks French and has worked for the UN in Geneva and studied there. But he does not come from a French speaking country and is widely considered the candidate favoured by the United States.

France is believed to resent the US veto last month of Dr Boutros Boutros Ghali, who obtained the support of all 14 other council members in a vote in which he was the sole candidate.

Washington says the UN needs new leadership to carry out reforms. It also favours a candidate whose command of English could influence not only the largely English speaking press corps in New York but also a sceptical US Congress.

Paris not only championed Dr Ghali's election for an initial five year term in 1991 but was widely perceived as having used its influence to ensure his victory by outmanoeuvring other council members, including the United States and Britain.

Although Dr Ghali suspended his candidacy on December 4th and did not figure in the balloting, he has not withdrawn from the race.