Peter Apps

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s candidate for UN Secretary General said yesterday he believed his expertise on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction made him the best person to succeed Kofi Annan and deal with Iran.

Jayantha Dhanapala, former head of the Government’s peace process with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is one of three Asian candidates hoping to take over the top UN job at the end of the year.

"Weapons of mass destruction and disarmament have been one of my areas of work," he told Reuters in an interview at the Foreign Ministry. "With the Iran issue now coming up, I think you would have to have someone with the knowledge of the issues to work towards a peaceful solution."

Dhanapala, a former diplomat who also spent 10 years with the United Nations, five as undersecretary general, said his experience as a native of a developing country that had experienced a conflict was also important.

"You need to have somebody who has been in a country like Sri Lanka, which has experienced terrorism and conflict, to draw from lessons learnt," he said.

Achieving the millennium development goals, which set targets for reductions in poverty and child mortality, was key for the world in the next decade, he said.

"It remains a strong indictment of the international community that we have over a billion people who live on under a dollar a day," he said."If the living standards of these people can be improved … we will have a diminution of many other connected problems … whether it is on issues of human rights, environmental issues or other issues that worry the world."

While not all countries agree, Dhanapala said he believed it was Asia’s turn to take the secretary generalship, and that with Africa sharing the same opinion, at least 107 countries out of 191 favoured taking someone from Asia.

"It is not laid down in the charter," he said. "But practices are important … and finding a qualified Asian is not exactly a needle in a haystack operation."

The five permanent members of the Security Council, Britain, the United States, China, France and Russia, could veto any candidate but Dhanapala said he did not believe there would be a reason to do so against him.

"By and large the secretary general, if he follows the resolutions adopted by the Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly, is on safe ground," he said. "If he wants to take initiatives, then it will have to be those that are proposed by the membership."

For whoever takes over from Annan, reform of the United Nations will be top of the agenda. The UN agency system is seen by some as needing an overhaul, and most countries say that, in principle, the security council also needs to be altered.

"It is widely accepted that the SC does not represent the power realities of today," he said. "Asia represents 60 per cent of the global population. We have only one member of the continent, China, as a permanent member. "I think Europe is over-represented and there clearly has to be a greater balance and an increase in members from other parts of the world." -Reuters