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UN panel head says world body must adapt to becoming a target

UN panel head says world body must adapt to becoming a target

The head of a U.N. panel looking into security risks said Thursday the United Nations must adapt to becoming a target of attacks, especially following the bombing of the U.N. offices in Algeria.
"Our flag that used to be a protection is becoming now a target. And I'm not sure whether we have really absorbed that reality and acted on it," veteran Algerian diplomat and U.N. troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters.
"People question the independence of the United Nations. They say, 'It's taking sides.' A lot of people are _ some rightly, some not rightly _ angry with the United Nations," he said.
Brahimi was appointed panel chairman by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this month. Ban created the panel in response to the twin truck bombings in Algiers that killed 17 U.N. staff and at least 20 other people on Dec. 11. The Algerian government had initially opposed a U.N. investigation, saying it was investigating.
Brahimi suggested he had worked out a deal with the Algerian authorities.
"My understanding now is that they are fully on board," Brahimi said. "The Algerians and the U.N. have been victims of this terrorist attack, and they have both the same interests in understanding what has happened, why it has happened, and how to protect themselves in the future."
An al-Qaida-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the deadliest single attack against U.N. staff and facilities since 2003. The world body's headquarters in Baghdad was hit by an explosives-laden truck in August that year, killing the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others, most of them U.N. staffers.
Brahimi, who served as Algeria's foreign minister from 1991 to 1993, played a major role in helping put together the interim government in Iraq that took power in 2004 after the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam Hussein. In South Africa, Brahimi helped oversee democratic elections that brought Nelson Mandela to power. He also was U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, and chaired another U.N. panel on peacekeeping.
Brahimi promised a vigorous examination of U.N. security issues in Algeria and elsewhere over the next six weeks, and said that his personal ties to that nation would not bias the panel's work but would work to the U.N.'s benefit.
"The panel will first take a close look at what happened in Algiers, and see what immediate lessons there may be for us," he said. "I happened to have been in Algiers when that incident took place, and my sister lives not very, very far from the place where the U.N. has been attacked. So I have a little idea of what actually happened on the 11th of December."
The U.N. Staff Union wrote to Ban saying it has serious doubts about the U.N.'s determination to hold someone accountable for the Algiers attacks. The union said it was never consulted about the choice of Brahimi for the panel.
The union has called 2007 one of the deadliest years ever for U.N. staff, with 42 killed while on duty.
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Ban would not comment on the panel before a report on its work is completed, which is expected within about two months.
"The secretary-general thinks that Mr. Brahimi has always been a very objective observer of situations and certainly is highly qualified to lead that panel," she said.
Previously, the staff union complained that the U.N. had failed to follow through with the recommendations of a security officer killed in the attacks in Algiers. A top U.N. development official said last month the Algerian government ignored a plea from the U.N. for roadblocks and tighter security eight months before the bombings.
Beyond Algiers, Brahimi said, the review would include inspections at major U.N. hubs such as Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. He said he has "full sympathy" for the staff union's concerns and fears, and is open to their ideas.
"Are we going to be able to apportion blame?" he asked. "We will definitely not hide it."
Brahimi also named the rest of the six-member panel: Elsayed Elhabbal, a colonel in Egypt's security forces; Anil Gupta, a retired Indian police official; M. Umit Pamir, a former Turkish ambassador; Thomas Sibande, a retired South African defense official; and Margareta Wahlstrom, a former U.N. humanitarian official and special envoy to Afghanistan.


Updated : 2021-05-16 02:18 GMT+08:00