15 OCTOBER 2008


When favoured Belgian Ambassador Verbeke did not show up in Beirut for months, it was eventually announced that he was reappointed in Tiblisi to oversee the U.N. mission in Georgia. Although the reason for his pre-empted Lebanese mission was mentioned as personal security, no one went into details. Nor would we, although reports from Beirut abound. Many Lebanese were disappointed that someone from a friendly country like Belgium would not only hesitate to take over, but absent himself from an internationally agreed occasion like the ceremony of electing a new unifying President. An embarrassing U.N. Secretariat confusion could have been overcome with the attendance of the outgoing Belgian Ambassador to the U.N. But apparently, no one at U.N. Headquarters follows up such matters consistently or seriously.

That is water under the bridge. But what about the Georgia appointment? Two months after its announcement, Mr. Verbeke was still in New York "preparing ground" for contacts during the G.A. session. Instead of keeping quiet about another embarrassment after the Beirut no-show, a "hot-air" story in a main Brussels daily proclaimed the Belgian diplomat as The Right Hand of Ban Ki-moon on Georgia.

While Mr. Ban has been trying to move into extremely delicate territory, that Right Arm has not been visible.

It is generally agreed that the timing is very crucial, for the Secretary General, the U.N., and international peace. In reporting to the Security Council, Mr. Ban indicated that recent developments had changed the context in which the U.N. has operated for the last 14 years.

"There is, as yet, little clarity about the future status of the areas where the U.N. observer mission, known as UNOMIG, operated the security zone where no military presence was permitted, the restricted weapons zone where no heavy weapons could be introduced, and the Kodori Valley, Mr. Ban stated, adding: "Under these circumstances, it is too early at this stage to define the role that UNOMIG may play in the future." The Secretary General said he has received formal word from both sides that they support the continuation of the mission, but he said differences between the two would have to be addressed. Therefore, the Secretary General was recommending a four-month technical extension of the 400-strong U.N. mission until Feb. 15, to explore "whether and how it is possible for the United Nations to follow up on the support of the two sides for the continuation of United Nations involvement."

With such crucial issues at stake, it is time to ask where Mr. Ban's Right Arm is, now that the Left one seems about to be lost.

More to the point on accountability. Is Mr. Verbeke still an official U.N. appointee? And, if so, WHO is PAYING his salary? Under what pretext?