The hit team is at it again. Only its members can't shoot straight. They do it with ambush. The drill is by now too obvious. It is not only "the good cop bad cop" tactic. It is more like the "Japanese are coming" followed by "I thought you knew." To absorb the shock after the immediate blow, the Under-Secretary-General is temporarily placated by a visible appearance, like a prominent seating in a widely covered Security Council meeting or a trip abroad following which he is expected to travel into the sunset and "leave the driving to us."

The most recent case involves Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala. By all counts, the former ambassador to Washington from Sri Lanka has done an outstanding job during his four years tenure gaining consensus support. His performance became increasingly recognised to the point that his name was mentioned as a possible candidate to be the next Secretary-General from Asia. It must have been then that the daggers were stealthily drawn, awaiting the right moment. With smiles all round praising his great achievements, rumours started circulating about other candidates supposedly interested in replacing him. One of those mentioned, a permanent representative of a permanent member of the Security Council ridiculed the talk stressing that if interested he will seek a substantively political department particularly that no one from a nuclear power would qualify for a disarmament task. A parallel track was to maintain contact with the Sri Lanka Foreign Minister who suddenly announced that he himself is candidate for the Secretary-Generalship; he and the Chef de Cabinet discussed dates for a get acquainted visit by the incumbent to the land of Tamil tigers in order to demonstrate his political acumen (and undercut his compatriot).

However, that seemed to be too cumbersome (and needless) track. Why not use the surefire Japanese angle? After all, Mr. Riza is an expert in that field, having started his career under the Japanese wings that sheltered him from a 1980 incident which need not be detailed at this time. He has always tried to return the favour and scout available posts. Now since Japanese Under-Secretary-General Kenzo Oshima will be going home upon his request for personal reasons to devote more time to his devoted ailing wife, the Japanese will not replace him but will seek the Disarmament job. On the one hand the Japanese public is genuinely interested in the subject unlike Emergency Relief or Public Information which were mainly ploys by the hit team. On the other hand the Japanese will no more be committed to rush to the rescue of every disaster relief operation.

So, while Disarmament staff were expecting their boss to stay until the end of 2003, they were surprised to know that he will be leaving by early summer. The replacement is already decided. He is ambassador Abe, who, to be fair, is an experienced diplomat familiar with United Nations work. The main shortcoming of Jayantha Dhanapala seemed to be that he has done too good a job.