- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Qazi probe continues

NEW YORK — The internal investigation into possible wrongdoing in the United Nations’ Iraq office won’t be finished for another week or so, but it appears senior diplomat Ashraf Jehangir Qazi will be cleared.

“We have been informed that the [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report will be finished during the course of next week and transmitted to the secretary-general,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday after days of questioning by reporters.

“OIOS has been able to assure us that Mr. Qazi will be cleared of any wrongdoing,” Mr. Dujarric added. “The secretary-general has, as you know, expressed his full confidence in Mr. Qazi throughout this difficult process, and he reiterates that today. And fuller comments would not be appropriate until the full report is received.”

The investigation, which U.N. sources say involves accusations of skimming money from election-assistance funds, allowing vehicles to go missing and exhibiting a preference for Pakistani job candidates, appears to have been completed very quickly by OIOS standards. A U.N. official indicated that the complaints, lodged by a disgruntled staffer, were considered more of a nuisance than a lead.

The U.N. spokesman’s office said the report probably will not be made public, but might be shared in an edited version, with member states that request a copy. As of Thursday, no U.N. mission had sought one.

Impatient in Africa

The Security Council agreed last week to extend the peacekeeping mission on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border only a month, with a firm warning to both governments that it is considering downgrading the effort to an observer mission.

Frustrated diplomats indicate they are ready to pull the plug entirely.

Council members have been at a loss regarding the peacekeeping mission, which was established in 2000 but has been compromised by Asmara’s interference and Addis Ababa’s refusal to let international observers map the boundary on the ground.

The Ethiopian government has refused to carry out the 2002 decision of the international Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, an independent group that awarded several key towns to Eritrea. The Eritrean government has turned up the heat in recent months by harassing staff working for the peacekeeping mission, demanding that European, Russia and U.S. personnel be relocated, and even grounding U.N. flights. Troop-contributing countries have watched in anger as sick or injured peacekeepers were evacuated by road.

The council resolution calls for Ethiopia to “take immediately concrete steps to enable, without preconditions, the Commission to demarcate the border.”

Eritrea, for its part, was told to “reverse, without further delay or preconditions, its decision to ban U.N. helicopter flights, as well as additional restrictions imposed on the operations” of the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE). Diplomats have expressed concern that their efforts may achieve little by the May 15 deadline. U.N. political analysts also are frustrated.

“I leave Ethiopia and Eritrea the way I found them in 2000,” Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy to the two countries, said in his farewell press conference last week.

The standoff vexes observers and diplomats, who note that the boundary areas contain sparsely populated villages with no natural resources and say gritty substance farming is not worth fighting over.

Ethiopia, which has the greater military capability, is unlikely to resume fighting unless attacked by Eritrea, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told The Washington Times recently. He noted that if UNMEE was unable to do its work because of Eritrea’s restrictions, “they could close it down.”

Mr. Meles said his government accepts the border commission’s findings, but could complete the process only after talks with Eritrea, which has been less clear on its position.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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