- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | The top U.N. official in Afghanistan said Friday he would not renew his contract when it expires in March after a two-year tenure marred by controversy over his handling of the country’s fraud-marred presidential election and a deadly attack on U.N. workers.

Kai Eide, a Norwegian diplomat, said he was not stepping down but has asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to start searching for a replacement.

“I’m not resigning,” Mr. Eide said in a telephone interview. “It’s a question of telling New York that I’m not renewing my contract.”

Mr. Eide’s tenure was tarnished by allegations from his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, that he was not bullish enough in curbing fraud in the August presidential election, which eventually awarded a second term to incumbent Hamid Karzai. Mr. Eide denied the charge and said controversy over the election was not linked to his decision not to renew his contract.

“The election controversy was between Peter Galbraith and the rest of the international community,” he said.

“Kai Eide is sticking to the timetable that he outlined when he took the job in March 2008,” said Dan McNorton, a U.N. spokesman in Kabul.

Mr. Eide leads the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which coordinates the U.N. operation in the country. The U.N. mission is still reeling from a pre-dawn assault Oct. 28 on a guesthouse in Kabul where dozens of U.N. staffers lived. Gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed inside. Five U.N. workers were among those killed.

In response, the U.N. in November sent about 600 foreign staff out of the country or into safer quarters inside Afghanistan. The decision followed a drawdown of U.N. operations in neighboring Pakistan. The U.N. said the workers were only being temporarily relocated, but the decision raised questions about whether the world body could operate effectively in the region with war raging on both sides of the border.

Mr. Eide, who previously served in senior U.N. positions in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that he would serve out his two-year term and only wanted to give U.N. headquarters time to find a replacement. “I don’t want there to be a vacuum,” he said.

Gareth Price, head of the Asia program at Chatham House, a think tank in London, said Mr. Eide’s position was weak from the start.

“Before he got the position, there was a suggestion there should be someone stronger who could knock heads together in Afghanistan,” Mr. Price said.

There was no immediate comment from Afghan or U.S. officials.

In northern Afghanistan on Friday, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg visited Kunduz province, where a Sept. 4 air strike believed to have killed many civilians caused deep anger in Afghanistan and political turbulence in Berlin. German officials have said they plan to negotiate compensation for relatives of the victims.

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