- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

BEIRUT — The United Nations should find ways to demonstrate political independence, regain the neutrality it lost after the September 11 attacks and better communicate with the world’s 1 billion Muslims, a top U.N. official said yesterday.

Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program, also said the Arab region, compared with other parts of the world, is stagnating and governments must institute reforms if they want to compete in the global economy.

Mr. Malloch Brown was on an official trip to Lebanon, where he met with President Emile Lahoud yesterday.

The UNDP chief said the Aug. 19, 2003, suicide bombing on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 23 persons — including U.N. representative Sergio Vieira de Mello — forced the world body to question whether it had compromised its neutrality.

While saying “broadly we don’t believe we had,” Mr. Malloch Brown added that the bombing was “indicative of the fact that in this highly polarized post-September 11 world, this sort of ‘with us or against us’ mentality which has infected both sides has dramatically reduced the space for a neutral third force like the U.N. to operate.”

“We have to find ways of regaining that space and making sure that what we do in Iraq is seen as for Iraqis, not for outside forces angling for advantage over the political process,” Mr. Malloch Brown said. “We’ve somehow become detached from that.”

After the attack on the U.N. post, Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered all U.N. international staff to leave Iraq. On Friday, new U.N. envoy Ashraf Jehangir Qazi arrived in Baghdad to set up the international body’s first official presence there since the attack.

The UNDP administrator said the lessons learned from the Iraq experience go beyond Baghdad. For example, more than 100,000 people demonstrated in Sudan earlier this month against a Security Council resolution giving Sudan 30 days to stop Arab militia violence in the western region of Darfur — where more than 30,000 people have been killed — or face economic and diplomatic penalties.

“This polarization is affecting us everywhere,” Mr. Malloch Brown said. “All of it is a steady erosion of the independence of the U.N., and I feel very strongly that we are failing to communicate with a billion Muslims in the world in an effective way.”

He said the world body is in a “spiral of increasing security” that is widening its gap with the Muslim world.

The United Nations should be neutral, Mr. Malloch Brown said.

For example, in the 1990s, when the Taliban movement was still an Afghan opposition group, the United Nations had contact with them “because it was important that you talk to all sides,” he said.

“A lot of that space has got crushed because what ultimately is a highly localized set of confrontations between groups embracing violence, confronting international actors in their own country.

“[This] has been turned into this single alleged global struggle between something called al Qaeda and the coalition,” he said.

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