UN chief defends dismissal of official

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, has defended his sacking of a top UN official who accused the organisation of turning a blind eye to fraud in the Afghan elections. Mr Ban denied that the UN's handling of the poll had tainted its credibility and advised Abdullah Abdullah, the defeated presidential challenger, to "let bygones be bygones".

Peter Galbraith, the UN's deputy special representative in Afghanistan, was removed from his post in September after publicly accusing the UN mission in Kabul of covering up the extent of vote-rigging in the 20 August first-round elections. The row reflected international divisions over propping up the discredited Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. This week, Mr Galbraith described the Karzai victory as a "fiasco" that undermines Afghanistan's nascent democracy.

But arriving in London yesterday from Kabul, Mr Ban hit back, saying that the UN had done everything to minimise fraud and accusing Mr Galbraith of risking the "integrity" of the UN's chain of command by going public with his allegations.

"I do not accept any such claims that the UN has been closing our eyes to fraud," Mr Ban said, adding that Mr Karzai's second-term presidency was lawful. "This [victory] is legitimate. That is why I welcomed it. That is why Gordon Brown, President Obama and many other leaders congratulated [Mr Karzai]."

The South Korean UN chief denied he had sacked Mr Galbraith over the issue of whether or not there had been fraud, but rather because the American diplomat had argued with the Norwegian head of mission, Kai Eide, for a reduction in the number of polling stations. "Fraud could not have been prevented in the way Mr Galbraith had insisted. He insisted that since there would be fraud, to prevent fraud we must reduce the polling stations, which [would be] tantamount to depriving the Afghan people of their basic voting rights. If there was no election, there would be no fraud."

But suggesting that Mr Galbraith's public airing of the matter was a challenge too far, Mr Ban added: "Even if there were some internal debate, that should not come out to the public knowledge. To preserve the best interests and integrity of the Unamis [UN mission in Afghanistan] I had to dismiss him. That was the main reason."

Mr Ban said Dr Abdullah should now put any "sour feelings" to one side. "Let those bygones be bygones. That's the way for him and his government to work together."