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Boutros-Ghali the protector promises fight to bitter end

Exclusive: United Nations chief determined to stand for re-election in face of hostility from US
New York - Casting himself as the indispensable protector of an institution bled of funding and credibility by its own member states, Boutros Boutros-Ghali said he intends to fight to the bitter end for a second term as the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Speaking to The Independent on the eve of the 51st UN General Assembly, opening in New York today, Mr Boutros-Ghali lamented what he calls the "neo-provincialism" gripping many world governments.

He made plain, for the first time, his intention to defy efforts by America to ditch him when his term expires in December, setting the stage for a bloody and drawn-out battle both within the General Assembly and the Security Council. It is a struggle that, in the view even of many of his friends, risks further enfeebling the UN when it can least afford it.

Appearing vigorous and animated in spite of his 73 years, Mr Boutros- Ghali defended his record, citing his "successes", ranging from the establishment of peace in Salvador and Mozambique to the adoption of a zero-growth UN budget and the holding of a series of world conferences on issues such as poverty and the environment. The debacles of the last five years, including the UN's aborted mission in Bosnia, were ultimately the responsibility of member governments, he claimed.

Since the Clinton administration announced in June that it would veto a second Boutros-Ghali term, the former Egyptian foreign minister has adopted a low profile.

He told The Independent, however, that he bridled at the suggestion that by not offering to stand down when his first term ends on 31 December he was risking further damage to the UN. "If I was convinced by this I would not hesitate to leave," he said.

"On the contrary, I believe that my departure would create more problems for this institution. Because you need the continuity at this particular period. We have begun a series of reforms; it is important if not to achieve them completely - it is a continuous process - then to achieve at least a certain amount of them."

He also rejected the argument that after five difficult years, at the end of which the UN finds itself effectively bankrupt with $2.9bn owed to it by delinquent member states (the US alone owes $1.6bn), the organisation would benefit from a fresh face at the top.

"I don't believe that this is related to a face, a new face or an old face," he said. "The crisis began 20 years ago. And the crisis is more related with the transition period in which we are living than with the face of the Secretary General."

Mr Boutros-Ghali, who throughout the interview in his 38th-floor sanctum atop the UN headquarters fiddled with a piece of tissue paper, rehearsed at length a theory that the world powers are struggling to cope simultaneously with establishing a new post-Cold War international order and adjusting to the new era of instant global information. In these circumstances, he said, governments have yet to define fully what the UN's new role should be.

He noted that a summit-level meeting of the Security Council convened by John Major, the British Prime Minister, in February 1992 coincided with a time of unprecedented confidence in the UN. "This organisation was at a peak and everyone was looking at the UN - the pendulum was extremely on one side. Now the pendulum is on the other side. This just proves that the international community don't know exactly what they want."

At the same time, he suggested many governments have taken their eye off world affairs. "You find this new-provincialism, neo-isolation. The great majority of the member states are not interested in international affairs. This is the real problem we face."

He acknowledged, however, that the member states were simultaneously battering the UN and its credibility by repeatedly using it as a scapegoat when international peace efforts go awry. "Who is damaging the UN?" he asked. "The member states. I am doing my best to defend the organisation, to explain how damaging it is for the organisation (to be made into a scapegoat)."

Mr Boutros-Ghali rejected accusations that he has not been strong enough in standing up for the UN when it has been given jobs beyond its capability by the Security Council. "On the contrary, that is why I have so many problems now, because I have been too ... independent." He insisted that ultimately he is the servant of the Security Council. "I have been firm very often, but once a decision is taken you have to carry it out. The UN has no army, the UN has no money, the UN has no infrastructure. We are borrowing everything from the member states so it would be useless to say no or not to obtain the agreement of the member states."

The UN floundered in Bosnia, he asserted, because it was asked to defend safe havens without the 34,000-strong force that he requested. (Eventually the UN force numbered just over 7,000). "The mistake was not only the number was not corresponding to the number we demanded, but that it took two years to get up to this number, and the soldiers came with very light armaments. It was a mistake ... of the international community."

Mr Boutros-Ghali flatly refused to address, specifically, the prospect that while the US remains opposed to him his chances of winning are, in effect, zero. Of the justness of his cause, he has no doubts.

"I believe that we have to try to defend this organisation and contain this terrible crisis. I want to be re-elected to be able to continue the reform."