Boutros-Ghali's 'harsh' style under fire again: UN crisis deepens after dispute between Secretary-General and envoy to Somalia

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NEW YORK - The international community has reacted with outrage to the forced resignation of the United Nations special envoy to Somalia, Mohamed Sahnoun, and the setback to the hopes for peace and famine relief from the loss of a widely admired troubleshooter, writes Leonard Doyle.

The controversy over his departure, following a reprimand from the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, for his public criticism of the UN operations in Somalia, has reopened a debate on the harsh management style of the world's top diplomat and deepened the existing crisis of confidence in him.

Senior staff at the UN are close to open revolt with the Secretary-General because of his failure to delegate tasks and share important information vital to their work. Such is the cult of secrecy that has descended on the UN that even senior officials asked to write briefs for Mr Boutros-Ghali for meetings are only allowed to see internal documents in a special room. Even then they cannot photocopy documents and must sign in and out every time they review them.

In his relations with foreign dignitaries Mr Boutros-Ghali can be equally off-hand, not to mention rude, in the view of many diplomats. When the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, arrived for direct talks with the Greek Cypriot leader this week, he was incensed that, due to an error of protocol, only his name appeared on the appointments list, while Georgios Vassiliou was described as the President of Cyprus; so he boycotted the opening session. Mr Boutros-Ghali then gave him a 15-minute dressing-down, only to apologise the next day, saying that he was over- stressed, says a diplomat.

The general disenchantment with Mr Boutros-Ghali's style among senior UN staff is widely reflected among diplomats, even those who applaud his no-nonsense approach to cutting through the layers of bureaucracy in which the organisation likes to cocoon itself.

For many of Mr Boutros- Ghali's supporters in the West, Mr Sahnoun's resignation is particularly difficult to defend. Canada and Belgium have committed themselves to sending troops to Somalia to protect UN food distribution from looting, and they were depending on Mr Sahnoun's diplomatic skills to smooth the way for their arrival.

Yesterday the Africa Watch human rights group issued a blistering condemnation of Mr Boutros-Ghali's action against Mr Sahnoun, saying that 'bureaucrats in New York, embarrassed by Sahnoun's honesty', had got their revenge on him.