Ashdown set for UN role in Bosnia

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The Independent Online

Paddy Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, is set to make a high-profile return to public life as the new UN High Representative in Bosnia.

Sir Paddy has been selected as the European Union's candidate for the Sarajevo-based post and is understood to have informal backing from the United States, Japan and Canada, The Independent has learnt.

With only Russia yet to finalise his appointment, the 59-year-old former MP is expected to be confirmed as the new representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina by September.

Sir Paddy, who would serve for two years, would replace Wolfgang Petritsch, an Austrian diplomat whose own contract with the UN ends in the autumn of 2002.

His nomination, which was enthusiastically backed by Tony Blair, follows months of speculation that he was being lined up for one of several international posts in the Balkans.

The EU's foreign ministers have agreed to Sir Paddy's nomination and it will now go formally before the steering group of the contributing nations in Bosnia before final agreement. The post was seen as ideal for a politician who has both a military background and a long interest in the complex affairs of the Balkans.

A former Marine and commander in the Special Boat Squadron, Sir Paddy has repeatedly criticised British, European and UN policy in the region. He was a constant thorn in the side of John Major as the West vacillated over Bosnia in the early 1990s.

As early as 1992, he insisted the UN should have used its power to stop or limit the war in the former Yugoslavia and called for air strikes to prevent the Serb shelling of Bosnian towns and the enforcement of safe havens. Sir Paddy, who is due to take up a seat in the House of Lords soon, undertook several fact-finding missions as Sarajevo was besieged by the Bosnian Serbs from 1992 to 1995.

He subsequently warned of the need to combat the Serbs in Kosovo and was influential in persuading Mr Blair to lead the Nato action to tackle persecution of the Albanian majority in the province in 1999.

Sir Paddy has long been an advocate of international intervention in places such as Kosovo and East Timor, where international law and political and military practicalities allow it. "I can confirm that I was asked if I would be prepared to be the EU's candidate for this job. I said I would be delighted to do it," Sir Paddy told The Independent last night.

"There are formalities to be completed, but if they are then it is a post that I shall look forward to filling when Mr Petritsch leaves next year."

Sir Paddy had been tipped to replace Bernard Kouchner, the UN's administrator in Kosovo. However, Hans Haekkerup, a former defence minister of Denmark, took over the post earlier this year.