THE SECRETARY-GENERAL of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed Bernard Kouchner, the flamboyant French health minister, yesterday to head the UN's reconstruction in Kosovo, passing over the British contender, the retiring Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown.
The announcement ends weeks of jockeying among nations for the position. It became clear several days ago that the job would go to someone from the European Union, which will be providing most of the funding over several years fot the long task to rebuild the province and reintegrate Albanian refugees.
This is a sharp disappointment to Mr Ashdown, who had the double qualification of being a former Marines officer and a political heavyweight. His candidacy was always considered a long-shot, because the position of military leader in Kosovo, in charge of an expected contingent of 50,000 Nato soldiers, is already taken by a Briton, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Jackson.
But Mr Annan has chosen a Briton, Joly Dixon, Director of International Affairs at the European Commission, as one of four deputy-administrators. Mr Dixon will be in charge of the physical reconstruction of Kosovo, its homes and its civil infrastructure. The more senior post of principal deputy to Mr Kouchner was awarded to a veteran American diplomat, Jack Covey.
Jobs running the three other main elements of the reconstruction effort alongside Mr Dixon, 55, will be Dominique Vian of France (in charge of civil administration), Dennis McNamara of New Zealand (humanitarian affairs) and Don Everts of the Netherlands (political institution building). The appointment of Mr Kouchner, 59, to the most senior post is a victory for France, which had been lobbying intensely on his behalf. Mr Kouchner, a highly popular figure in France, was a founder of the two worldwide agencies, Medecins sans Frontieres and Medecins du Monde.
He is married to France's best known television anchor, Christine Ockrent, and rose to prominence in France in 1979 when he chartered a cargo ship, L'Isle de Lumiere, and took it with a group of doctors to the South China Sea to rescue Vietnamese boat people trying to make it to Hong Kong.
The job he is taking will be one of the most powerful in the history of the UN. Alongside General Jackson, he will act effectively as governor- general of Kosovo until the reconstruction task is over. That is a process that could take several years. He will be answerable only to the Secretary General and to the Security Council in New York. His resignation from the French government will be effective immediately.
In the end, Mr Annan was given a list of four official candidates by foreign ministers of the EU. They were Mr Kouchner, Mr Ashdown, Emma Bonino of Italy and the serving Environment Minister of the Netherlands, Jan Pronk. Many in New York had considered Mr Pronk the favourite.
Little-known outside Brussels, Mr Dixon rose to the top of the EU pile in the Eighties when he was appointed to the cabinet of advisers serving the then EC President, Jacques Delors. A quiet-spoken man, he was widely respected for his financial acumen and his role a decade earlier in building the European Monetary System.
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