UN to remove Kabul envoy over election row

US diplomat Peter Galbraith (photo) will not be returning to his post at the UN mission in Afghanistan following a dispute with his boss over how to handle the country's fraud-tainted election, a UN official has said.


AFP - UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday sacked the deputy UN special envoy to Afghanistan, who has been embroiled in a dispute with his boss over the country's fraud-tainted election.

"The secretary general has decided to recall Mr Peter Galbraith from Afghanistan and to end his appointment as the deputy special representative for UNAMA," a UN statement said.

But Ban hailed Galbraith's "important contributions to the work" of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and "his distinguished career as an international civil servant."

Differences between Galbraith, an American, and the UN special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, over how to deal with fraud allegations after the elections became public earlier this month when Galbraith abruptly left Kabul to return to the United States.

"I could not be complicit in a cover-up," Galbraith said in an interview with National Public Radio.

He said his differences with Eide centered on the listing of so-called "ghost" polling stations in parts of the country that were so dangerous that would never open, and sharing UN information on fraud with the Afghan electoral commission.

Galbraith's removal was seen as a blow to US status in Afghanistan, and a victory for President Hamid Karzai, who had been under pressure from US officials to deal with endemic corruption.

"The US has a lot at stake in Afghanistan, not only in terms of soldiers who are dying fighting the Taliban but also in terms of prestige," said Haroun Mir, of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies.

"It's a setback for the election and a big loss for the Afghan people because Eide is concerned only about being seen to be a success. It's all about the process, but the process has already lost credibility," he said.

Diplomatic sources in Kabul said when the dispute became public that Galbraith and Eide, a Norwegian, differed in their approach to dealing with the allegations of widespread fraud tainting Afghanistan's August 20 election.

An anonymous UN official in Kabul described Galbraith as more aggressive in his approach to dealing with the allegations, principally aimed at Karzai, who leads preliminary results with almost 55 percent of the valid vote.

Karzai's nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah -- who has been loudest in accusing Karzai of orchestrated vote-rigging -- trails at around 28 percent.

"If (Galbraith's departure) was based on the fact he was for a vigorous look into the issue of fraud, he was talking on behalf of the people of Afghanistan," Abdullah said.

About 10 percent of the ballot is being recounted and audited, in the hope of having a final result by October 7, officials close to the process say.

The UN official in Kabul said Eide favored the status quo while Galbraith preferred other options such as a total recount to counteract the fraud allegations that have caused Western support for Karzai's government to plunge.

Galbraith has worked for the United Nations in Timor, was US ambassador to Croatia, a senior adviser to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and a legal adviser to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

His removal coincided with a meeting at the White House Wednesday of US President Barack Obama and his military, political and national security aides to discuss the way ahead in the Afghan war.

The Taliban insurgency has escalated in recent months, making 2009 the deadliest year on record for the more than 100,000 international troops under US and NATO command in Afghanistan.

In western Farah province -- which has recently seen escalating Taliban infiltration -- 22 insurgents were killed in a massive operation Tuesday by Afghan police and army, backed by coalition forces, the interior ministry said.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said one US soldier was also killed Wednesday in eastern Khost province by a remote-controlled bomb.

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