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France holds out against Ghanaian as successor to Boutros-Ghali

December 13, 1996 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ France stood alone Thursday in opposing U.N. peacekeeping chief Kofi Annan for the post of secretary-general, and French diplomats were reportedly urging other Africans to enter the race to deny victory to the U.S. favorite.

But council sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, discounted the possibility of new candidates and that efforts were focused on convincing France to change its mind.

The 15-member Security Council met for a third consecutive day of informal voting to decide who will succeed Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali after Washington vetoed the Egyptian for a second term.

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Thursday’s voting _ involving four African nominees _ was secret. But diplomatic sources said Annan, 58, won 14 votes on the second of the two ballots, with only France voting against him.

Even Egypt, a non-permanent member, supported Annan, even though Boutros-Ghali officially remains in the race.

As one of the five permanent council members, France could veto Annan in an official balloting. The other permanent members are the United States, Britain, China and Russia.

France’s favorite, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Amara Essy, won seven votes with four opposed, including two permanent members, presumably the United States and Britain.

A candidate must win nine votes with no veto to be elected, and Essy has never managed to claim more than seven. The two other candidates _ former Niger Prime Minister Hamid Algabid and former Mauritanian Foreign Minister Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah _ are fading.

Council members can vote for more than one candidate in the unofficial balloting. By winning 14 votes on the second round, Annan showed broad support, including from Egypt, Botswana and Guinea-Bissau, the three African council members.

British Ambassador John Weston said he was ``encouraged″ by Thursday’s balloting, presumably because of the strong support for Annan.

Diplomats from two other countries, who asked not to be identified by name or nationality, said the major problem now was to find a ``face-saving way″ for France to drop its opposition.

Nevertheless, diplomats said the French were insisting privately they will not budge. They said the French were discreetly urging other candidates, including former Ugandan Ambassador Olara Otunuu, to enter the race.

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But Otunuu is now a citizen of the Ivory Coast, Essy’s country, and so another government would have to agree to submit his name to the council. Otunuu, a former Fulbright scholar, heads the International Peace Academy in New York.

France has insisted the next secretary-general speak French. Annan speaks French, but comes from an English-speaking country, Ghana.

In Paris, a French diplomatic source said France does not believe Annan has the ``stature″ needed to push through reforms of the world body. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Despite widespread respect for Annan, many diplomats and U.N. officials believe a secretary-general from the ranks of U.N. civil servants would not have the clout and independence of someone selected from a member government. In the world body’s 51-year history, only Javier Perez de Cuellar has risen from U.N. ranks to become secretary-general.

This is an important consideration for countries resentful of the domineering position the United States plays in the organization.

But France also appears to be paying Washington back for blocking a second term for Boutros-Ghali, whom France had supported. Washington’s unilateral move to oust Boutros-Ghali generated considerable bitterness against the United States and its blunt-speaking ambassador, Madeleine Albright.

German Ambassador Antonius Eitel said the process appeared stalled for the time being as long as members with veto power ``stick to their positions.″

In theory, Boutros-Ghali, 74, could revive his candidacy if the council is deadlocked. But that appears out of the question.

The council must choose a new secretary-general and forward the name to the 185-member General Assembly before the end of the month.