Subject: Asia Times: UN turns deaf ear to disgruntled diplomat on UNTAET

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

Asia Times January 23, 2002

UN turns deaf ear to disgruntled diplomat

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - Malaysian diplomat Nagalingam Parameswaran has expressed disappointment that the United Nations has "closed the chapter" on his allegations that the institution was racist, and that his duties as chief-of-staff at the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) had become "a white mission, an Eastern mission with a Western face".

Parameswaran also charged that the real issues detailed in his resignation letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had been underplayed, while the "racist issue" took center stage. This meant that real problems with the mission were allegedly left unaddressed.

"My letter is not fiction. I took three months to write that letter [of resignation] and I have all the statistics and facts to back it up," said Parameswaran. "In the reply I received, they told me, 'Thank you' for my involvement with the refugees and the peace process in East Timor, but [of the issues] they said that the secretary-general was concerned with several frustrating aspects of my services at UNTAET, and that was all'."

While Parameswaran expressed dismay at the fact the UN appeared to want to forget the matter, those left at the mission portrayed the former chief-of-staff as a disgruntled and frustrated employee. According to the UN Wire, UNTAET deputy head Dennis McNamara called Parameswaran's allegations "totally unbased and erroneous". McNamara was quoted as saying, "I think the criticism is intimately linked to his personal frustration, since as chief-of-staff, he never had the necessary competence to carry out his functions". And a senior United Nations official reacted strongly late last week to charges the UN's peace-keeping mission in East Timor is dominated by white people and Westerners. "Let me tell you that I found the charges unfortunate and blown out of proportion in many ways," said Under-Secrey-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of UNTAET.

In his letter of resignation, the Malaysian diplomat criticized UNTAET for becoming a "white mission". Vieira de Mello noted he is a Brazilian national and that his other three senior officials were from Malaysia (until Parameswaran's resignation), New Zealand, and Thailand. Vieira de Mello released a breakdown of staff by nationality showing that, of the 107 nationalities represented on the international staff of UNTAET, 22 percent were Europeans, 21 percent were from the Americas, 21 percent from Asia, 19 percent from Africa and 17 percent from other countries, in particular Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Vieira de Mello said he had succeeded in maintaining a "geographical balance" in UNTAET. "I find it difficult to be more balanced than that,'' he said, adding that the mission would maintain its balance as it downsizes.

On Monday, Parameswaran downplayed the racist angle, saying the "white mission" issue had become a "smokescreen". Instead, he said, his complaints with the UN had to do with the workings of the mission itself, and likened his stint in East Timor to working in a "mafia", where nepotism allegedly ran rampant.

Last week, the New Straits Times of Kuala Lumpur quoted Parameswaran as saying, "I haven't received or heard anything from the UN. I don't think there are people [who agree with me] who would write similar letters like I did, because they are worried about their jobs. But I can [afford to do it], because I have a job to go back to." He also said that UNTAET had "internal problems" that reeked of "an intolerable" level of interference. "When you have co-equals in the chain of command, and people who have been there for a shorter period of time interfere with key policies, it becomes very difficult," he said.

With his resignation, he said, there were no high-level Asians represented in the mission. "Malaysians are the best people really to interact with the East Timorese because they know Bahasa Melayu [the Malay language]. But there are more whites in this UN mission than any other I have known of in all my years with the United Nations," he added. Parameswaran had appealed for a UN investigation of his charges. After all, he said, "Doesn't the UN uphold multiracial, multicultural and multireligious principles?"

However, Parameswaran's appeal has, according to him, yet to bear any fruit. "The irony is that, since my letter, nobody has contacted me and asked me to substantiate my claims. It makes me angrier that they seem to think it's a joke. It seems that everything just ended with the flight I took out of Dili," he told the New Straits Times. "I have told my employer that these are the problems, but the employer couldn't care less. So that means I have just wasted my time actually writing the entire letter."

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the explanation offered by Parameswaram justifies his decision to quit his UN job., but he said he would reserve final judgement until he got more details.

Vieira de Mello said he was taken aback by some of the "extreme comments and criticisms" in the Malaysian newspapers. "I think [the comments] were over the top, they were unfortunate, and certainly did not reflect Parameswaran's own thinking."

Jose Ramos-Horta, Nobel Laureate and Foreign Minister of East Timor, acknowledged Parameswaran's "hard work in East Timor" and commended him for his sensitivity towards the East Timorese people. But he refused to be dragged into what he called "public mudslinging".

"It is unfair to call the UN mission in East Timor a white mission, because many people from many nationalities have worked very hard here," he said.

UNTAET was established by the UN Security Council in October 1999 to oversee the independence of the former Indonesian colony, and monitor the elections for the creation of a new state. East Timor held its UN-supervised general elections in August of last year. Vieira de Mello said that UNTAET is preparing for presidential elections scheduled for April 14 and the appointment of members to the Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation.

Meanwhile, Parameswaran told the New Straits Times he looks forward to going back to work in Wisma Putra. "It's so nice to be back to normalcy, where you will be able to do your duties in a system that really works."

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