Boutros-Ghali Suspends Candidacy

UNITED NATIONS -- In a surprise move, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali suspended "temporarily" his candidacy for another five-year term, opening the door for other Africans to vie for his job.

But he insisted he was still in the race. "I am asking [the Security Council] not to vote on my name until I will present my name," he told reporters late Wednesday. "I am still a candidate and I am still the only candidate from Africa." His term expires Dec. 31.

Nevertheless, the announcement by the council president, Paolo Fulci of Italy, that the United Nations secretary general "intends to suspend his candidacy for the time being" immediately led to conflicting interpretations on the bizarre proceedings.

Most Western diplomats -- except for France -- believed the 74-year-old Egyptian diplomat was elegantly preparing the way for his withdrawal in light of a U.S. veto against his re-election, the first time a sitting secretary general has been opposed for a second term.

The envoys said he did not want to be blamed by Africans for denying the continent another five-year term by keeping his name in the race forever. At the same time, they said he could not withdraw and let down his many supporters.

So far, no other candidate has been nominated to contest the election, already jolted by a Nov. 19 U.S. veto against Boutros-Ghali on the only secret ballot so far held by the council. The 14 other members supported him.

Diplomats from France and several African states insisted Boutros-Ghali was firmly in the driver's seat and was just stepping aside for the moment to see how events evolved.

Other envoys said he was keeping himself in reserve in case the process became deadlocked and the 185-seat General Assembly, which supports him, would have to step in.

For American Ambassador Madeleine Albright, widely tipped to become the next U.S. Secretary of State, the announcement apparently meant Boutros-Ghali was now out of the race.

She noted that Salim Salim, now the secretary general of the Organization of African Unity in 1981 suspended his candidacy for secretary general after a series of U.S. vetoes against him.

After that she said he was "never again voted on and Secretary General Perez de Cuellar was selected." She added, "We consider it a natural next step that will allow us to choose a new secretary general." For France, however, the new situation presents a dilemma. Paris has steadfastly supported Boutros-Ghali, 74, the former acting foreign minister of Egypt, a law professor and author.

At the same time, Boutros-Ghali's action means Paris is also searching for a replacement, preferably an African from a French-speaking country, diplomats said. So far only two francophones have been mentioned. They are Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Amara Essy, who was a former UN General Assembly president but speaks halting English; and Senegal's Foreign Minister Moustapha Niasse, who would be vetoed by China unless he breaks his country's ties to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

A long-shot candidate is Hamid Algabid of Niger, secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

On the so-called anglophone side, Kofi Annan, the UN undersecretary general for peacekeeping from Ghana, is the most familiar to delegates.