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UN's New Afghan Envoy A Veteran Troubleshooter

Staffan de Mistura, when he was special representative of the secretary-general and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq last year
(RFE/RL) -- UN chief Ban Ki-moon has appointed as his representative in Afghanistan the veteran diplomat Staffan de Mistura.

Holding dual Swedish and Italian citizenship, de Mistura replaces Kai Eide of Norway from March 1.

His long career with the UN has taken him to many of the world's hottest trouble spots. During his 38-year career with the world body and its agencies, he has served in various capacities in Lebanon, Laos, Vietnam, Kosovo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Rwanda, among other places.

Now he has been appointed the secretary-general's personal representative to Afghanistan, and chief of mission there, at a moment when the international community is making a concerted effort to steer that conflict-ridden country into calm waters.

Ban announced the new appointment on January 27, on the eve of today's international conference on Afghanistan's future in London.

Ban said Afghanistan was at a "turning point" in its struggle for survival, indicating that de Mistura will be under particular pressure to focus and shape the UN role in Afghanistan according to Ban's vision.

Ban said today that in future, the international community needs to adopt a more balanced approach to Afghanistan. He said civilian strategy cannot be merely an "add-on to the military strategy."

Civilian organizations like the United Nations, and the military should retool their cooperation in their joint efforts to help the Kabul government bring about peace and development, he said.

De Mistura's appointment comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai seeks to shift emphasis of the Afghan conflict onto a diplomatic track.

Karzai's plan is to use incentives to reconcile with his government thousands of moderate rank-and-file Taliban fighters who may have drifted into the orbit of the militants for the lack of a clear alternative.

Afghan Hot Seat

De Mistura replaces Norway's Eide, who was thanked today by the secretary-general, who said Eide "has provided outstanding leadership over the past two years. Kai came to Afghanistan at a crucial moment and persevered through trying times. He helped to shape the international agenda in Afghanistan."

Nevertheless, despite the thanks, Eide's two years in Kabul shows the pitfalls that await the incautious foreign official in a situation as complex as Afghanistan.

Eide was accused by a U.S. subordinate, Peter Galbraith, of helping cover up massive electoral fraud in last year's presidential election, which gave Karzai a second term. Ban sacked Galbraith over the allegations, but Eide afterward announced he was stepping down.

De Mistura was born in Stockholm in 1947, and holds a degree in politics and economics from Rome University.

He has served for many years in the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization, during which time he organized the UN's first air drop of supplies in 1973, to Chad.

He was appointed special UN envoy to Iraq in 2007, where for almost two years he led a team of 1,000 staff. This was a period when the shape of a postconflict Iraq began to take on more clarity.

Since last July he has been deputy executive director for external relations of the Rome-based WFP.

with agency reports