S. Korean FM close to being UN leader

Updated: 2006-10-03 20:57

UNITED NATIONS - South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon said on Tuesday he bore "a heavy sense of responsibility" after an informal ballot that virtually assured he would become the next United Nations secretary-general.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon smiles as he meets reporters in his office in Seoul October 3, 2006. Ban was virtually assured on Monday of succeeding Kofi Annan as U.N. secretary-general, emerging as the only candidate without a veto in a final informal Security Council poll.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon smiles as he meets reporters in his office in Seoul October 3, 2006. [Reuters]
Ban, 62, will probably be named formally on October 9 in an official vote by the 15-nation U.N. Security Council after winning four straw polls, including a crucial one on Monday.

After the council's recommendation, the 192-member U.N. General Assembly is expected to endorse Ban as the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations since 1946 to replace Kofi Annan of Ghana, who ends 10 years in office on December 31.

"It is quite clear from today's vote that Minister Ban Ki Moon is the candidate the Security Council will recommend" to the General Assembly, China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters.

In Monday's Security Council straw poll, Ban got 14 positive votes, including from all the council's five members with veto rights-- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia. One of the 10 nonpermanent members abstained.

Although the vote was secret, the five permanent members had blue colored ballots while the other 10 had white ones.

Ban is known as a seasoned diplomat, who so far issued general statements in his public comments about the new job, which will involve political divisions between developing and developed countries and a reorganization of the bureaucracy.

Ban was appointed foreign minister in January 2004.

"He is the hardest-working person at the ministry," said one South Korean diplomat. "If you don't count his personal aide who has to be at his residence at 5:30 in the morning."

The diplomats say he is very popular within his ministry which also handles the trade affairs of South Korea, a country that has depended heavily on exports to lift it from the ruins of war in the early 1950s to rank as Asia's third biggest economy.

South Korea's campaign was expensive, with reports of pledges of aid, and extensive traveling to criss-cross the globe. In New York, Ban, with fluent but accented English, spoke at numerous forums but did not debate any of his rivals.

Shashi Tharoor of India, 50, who placed second in all four polls, withdrew from the race and told reporters that he had written to Ban to congratulate him. "It is clear that he will be our next secretary-general," Tharoor said.