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In an interview to mark the launch of his book Resolved, former secretary-general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon has said that “India is lucky for me” and added “half of my heart belongs to this country”.
India was his first posting in 1972, when he was just 28 years old. In an interview to The Wire, he talked about the election in 2006 when he became UN secretary-general, and his closest competitor was Shashi Tharoor. However, he says, Tharoor did not have the close support of the Indian government, who were more interested in obtaining membership of the UN Security Council for India rather than helping Tharoor become secretary-general.
Ban also talked about his decision to appoint Vijay Nambiar, India’s former permanent representative to the UN, as his chef de cabinet. He explained that he has known Nambiar since 1972 and they are more than just colleagues – they are friends.
The interview also covered the Sri Lankan civil war, which reached its climax and ended in 2009 when Ban was secretary-general. During one of his conversations with President Rajapaksa on the phone, he said, “He [Rajapaksa] kept shouting at me as if he was speaking to his subordinates.” “I was very much angry but didn’t show my anger,” Ban continued. However, he said a few months later, when Rajapaksa visited the United Nations for the annual meeting of the General Assembly, “he apologised for that”.
When he visited Sri Lanka as secretary-general, shortly after the end of the civil war, “President Rajapaksa told me the government would accept accountability for its war time actions.” That never happened and, Ban added, “I was very disappointed.”
Speaking candidly about the UN response to the Sri Lankan crisis, which lasted several decades, and the civil war of 2008-09, Ban said the UN’s handling “was very regrettable”. Asked if the Security Council failed Sri Lanka, he said: “I think so. I agree. The Security Council failed Sri Lanka.” He also said the Council had failed Syria. He agreed that a UN internal panel which said “the whole UN system had failed” Sri Lanka was a very big black mark against the UN.
Explaining his close emotional connection to India, Ban said not only was this his first diplomatic posting, but his son was born in New Delhi and one of his sons-in-law is Indian. He also revealed that his daughter works at the UNICEF office in Delhi. She was transferred to Delhi just a month ago.
Ban said India is lucky for South Koreans and that has been the case for him as well. One of South Korea’s former prime ministers and five of its former foreign ministers have served in India, he added.
According to the former secretary-general, a comment in his Wikipedia entry that he accepted a posting to India rather than the US because he wanted to save money for his family is true. “My parents were not well to do and I had to be independent on my own … I wanted to save money for my own life, which I could do in India, rather than go to Washington, which would cost a lot of money.”