Dictator's man is UN pick to oversee NZ rule

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2013
RALLYING SUPPORT: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks at the Opera House in Damascus.
Reuters
WAGING WAR: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

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New Zealand is reporting on how it runs a Pacific territory to a diplomat representing Syria's brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad, a situation labelled as "revolting and absurd".

Leadership on Tokelau, population 1300 on three atolls north of Samoa, will this week hold a meeting to discuss "the disturbances with New Zealand".

Tokelau, a colony since 1926, is one of 16 territories being pushed toward independence by the United Nations Decolonisation Committee.

Helen Clark's Labour Government tried to foist self-government on Tokelau, but in referendums in 2006 and 2007, residents said they wanted to stay with New Zealand.

Last week, the UN body unanimously re-elected Syria's representative to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, as its Rapporteur, which means he could insist on going to Tokelau and checking up on Wellington's rule.

The committee takes a close interest in Tokelau because of New Zealand's apparent willingness to send it on its own way.

Other territories, including Pitcairn, Gibraltar, Guam and the Falklands are regarded as unlikely prospects for any kind of self-government.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said a renegade government "murdering its own people" overseeing New Zealand's performance does not carry much credibility.

"It is a curious irony that what we are trying to do is determine a democratic outcome for Tokelau, and respecting the rights of their leaders, and the people acting for the UN are representatives of governments that have no democratic accountability."

Geneva-based UN Watch has objected to Ja'afari's appointment to the decolonisation committee.

"It is incomprehensible for the UN to say that Syria has killed at least 70,000 of its own people and to then hand this gift of false legitimacy to the mass murderer Bashar al-Assad," UN Watch director Hillel Neuer said.

Ja'afari has hailed the "exemplary" co-operation New Zealand gave to the committee and he noted that visits to Tokelau had been of "immeasurable value". Ja'afari's daughter Sheherazad works as a media consultant for al-Assad.

McCully would not comment on Syria's involvement but said Tokelau would remain a self-governing territory of New Zealand "for the foreseeable future, with support from the New Zealand Government".

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- Sunday Star Times

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