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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 13:37 GMT
UN's man in Kabul faces uphill struggle
Francesc Vendrell arriving in Kabul
Francesc Vendrell has ambitious plans for Afghanistan
Francesc Vendrell is the UN official who has been given the unenviable task of trying to persuade Afghanistan's rival factions to form a broad-based coalition government.

The United Nations' deputy special representative to Afghanistan was the first foreign diplomat to arrive in Kabul after the departure of the Taleban.

My role is to push the various Afghan groups to co-operate with each other, to forget about the past and to realise that they now have a very narrow window of opportunity

Francesc Vendrell

Getting the rival factions to reach agreement at the negotiating table will be a delicate and lengthy task.

But 61-year-old Mr Vendrell - a native of the Spanish province of Catalonia - is no stranger to working in areas where long-standing conflicts have had to be resolved.

Northern Alliance guards
Guns have dominated Afghan politics for 25 years
The career diplomat, who does not enjoy the spotlight of publicity, has worked for the UN since 1968.

He has spent the last eight years working on Asian issues - and was deputy head of the UN mission in East Timor at the time of the independence referendum in 1999.

He also played a key role in UN missions in Central America - taking part in the negotiations which ended 30 years of civil war in Guatemala.

New hopes

Mr Vendrell - who is a lawyer by training - originally took on the role of the UN secretary general's personal representative to Afghanistan in February of 2000.

UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi
Lakhdar Brahimi negotiates with Afghanistan's neighbours
That was when Lakhdar Brahimi resigned from his post as UN special representative, saying that Afghanistan's neighbours and the Taleban were making a mockery of his efforts to bring peace to the shattered country.

Mr Vendrell continued where Mr Brahimi had left off, trying to broker peace between the Taleban and the Northern Alliance.

But when the events of 11 September added a new dimension to the UN's role in Afghanistan, Secretary General Kofi Annan re-appointed Mr Brahimi as his representative, and Francesc Vendrell took up the role of deputy.

BBC UN correspondent Greg Barrow says Kofi Annan's move was not intended to reflect on Francesc Vendrell's abilities.

He says the situation in Afghanistan had changed and that Mr Brahimi, who spent many years negotiating with the Afghan factions, was re-appointed to take advantage of a new mood of hope for progress.

Knocking heads together

It was Mr Brahimi who set out a plan of action to create a multi-ethnic broad-based government for the first time in decades in Afghanistan.

While he has been negotiating with neighbouring governments and representatives of Afghan factions outside the country, Mr Vendrell has been engaged in forging links between the diverse factions within Afghanistan.

Northern Alliance tank heading for Kabul
A new government is still a long way off
"I think my role is to knock heads together a little bit, to push the various Afghan groups to cooperate with each other, to forget about the past and to realise that they now have a very narrow window of opportunity which didn't exist before and may not exist for much longer," Mr Vendrell said.

He seems under no illusions about the difficulties that lie ahead.

But, he says, unless the Afghan people choose their own future in this way, any government will be vulnerable to violent challenges to its legitimacy.

With fighting still going on in Afghanistan, Mr Vendrell's plan is a long way from becoming a reality.

But the UN's man in Kabul, who is often described as a natural diplomat, firmly believes that the past experience of vicious civil war could make Afghan leaders willing to share power, rather then repeat the carnage of the 1990s.

See also:

13 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN envoy outlines vision for Kabul
16 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN warns former Afghan leader
11 Oct 01 | South Asia
UN's new peacemaker
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