Former US foes Libya, Vietnam set for UN council

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 9 (Reuters) Libya and Vietnam, both viewed with repulsion at one time by Washington, are likely to be elected next week to the UN Security Council in a major boost for each country's standing on the world stage.

Neither will face a contest. Libya and Burkina Faso have been endorsed by the African Union for the two Africa seats that will fall due for the period 2008-2009 and Vietnam is also unopposed for the one vacant Asia seat.

The only problems they could face would be if they failed to win a two-thirds majority of the 192-state General Assembly in its October 16 vote.

But neither the United States, which foiled two previous Libyan bids to join the Security Council in the past 15 years, nor any other major country is expected to try to block them, diplomats said.

At stake, like every year, are five of the 10 nonpermanent seats on the 15-nation council, the powerhouse of the United Nations with the ability to send peacekeeping troops around the world and impose sanctions on specific countries.

Unlike the five permanent members -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China -- the nonpermanent members have no individual veto. But an alliance of seven of them can stop a resolution even if the big powers want it.

This year, there will be competition for the East European seat, which European Union member the Czech Republic and EU aspirant Croatia are fighting for, and for a Latin American seat disputed between Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

That could lead to several rounds of voting.

Elected countries will take up their seats on January 1 and the likely prospect of Libyan and Vietnamese ambassadors doing that will underscore just how much the diplomatic picture has changed in the post-Cold War era.

Libya, in particular, has only recently rehabilitated itself in Western eyes from the country that once allegedly sponsored terrorist groups and organized the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Scotland that cost 270 lives.

The case led to UN sanctions on Libya, but under a gradual shift of course by leader Muammar Gaddafi, it eventually turned over suspects and admitted civil responsibility. Also key was Gaddafi's 2003 decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction programs.

BULGARIAN NURSES Just three months ago, Libya ended a diplomatic standoff by freeing five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor held since 1999 on charges Western countries ridiculed of infecting Libyan children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In a speech to the General Assembly last week mainly aimed at pushing the Security Council bid, Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam said Libya would seek ''permanent solutions to international problems based on justice, transparency and respect for the principles of international law.'' Further raising Libya's profile will be its hosting of talks, scheduled to start on October 27, on ending the 4-year-old conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

Vietnam has been mending fences with Washington for longer than Libya, setting aside memories of the day in 1975 when US diplomats helicoptered out of Saigon as Hanoi's troops moved in to end the Vietnam war.

Although Vietnam retains its one-party communist system, the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1995 and have exchanged presidential visits.

In his September 27 speech to the General Assembly, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam ''will work closely with other countries to reduce tension, prevent and peacefully settle conflicts in different parts of the world.'' Vietnam's entry to the Security Council would put it alongside fellow East Asians China and Indonesia, a grouping that could be significant if the Myanmar crisis continues to occupy council attention.

Vietnam has never been on the Security Council before, while Libya served previously in 1976-1977, but some human rights and democracy groups say neither deserves a place now.

The nongovernmental International Steering Committee of the Community of Democracies urged ministers gathered in New York for the General Assembly last week to vote against them.

A statement expressed ''deep concern that nondemocratic countries such as Libya and Vietnam are standing for election ... whilst continuing to commit serious human rights violations.'' Countries that will leave the Security Council on December 31 are Congo Republic, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovakia. Remaining on it are Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa.

Reuters SG RS2018

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