Ambassador Lakhan Mehrotra

Director, United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, Jakarta Office, 2000-present
Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Cambodia, 1997-2000
Served as Ambassador of India to the USSR, Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka and other nations

1 April 2002

I feel deeply honoured to join in a tribute to His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on his birthday anniversary.

Mr. Kofi Annan conferred on me the privilege of working as his Personal Representative in Cambodia from 1997 to 2000. Subsequently, I have been asked to continue as the Head of the UN’s office in Jakarta under the aegis of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor. I have, therefore, had the opportunity of meeting the Secretary-General a few times during the last five years. Every time it has been an encounter with greatness.

When I arrived in Cambodia in July 1997, guns were booming for control of the Pochentang airport, and the city of Phnom Penh itself, by the military arms of political parties locked in combat.

The streets were totally deserted except for men in arms, shops were closed, school-going children were all confined to home, political leaders were fleeing the land, the National Assembly was closed and the lives of people were enveloped in fear all around. The UN Secretary-General’s mandate to his personal representative was clear and unambiguous. Cambodia must return to the path of peace and democracy, for which the UN had worked so hard for a decade. His messages to His Majesty King Sihanouk, then in Beijing, to Prince Ranariddh in Paris and to Mr. Hun Sen in Phnom Penh were pregnant with deep concern for the people of Cambodia, who he thought had suffered enough and must not suffer more.

Mr. Kofi Annan personally kept himself very close to developments in Cambodia until peace was restored, political leaders were persuaded to return to Cambodia in safety and freedom, elections were held again for a new National Assembly and a government representing the will of the people formed. During the elections, he called upon the people of Cambodia to vote freely and fearlessly, and the King joined the Secretary-General in appealing to them to return to the polls in large numbers. In the event, 90 per cent of them did.

Every time I met Mr. Kofi Annan, I saw his eyes laden with that pain of the suffering humanity. No wonder he has made reduction of their poverty the theme of his life and the care for the rights of women and children his clarion call. He places his heart wherever there is poverty and suffering and senseless conflict.

For the large masses of humanity living in misery and poverty, he is all the time seeking freedom from want, freedom from disease, freedom from fear and freedom from conflict, as his Millennium Report so eloquently bears out.

While his heart is full of boundless compassion, Mr. Kofi Annan has a frame of steel. Even in seemingly hopeless situations, he never gives up hope and moves across the globe in search of solutions from one arena of conflict, devastation and death to another almost tirelessly. Underneath his bonhomie and diplomatic finesse, one also notices in the Secretary-General a sure capacity to take stern decisions and to drive his point home in conflictual situations. Here is a visionary with his feet firmly fixed on the ground.

We all felt elated when Mr. Kofi Annan won the Nobel Prize, but he took it with due humility, characteristic of him, and then passed the credit for his achievements and for the enormous effort behind to his associates and colleagues in the United Nations, who shared the honour with him. All this makes him bear his heavy mantle lightly.

As a colleague and an associate, I convey to the UN Secretary-General our hearty greetings and our wish for many happy returns of the day.