U.N. Afghan envoy to step down on schedule in March

10:20am EST

By Golnar Motevalli and Wojciech Moskwa

KABUL/OSLO (Reuters) – The top U.N. official in Afghanistan says he will step down in March when his two year contract is scheduled to end and has asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to find his replacement to ensure a smooth transition.

Kai Eide, a Norwegian career diplomat with long stints at NATO, started work as the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan in March 2008.

“I am not resigning… what I have done is to reaffirm that I do not intend to stay for a third year,” Eide said in a statement to Reuters.

He said he had underlined, when he was appointed, his intention to serve just two years.

“I have encouraged my superiors at UN headquarters to start the process of looking for a successor, since we cannot afford to have a vacancy.”

On Thursday, U.N. diplomats and officials said Ban and key Western powers were seeking a new U.N. envoy for Afghanistan to help lead the “civilian surge” U.S. President Barack Obama has promised will accompany an influx of 30,000 extra troops.

Relations between the U.N. mission in Kabul and other countries, especially the United States, have been strained since an August 20 Afghan presidential election that was marred by fraud.

Eide’s deputy, former senior U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith, was fired after accusing Eide of playing down fraud in the vote.

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