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Apparent pressure from US costs Fust UN job

The US seems to have deprived Fust of the UN job

(Keystone)

Switzerland's Walter Fust has failed in a bid to become the next head of the United Nations World Food Programme, apparently after pressure from the United States.

Fust, who is director-general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), was on a shortlist of candidates vying to replace the outgoing James Morris of the US.

The UN announced on Tuesday that the post was going to US diplomat Josette Sheridan, currently an undersecretary in the State Department responsible for economics, business and agricultural affairs.

Founded in 1962, the WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million poor people, including 58 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's developing countries. The US provides more than 40 percent of the agency's budget.

Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger called the defeat of Fust "surprising, as he led Secretary-General Kofi Annan's shortlist".

The newspaper added that pressure from the US was thought to have been decisive.

Both the Tages-Anzeiger and the Geneva newspaper Le Temps said US President George Bush had called Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, to push for Sheeran.

Funding

The papers said Bush had made it clear that US funding for both the FAO and the WFP could be less generous if the US candidate were not accepted.

SDC spokesman Harry Sivec told swissinfo that with Fust, Switzerland had put forward a candidate with very good leadership qualities.

"He not only has the greatest experience on humanitarian aid but also has the widest connections.

"In Fust's favour was also that he was encouraged to apply by the incumbent, James Morris," he commented.

Critical voices have been raised about Sheeran's past as a long-standing member of the Unification Church, whose leader is Sun Myung Moon.

The Moon sect is known for its conservative political agenda and mass wedding ceremonies.

Sheeran has officially distanced herself from the sect but had previously worked for the Washington Times, which was set up by Moon in the 1980s.

swissinfo with agencies and Rita Emch in New York

Key facts

The UN's aim to halve the number of people suffering from hunger by the year 2015 is far from being realised.
According to the latest figures from the FAO, the number of people suffering from hunger and under nourishment has risen in recent years to about 854 million.
Of this figure, about 400 million are children.
The WFP says about 25,000 children die every day from hunger.

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In brief

The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization both have their headquarters in the Italian capital, Rome.

The WFP acts mainly in times of catastrophe or food crisis in areas where there is violence, for example in Sudan's Darfur region or Lebanon. It also works in the poorest countries, for example by providing meals to schoolchildren.

It is financed by donor countries, as well as by donations from businesses and private individuals.

The WFP budget in 2005 was $2.7 billion (SFr3.37 billion).

Switzerland supported the organisation in 2005 with $36 million, while the contribution of the US was $1.2 billion.

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