UN chief to appoint Haiti cholera panel

An expert scientific panel will be appointed to investigate the origin of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, says the United Nations secretary general.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon touched on a wide range of subjects including Haiti, WikiLeaks and the Ivory Coast elections in a year-end speech in New York on Friday. ((Associated Press))

An expert scientific panel will be appointed to investigate the origin of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, says the United Nations secretary general.

Details of the independent panel, which will include world-renowned microbiologists and epidemiologists, among others, will be rolled out as soon as possible, Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York on Friday in his year-end speech.

"We want to make the best efforts to get to the bottom of this outbreak and get the answers the people of Haiti deserve."

Since it emerged in late October, the disease has spread throughout much of Haiti, killing 2,535 people and sickening 114,497more. The UN says up to 650,000 people in Haiti could get cholera over the next six months.

There is widespread belief in Haiti that UN peacekeepers from Nepal are the source of the disease. A French epidemiologist, who studied the outbreak on behalf of the Haitian and French governments, came to the same conclusion.

In his wide-ranging speech Ban also touched on the recent elections in the Ivory Coast. Ban said Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo must step down and hand power over to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

The United Nations declared Ouattara the winner in a run-off election last month. But the pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council has rejected the UN-certified results and insists Gbagbo won the vote.

Gbagbo's attempts to hold onto power and remain the country's president "cannot be allowed to stand," Ban said.

On the subject of the WikiLeaks cables, Ban said these types of documents should be preserved in secret for 30 years.

WikiLeaks Cablegate will "make very difficult the normal operation of business, particularly in the diplomatic world," he said.

On July 25, 2010, WikiLeaks published nearly 77,000 secret U.S. military and intelligence documents that revealed new details about the war in Afghanistan, including the close relationship of the Pakistani military with Afghan insurgents.

On Nov. 28, 2010, the site began publishing more than 250,000 leaked United States embassy cables. WikiLeaks says the documents show how the U.S. kept tabs on its allies and on the UN, turned a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses in states it supported, and how U.S. officials described foreign leaders.

Ban was coy when asked by a reporter whether he will run for a second term. "I will address this issue some time next year," he said.

2011 will be the last year before Ban's likely re-election. So far there are no other candidates for the job and all the previous secretary-generals have always been re-elected for a second term, except one — Boutros Boutros Ghali. 

Meanwhile, a small group of supporters gathered outside Canada's mission to the UN, shouting, "We're here to celebrate Canada."

They came to thank Canada for its tough stand on Iran's human rights record and for raising that issue in a resolution at the UN this year.