The U.N. General Assembly Friday approved the nomination of Japanese professor Sadako Ogata as head of the U.N. agency in charge of the world's 15 million refugees.

Ogata was selected by Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to replace Thorvald Stoltenberg, who resigned Nov. 2 after serving less than a year to become foreign minister in the Norwegian government of Prime Minister Gro Brundtland.Ogata, 63, will begin her three-year term on Jan. 1 as chief of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which has its headquarters in Geneva.

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Yoshio Hatano thanked the 159-nation assembly for approving Ogata and pledged Japan's continued support for U.N. efforts to assist refugees around the world.

Canadian Ambassador Yves Fortier said Ogata's "strong qualifications and diplomatic skills" will improve the work at UNHCR.

The U.N. agency has more than 2,000 employees and needs an annual budget of more than $500 million to assist the increasing number of refugees around the world.