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Darfur is first priority
by Amin George Forji
2007-01-07 11:14:50
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In accordance with the established tradition of the UN, the body’s new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon officially started his tenure on January 1st, 24-hours after his predecessor, Kofi Annan, stepped down. Since New Year’s Day is a UN holiday, the first business day began on Tuesday 2nd.

UN staff lined up Tuesday morning in wait of their new chief, and his arrival was marked by loud applause. He paid tribute to UN peacekeepers that have died in major conflicts across the world by observing a minute of silence in the UN mediation room before leading all the employees to an indoor meeting.

After the meeting, he came out to answer the questions of anxious reporters who had crowded the UN headquarters. Inheriting an institution whose efficacy has been put to serious test during the last decade, Ban Ki-Moon has wasted no time to announce his immediate plan of action. "I start my duties at a daunting time in international affairs, starting from Darfur to the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, many other crises that trouble our world," lamented Mr. Ban.

"These challenges and issues need to be addressed collectively, with collective wisdom and collective efforts. Not a single person, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations; not a single country, however strong, powerful, resourceful it may be, can address this alone,” he continued. The new UN chief further vowed that while the UN will try to resolve every major crisis, the situation in troubled Darfur would definitely be his top priority.

"The crisis situation in Darfur is very high on my agenda. I will turn immediately my attention to this issue," Ban Ki-Moon stated. He went on to announce that he would be attending the African Union summit in Ethiopia later this month where he is hoping to hold a tête-à-tête with the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. "By engaging myself in the diplomatic process, I hope we'll be able to resolve peacefully as soon as possible this very serious issue."

The government-backed Janjaweed militia has killed an estimated 280,000 people since February 2003 in the war-torn Darfur region, and 2.7 million others displaced. Despite condemnation from the international community, the atrocities continue unabated. The African Union (A.U.) currently has an undermanned 7,000 troops in the region, but it has not been able to stop the massacres. The government of Omar al-Bashir has unfortunately consistently opposed any deployment of a larger contingent by the UN.

Apart from Darfur, Mr. Ban vowed to push the North Korea nuclear programme issue to a logical conclusion, reduce extreme poverty by half by 2015 and foster the respect of human rights. Concerned that there is growing mistrust about the functioning of the UN, Mr. Ban announced that during his tenure more senior UN staff would be sent out on a regular basis to member states to foster the ideals of the organization and help restore trust. "I am determined to help my staff… to address all the challenges in the 21st century, and also by trying to bridge the gap and divide and distrust mistrust which have been plaguing too much the United Nations."

Commenting on the recent hanging of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, Mr. Ban said capital punishment was an issue for individual countries to decide to adopt in their laws or not. "We should never forget the victims of his crimes. The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide. As a Secretary-General, at the same time, while I am firmly against impunity, I also hope that the members of the international community should pay due regard to all aspects of international humanitarian laws.”

The former South Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki-Moon, 62, is the eighth Secretary General of the world body. He is expected to make a number of key nominations of his team later during the week. In the meantime, he has appointed Vijay Nambiar of India as his Chief of Staff and Michele Montas, the Haitian broadcaster, to be his spokesman.

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