U.N. chief visits Sudan

[Peter Paul Media] — Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, arrived in Sudan Monday to get a firsthand look at the situation on the ground — just weeks after a joint U.N.-African Union [A.U.] peacekeeping force was approved.

He said U.N. member nations need to contribute more and push harder. Ban also expressed his personal attachment to the conflict, saying it has steadily been at the center of the U.N. agenda for restoring order to the region.

Ban’s daughter began her career as a young officer in the U.N.’s Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in Sudan. In his speech, he called on the Sudanese people to improve the situation.

“As your friend, always by your side. I urge you to do everything you can to advance our common cause — building a better Sudan and a better world for yourselves and for future generations,” he said at meeting of the U.N. Association in Khartoum.

The peacekeeping force of 26,000 soldiers was approved on July 31.

A.U. chairman Alpha Oumar Konare told the BBC in early August that all soldiers will come from the A.U. but Denmark, Indonesia and France have also pledged their support.

Critics said that A.U.-led troops are not properly trained to keep the peace in Darfur. The peacekeepers are expected to be on the ground by years end and will be the largest humanitarian peacekeeping mission in the world.

The soldiers will join A.U. forces already on the ground.

Mr. Ban’s visit comes days after Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlström told reporters that the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region is deteriorating.

Wahlström said that in the period between June and August, a total of 55,000 people have been newly displaced, bringing the total number of displaced persons in the region to 2.2 million, U.N. figures showed.

Ms. Wahlström also pointed out that malnutrition rates were “well over 17 percent” in some areas, according to 18 U.N. spot surveys conducted since September 1.

Violence against humanitarian workers has increased as pro-government militia and rebel groups fight relentlessly. Innocent civilians and children are caught in the middle more often than not.

Canadian and European diplomats were shook up earlier last week when Sudan expelled Canada’s acting charge d’affaires, Nuala Lawlor, along with European Commission Ambassador Kent Degerfelt.

Sudan accused the two of “meddling” in Sudan’s internal affairs. Three days later, Paul Barker, the Director of the U.S.-based aid agency, CARE, was also expelled for similar reasons according to the government.

In response to the expulsion, Canada expelled a Sudanese diplomat working at the Sudanese embassy in Ottawa. Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier later called the Sudanese expulsion “unjustified.”

During his current visit, Mr. Ban will meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir along with opposition leaders in the south. He will then visit neighbouring Libya and Chad to drum up support.

As part of the solution, the Government, helped with international assistance, will have to ensure that the people of Darfur have access to vital natural resources – water being chief among them.

The U.N. stands ready to assist in this effort,” Mr. Ban said.

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