/ 19 February 2009

Climate, conflict top UN chief’s Africa tour

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will embark on a wide-ranging African tour next week in a bid to shore up the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) struggling peacekeeping mission, show support for rape and other war victims in DRC and Rwanda, and press for climate change progress and rebuilding in Gaza.

Ban will pay his first official visits to South Africa and Tanzania, and also travel to DRC, Rwanda and Egypt, with plans for meetings with four presidents and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe announced on Wednesday.

Within view of Mount Kilimanjaro’s famously fading snows, Ban will highlight one of his top priorities: persuading nations to adopt a new international climate treaty with mandatory limits on greenhouse gases by the end of the year, an ambition made more complicated by the global financial crisis.

High on the agenda are talks with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, including how to involve the UN in doing more to help fight the cholera, inflation and other dire challenges facing Zimbabwe’s new coalition government.

The UN chief is to meet with DRC President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame just as the two deeply suspicious neighbours are winding down an unusual joint operation aimed at eliminating the rebel Hutu militias suspected of atrocities during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Rwandan troops are expected to leave Congolese territory by the end of the month.

Ban will also visit victims of sexual violence being cared for at the Panzi Hospital, a specialised institution in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, and the tens of thousands of DRC’s newest displaced people living in huts at Mugunga camp, just west of the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma.

Overnighting in Goma, Ban plans meetings with members of the UN’s largest and second-costliest peacekeeping mission, known as Monuc, and with local authorities. With about one peacekeeper for every 3 400 people, the UN’s 17 000-strong DRC peacekeeping force has been stretched too thin to prevent attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians.

He also is due to visit the international war-crimes tribunal for Rwanda in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha, deliver a speech to the diplomatic and academic community in Dar es Salaam, visit a UN pilot programme aimed at reforming development practices and inaugurate the new UN offices on the island of Zanzibar.

Ban’s trip is to wind up in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt on March 2 for an international pledging conference to rebuild Gaza after Israel’s devastating offensive against Hamas.

Ban’s aides portray his trip as an opportunity to press governments to do more for civilians — and to highlight his own refusal to pull up peacekeeping and humanitarian stakes when challenged in places like DRC, Sudan and Gaza.

”He’s there to stand and speak out for ordinary people,” said Michael Meyer, Ban’s communications director. — Sapa-AP