Friday, June 19, 2009

From Gaza to Sudan, UN Secretary-General Ban highlights crises confronting Arab world

From the widening fallout of the global economic crisis to the suffering of victims of armed conflict, the Arab world faces insecurity today and the potential for more tomorrow, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Summit of the League of Arab States in Doha today.

“The toll in human lives and deferred development has been tragically high,” he said in his address to the gathering. “The region’s large groups of refugees and internally displaced persons continue to live with their dignity under attack and with little ability to plan for their futures.”

Mr. Ban said he remained gravely concerned about the situation is Gaza, which is dealing with the aftermath of the three-week offensive launched by Israel in late December 2008.

“The people of Gaza are suffering, and the situation at the crossings is intolerable,” he stated, asserting that the way forward is a durable ceasefire, open crossings, and Palestinian reconciliation.

On Sudan, the Secretary-General urged the Government once again to reverse its decision to expel key international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and suspend the work of three national NGOs that provide life-sustaining services for more than one million people.

The Sudanese Government took that decision on 4 March, immediately after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir, who was also present at today’s Summit in the Qatari capital.

“Despite the efforts of Sudanese line ministries, UN agencies and the remaining NGOs, the gaps cannot be filled with existing capacities,” Mr. Ban noted concerning the humanitarian crisis in the western Darfur region of the country. “Relief efforts should not become politicized. People in need must be helped irrespective of political differences.”

Turning to another hot-spot on the continent, he said the present situation in Somalia offers a “rare window of opportunity,” and urged immediate support for the new Government that was sworn in last month.

“Those of us with influence on the groups remaining outside of the peace process should call on them to join for the sake of national reconciliation,” Mr. Ban said, adding that more must also be done to promote security on the ground, including by supporting the African Union mission there (AMISOM) and Somali security forces at an upcoming donor conference.

The Secretary-General also highlighted the multiple elections taking place this year in Iraq to strengthen democratic representation, advance the political process and promote stability, and said he looked forward to free and transparent polls on 7 June in Lebanon.

While in Doha, Mr. Ban held bilateral talks today with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amre Moussa, as well as with the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Foreign Minister of Norway and the President of the United Arab Emirates.

Yesterday, he held separate meetings with the Emir of Qatar and the Presidents of Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Somalia and Syria.

Tomorrow the Secretary-General will open the International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague, which will assess the current political, security and development issues in the South Asian nation.