Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ban meets praise and criticism in Darfur

HUMBLED The UN secretary-general told reporters there was `some serious concern' when an uninvited group tried to push through the door to participate in a meeting

AP , EL FASHER, SUDAN

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday he was "shocked and humbled" by a visit to a Darfur refugee camp, where thousands cheered him as he pledged to step up efforts to bring peace to the war-torn region.

But the enthusiastic welcome from refugees at the Al Salaam camp was tempered by the earlier disruption of a meeting at a UN compound with representatives from three camps that heightened security fears, and by a small protest by well-dressed women shouting against the upcoming deployment of UN troops in a new 26,000-strong peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The secretary-general brushed aside the protests, saying he understands the frustrations of the millions uprooted from their homes, and he pointed to the huge crowds that had come to see him in Darfur and in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on his first trip to the country since taking the reins of the UN on Jan.1.

"They really wanted to see some hope from me, from the United Nations, from the international community," he said.

But Wednesday's incidents had an impact. Ban met with only three of the 30 camp representatives, his scheduled one-hour visit to Al Salaam was cut to 20 minutes, and the media pool accompanying him was cut from 37 to five because of security concerns.

As Ban's convoy rolled into the camp, home to 46,000 Darfur refugees, thousands chanted "Welcome! Welcome Ban Ki-moon!"

"I am here to bring you the message of hope, peace and security, and water," Ban told the crowd.

"We must bring peace and development. We must protect human rights. We must help all of you return to your homes and lands."

Later, he told reporters: "I was so shocked and humbled when I visited IDP [internally displaced people] camps. I was shocked at the poverty and hardship all these tens of thousands of people were undergoing."

Ban promised to step up efforts to end the protracted conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people and left more than 2.5 million displaced, and he urged the world to be more sympathetic to the millions whose lives have been uprooted.

The scene at the camp contrasted with Ban's visit earlier on Wednesday to the UN compound in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.

Ban told reporters there was "some serious concern" when an uninvited group of men and women tried to push through the door to participate in the meeting with representatives of three camps for people uprooted from their homes. Security is exceedingly tight in Sudan, and it is unclear how they got so close to the secretary-general.

Ban was scheduled to meet North Darfur governor Mohamed Kebir on arrival at the heavily guarded El Fasher airport, but their meeting was rescheduled.

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