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UN Chief Calls for Action to Prevent Conflict

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the international community needs to intervene early to prevent conflict. Speaking at a U.N. Refugee Conference in Geneva, Mr. Annan said lack of international commitment to peace efforts often leads to renewed conflict.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says millions of people have been forcibly displaced by conflict and wars. He says it is the responsibility of all U.N. members to protect civilian populations against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

"International inaction has been recognized as unacceptable, especially where national governments are unwilling or unable to act," he said. "Of course, robust action must be a last resort. Our focus really should be on earlier, non-violent ways to prevent conflicts or political upheavals from reaching such a point."

Mr. Annan hailed the commitment made at last month's World Summit in New York to establish a Peace-Building Commission.

"As we all know, too many countries lapse back into violence when efforts to consolidate peace or create stability are weak, or are not sustained," he noted.

Mr. Annan said facilitating the return of refugees and internally-displaced can help consolidate peace.

"The return of refugees and internally displaced persons is a major part of any post-conflict scenario. ... It is often a critical factor in sustaining a peace process, and in revitalizing economic activity," he added.

That scenario soon will be tested in Sudan, where the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees plans to repatriate about five million refugees and internally displaced people to the homes they fled in southern Sudan.

But the UNHCR and Kofi Annan emphasize that the international community will have to invest the funds needed to rebuild the South's shattered infrastructure, in order to keep returning refugees at home.

Mr. Annan also told delegates he was pleased that the UNHCR plans to improve the protection provided to the world's 25 million internally displaced people.