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New UN Secretary-General Counts Sudan, North Korea Among Priorities

Ban Ki-moon, in his first day on the job as U.N. secretary-general, has named Darfur, North Korea and the Middle East among his top priorities. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports Mr. Ban avoided criticizing the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Ban was greeted with applause from U.N. staff Tuesday as he took over as the world body's eighth secretary-general.

His first order of business was to pay respects to U.N. peacekeepers and others who died in the line of duty. He paused for a moment of silence at a meditation room in the U.N. lobby.

Before going into a closed meeting with employees, the new U.N. chief spoke of the difficult challenges he faces in the world's trouble spots.

"I start my duties at a daunting time in international affairs, starting from Darfur to Middle East to Lebanon, Iran Iraq, North Korea, many other crises that trouble our world," he said.

Mr. Ban is viewed as closer to the United States than his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who often clashed with Washington on policy issues. But in his introductory statement, the new secretary-general had a carefully phrased word of caution to those who would exercise power unilaterally.

"These challenges and issues need to be addressed collectively, with collective wisdom and collective efforts." he added. "Not a single person, including secretary-general of the United Nations, not a single country, however strong, powerful, resourceful may be, cannot address this. We need to have some common efforts."

When asked about the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Mr. Ban chose his words carefully. He backed away from previous U.N. criticisms of capital punishment.

"Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against the Iraqi people, and we should never forget the victims of his crimes," he said. "The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide."

Mr. Ban told reporters he is already working on the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. He says he will meet his special envoy to the region, Jan Eliasson, Wednesday, and plans to travel to Africa later this month, where he hopes to meet with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

"I'm going to meet with special envoy of secretary-general Jan Eliasson tomorrow morning. I intend to attend African Union summit meeting later part of this month," he explained. "There I hope I will be able to consult with the president of Sudan and other leaders of Africa."

The former South Korean foreign minister says the North Korean nuclear issue will remain a priority on his agenda. He said he plans to push for continuation of the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, along with the United States, Russia, China and Japan.

Mr. Ban is expected to begin naming key members of his administration later this week. He has already named award-winning Haitian broadcast journalist Michele Montas as his spokesman, and Vijay Nambiar of India as his chief of staff. Nambiar previously served as a special adviser to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.