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UN Chief Welcomes Effort to Improve Iraq Security

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed efforts to bring greater security to Iraq. But as VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports, the violence in and around Baghdad is worrying Mr. Ban as he considers whether to send more U.N. staff there.

In his first official news conference as U.N. chief, Ban Ki-moon avoided commenting directly on President Bush's plan to deploy more troops to quell Iraqi violence. But he said agreed with the president's goal of reducing the sectarian killings.

He said, "Broadly speaking, however, the United Nations would welcome genuine efforts to improve security for ordinary Iraqis as well as to stabilize the country through a combination of security, political and economic means."

He said the United Nations would consult closely with the Iraqi government and what he called "other key stakeholders" to discuss how best to support stabilization efforts in Iraq. He expressed deep concern, however, that efforts to stop sectarian violence might lead to more death and suffering by ordinary Iraqis.

"It's very worrisome and we are very much concerned about this continuing [sectarian]violence, so we hope that the Iraqi government will take necessary measures to ensure their own political and social security, stability," he said.

The United Nations reduced its staff size to a bare minimum after the August 2003 bomb attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. There are currently about 100 U.N. employees in the country, most of them humanitarian and political workers, protected by a force of about 200 Fijian guards.

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan repeatedly rebuffed U.S. and other pleas for a larger U.N. commitment, and Secretary-General Ban is expected to be pressed again on the issue when he goes to Washington next week for talks with President Bush.

But when asked about increasing U.N. staff, Mr. Ban was noncommittal.

"We are still maintaining some mission there, we will continue to participate in that process as much as we can, our participation and contribution at this time is largely dictated by the security situation on the ground." he said. "We will closely consult and monitor the situation."

Mr. Ban also said he supports closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Noting that he was speaking on the fifth anniversary of the camp's opening, the secretary-general said he agreed with former Secretary-General Annan's call for its closure.

But he noted that President Bush, too, has said he would like to close the facility, where nearly 400 persons with suspected links to al-Qaida and the Taliban are being held.