In his first news conference of the year Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that 2008 has not started off well. The U.N. chief says he is hopeful about the New Year, but expressed concern about fresh crises in Kenya and Pakistan. From U.N. headquarters in New York, Margaret Besheer has more.
Last year ended on a tragic note for the United Nations, with 17 staffers killed in a suicide bombing in Algeria in mid-December. The secretary-general noted that in all, 42 employees were killed in 2007, making it one of the deadliest years for U.N. personnel.
But despite these losses, Mr. Ban says the United Nations enters 2008 with new determination and new opportunities to strengthen its role in the world.
"I really hope this new year, 2008, will see bright hope," he said. "We have started with gloomy prospects - the situation in Kenya and elsewhere. I really hope that with active cooperation and dialogue among the leaders of the world we will see [a] better world this year. This is my firm commitment as secretary-general."
Regarding the post-election violence in Kenya, Mr. Ban says he has been in close contact with both President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to urge them to settle their dispute over controversial election results through dialogue.
Another recent crisis concerning the secretary-general is the assassination two weeks ago of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who had returned to that country to run in upcoming elections.
The Pakistani government has requested technical assistance in investigating the assassination from Britain's Scotland Yard, but Mr. Ban says there has been no formal request from the government of Pakistan for a U.N. special tribunal.
The United Nations is, however, preparing a special tribunal to try suspects in the car bomb assassination nearly three years ago of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Mr. Ban would not confirm reports that the tribunal will begin in February, but he did express his "deep disappointment" about the continuing political crisis in Lebanon. That country has been without a president since November 23, as the two main political parties jockey for power.
"I once again call on Lebanese leaders to think about the future of their country, transcending sectarian and individual interests," he said. "And on the neighboring countries, I urge them to help the Lebanese people so that they will be able to overcome this crisis of their own will without outside interference."
Meanwhile, a new, joint United Nations-African Union force took over from a smaller AU mission last week in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. The force is to eventually number 26,000, but currently there are only nine thousand peacekeepers in Darfur.
Secretary-General Ban says he hopes to see the full force deployed quickly, as he is concerned about the deteriorating situation. The Sudanese government has accused neighboring Chad of border violations and air strikes in Darfur. Chad has acknowledged conducting at least one recent air strike in Darfur, saying it targeted Chadian rebels, not civilians.
During his news conference, Mr. Ban said this year the United Nations would continue to address poverty and climate change, and mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.