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UN Chief Concludes West Africa Tour


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrapped up a four-day tour of West Africa on Thursday. The U.N. chief stopped in four countries in as many days to discuss rising food prices and security and development in the region.

A West African tour ended Thursday in Ivory Coast for United Nations head Ban Ki-moon.

In Ivory Coast, which recently emerged from civil war to form a power-sharing government, Mr. Ban said he was pleased to see the progress being made firsthand.

Civil war split the country in half between the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south in 2002. A peace agreement signed last year signaled an end to the conflict and called for a fair and democratic election, now scheduled for November this year.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast's capital, Mr. Ban told reporters he was encouraged by the set election date and promised continued United Nations support.

Mr. Ban met with President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader turned Prime Minister Guillaume Soro in Abidjan.

Mr. Soro told the secretary-general that Ivory Coast was determined to hold free and fair elections, with the support of the international community.

President Gbagbo thanked Mr. Ban for his decision to spend a night in Abidjan for the first time, saying it signaled a turn toward security and development in the country.

On Tuesday in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's capital, Mr. Ban thanked President Blaise Compaore for his mediating role in this latest Ivory Coast peace deal, called the Ouagadougou Accord. But he said both leaders believed there was much work left to be done in the country.

Burkina Faso, now serving as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has seen its share of unrest over spiraling global food costs. Riots rocked Ouagadougou last month, when angry citizens took to the streets to protest the rising cost of food.

Mr. Ban assured the country the U.N. would continue to provide support during this challenging season.

"We have many United Nations agencies who are working as one team, to help your country overcome and develop," he said. "In that regard, you have my full cooperation and assurance that United Nations will always stand behind your very noble, but daunting, effort."

In Liberia on Tuesday, Mr. Ban praised Liberia's progress in peacebuilding and reconstruction after years of civil war shattered the country's economy and infrastructure.

Ban asked Liberians to work hard to reintegrate after years of violent conflict, admitting the country faced serious challenges in security and development.

He also promised continued U.N. assistance despite the coming withdrawal of 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers present in Liberia since the war ended in 2003.

Mr. Ban began his tour in Ghana on Monday, where he opened a U.N. Conference on Trade and Development summit. He addressed the effect mounting food costs have had on the region, saying high prices could cancel progress made towards reducing poverty.

West Africa, where most people spend a majority of their incomes on food, has been especially hard hit by the continuously rising costs. Mr. Ban promised all possible U.N. action to mitigate the crisis.

On Monday in Switzerland, the secretary-general will meet with twenty seven heads of U.N. agencies and programs to discuss potential U.N. response to the global food crisis.

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