U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has pledged to strengthen the world body's role in stopping wars and keeping peace. VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports on Mr. Ban's first speech to the Security Council since taking office last week.

Mr. Ban told the 15-member Council that the demand for U.N. peacekeeping and mediation services is at an all-time high. He noted that the world body has 18 peacekeeping missions, most of them in Africa, with 100,000 employees, and more being added.

He said he would work to streamline U.N. efforts to enforce peace and strengthen post-conflict societies.

"I will make it my priority to strengthen the U.N.'s ability to play its role to the fullest extent in conflict prevention, peace-making, peacekeeping and peacebuilding," he said.

Speaking days after fresh revelations about sexual abuse among U.N. peacekeepers, Mr. Ban said the world body would have to find ways to do better.

"To meet the growing demands of globalized operations, we must identify ways and means to build a staff which is truly mobile, multi-functional and accountable - and which lives up to the highest ethical and professional standards," he said.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Alejandro Wolff also addressed the Council's first formal session of the year. He warned of the growing threat to peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts from al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

"Only last week, al-Qaida issued an explicit threat against the United Nations and its peacekeepers overseas," he said. "We know that terrorists still work to kill innocent civilians around the world, and this body has a responsibility to meet these threats with unity of purpose and clear resolve."

In a related development, U.N. officials say Secretary-General Ban will name an American diplomat to the world body's top political post. Sources close to Mr. Ban say U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia B. Lynn Pascoe is likely to be appointed Undersecretary General for Political Affairs, with some additional responsibilities in the field of peacekeeping.

The political affairs job had long been held by British diplomats, but is currently held by former Nigerian foreign minister Ibrahim Gambari.

The expansion of Pascoe's responsibilities is seen as part of the effort to reorganize the rapidly expanding peacekeeping operations. The current undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Frenchman Jean-Marie Guehenno, is expected to stay on. But a new position may be created to handle the growing workload. That post is expected to go to Japan.

The United States and Japan pay roughly 45 percent of the total U.N. peacekeeping bill. There have been regular calls in Washington and Tokyo for more efficiency and a greater say in how the peacekeeping budget is spent.