• UN faces ‘overflowing inbox’ of disasters, conflicts in 2014

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    The United Nations faces an “overflowing in-box of conflicts and disasters of growing severity, frequency and complexity” in the New Year, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday.

    At his first news conference of the New Year, Ban said “2014 will be crucial for the Millennium Development Goals as the 2015 deadline approaches fast” and advocated a post-2015 development agenda of “sustainable development goals and the financial means to make it happen.” He looked to a September summit for an accord on climate change.

    The UN secretary-general expressed concern for “countries where transitions have gone astray, fragility is growing, institutions are failing and democratic governance has faltered,” singling out the political conflict in Thailand.

    Ban also looked to the Israelis and Palestinians for progress in talks but said he was “alarmed” at announcement of new settlements.

    On the positive side, he noted preparations for completing the last UN mission in Sierra Leone, the once-conflicted West African nation where the world organization demonstrated “the value of staying the course through the hard process of keeping, consolidating and building peace.”

    But his meeting with reporters here at the UN headquarters was dominated by questions on conflicts in Africa and the Syrian conflict and chemicals weapons.

    “The situations in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic have gone from bad to worse,” the secretary-general said. “These are avoidable tragedies in which millions of civilians are paying an unconscionable price. I am especially alarmed by the spread of sectarian animosity, and by the dangerous regional and global spillover effects. Years of development are at stake. A generation of young people is at risk.”

    The conflict in Syria has put it back “decades” in development, said Ban.

    More than 100,000 people have been killed in nearly three years of conflict, while more than 6 million people have been displaced and more than 2 million others made refugees.

    However, Ban expressed confidence that a June 30 deadline for the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria would be met and certified by the joint UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission.

    “The key goal of this Geneva Conference is to reach an agreement on a transitional governing body with full executive power by mutual consent,” said the UN secretary-general in answering a reporter’s question about how Damascus could participate in the Jan. 22 Geneva II conference, stressing “That was the exact wording of the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012.”

    “There are some different expectations and interpretations, but this is what the parties agreed,” Ban added. “The main goal will be how to implement this joint communique.”

    Ban also expressed concern on the spillover effects of the Syrian conflict on neighboring countries and said he was “deeply concerned about the escalation of violence witnessed in Lebanon in recent months.”

    Since it has been almost a year since a new government was to be installed in Lebanon, the UN chief feared it “may also create a certain kind of political vacuum.”

    “I may have an opportunity of meeting either Prime Minister (Najib) Mikati or President (Michel) Sleiman this month and I will discuss this matter with them,” he said, adding “In Kuwait, maybe.”

    Mikati announced his resignation in March 2013.

    Asked about the recent conflict, allegedly involving Al-Qaeda, in Al Anbar, Iraq, Ban said he has been urging Iraqi “government leaders, including Prime Minister (Nuri Kamal) al-Maliki, that the policies of their government should be inclusive and promote the reconciliation among all different ethnic groups, embrace all the people in the country.”

    South Sudan, the world organization’s newest member, is the scene of the latest escalation in conflict Ban described as “very dire and deteriorating, worsening, with violence continuing while peace talks are going on in Addis Ababa,” Ethiopia.

    “There is a huge humanitarian crisis and also human rights violations,” in South Sudan, said Ban. “The United Nations is, at this moment, accommodating around 75,000 displaced persons in several UN camps.”

    Ban urged President Salva Kiir “to exercise political flexibility to facilitate this ongoing dialogue, ongoing peace talks. There is no military solution.” The UN chief thanked the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development and other regional parties facilitating negotiations for their work.

    However, “because of very serious human rights violations, I’m going to dispatch Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Simonovic of the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights” to visit South Sudan this weekend to monitor human rights violations, he said.

    The Central African Republic is another country of great concern for the international community, according to Ban.

    Despite the UN Security Council and the AU authorizing the International Support Mission in the Central African Republic and French troops, “the situation has been deteriorating,” he said. “First of all, the 6,000-mandated ceiling has not yet been filled and I urge the AU to expedite the full deployment of these soldiers.”

    At the same time, “there are serious human rights and humanitarian situations there,” the secretary-general said, explaining that half of the total population of about 4 million people has been affected and human rights teams have been strengthened.

    Noting resignation of the transitional government, the secretary-general said, “There is no functioning government, unfortunately. There is a limit for the international community and the United Nations when there is no functioning government, no functioning institutions.”

    He promised the UN will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, despite the very difficult and dire situation.” PNA

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