Cheers and jeers greet UN chief in first tour of Darfur
After city protest, he vows to press for refugees' aid
EL FASHER, Sudan - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said yesterday he was "shocked and humbled" by a visit to a Darfur refugee camp where thousands cheered him as he pledged to step up efforts to bring peace to the war-torn region.
Thousands of refugees at Al Salaam camp in North Darfur chanted "Welcome! Welcome Ban Ki-Moon!" when the United Nations chief entered the camp, home to 46,000 refugees.
"We must bring peace and development. We must protect human rights. We must help all of you return to your homes and lands," Ban told the crowd at a water tower in the camp.
The scene contrasted with his visit earlier yesterday to the UN compound in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, which was disrupted by a group of about a dozen protesters.
"We don't care for the UN! This is our country!" the group of mostly women shouted in Arabic in what appeared to be an orchestrated event. "You want to destroy us. We will not allow you here in Darfur."
The clamor raised security concerns, prompting Ban to change part of his schedule for the day. But after returning from the refugee camp later, the UN chief focused on the plight of the Darfur victims.
"I was so shocked and humbled . . . I was shocked at the poverty and hardship all these tens of thousands of people were undergoing. I really wanted to give them even a small sign of hope," Ban told reporters.
Ban promised to step up efforts to end the protracted conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people and left more than 2.5 million displaced. He urged the world to be more sympathetic to the millions who have been uprooted.
"I really urge the international community to help them return to their homes and land, give them a sense of security, and bring peace as soon as possible. We must bring enduring peace, durable peace and security here," he said.
The trip to Darfur and the rest of Sudan is Ban's first since taking over as UN chief in January. He said he would discuss Al Salaam during talks today with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other officials in Khartoum.
Ban said his visit "made my resolve stronger and firmer to work for peace and security in Darfur."
The UN and the African Union are pressing to deploy a 26,000-strong joint peacekeeping force in Darfur and restart peace negotiations between the government and splintered rebel groups.
In July, the UN Security Council unanimously approved the peacekeeping mission, which, if fully deployed, would be the world's largest operation of its kind, to help end four years of violence in the vast western Sudan desert region.
Sudan had resisted a push for UN peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed African Union force currently deployed in Darfur. Ban said earlier that Bashir has accepted the deployment of the joint UN-AU force.