Rape, war, climate to top UN chief’s African tour

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will embark on a wide-ranging African tour next week in a bid to shore up Congo’s struggling peacekeeping mission, show support for victims of war in Congo and Rwanda and press for progress on climate change. Within view of Mount Kilimanjaro’s famous snows, Ban will highlight one of his top priorities: persuading nations to adopt a new international climate treaty with mandatory limits on greenhouse gases by the end of the year ? an ambition made more complicated by the global financial crisis. Ban’s itinerary also includes South Africa, Tanzania, and Egypt with plans for meetings with four presidents and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe announced Wednesday. High on the agenda are talks with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, including how to involve the U.N. in doing more to help fight the cholera, inflation and other dire challenges facing Zimbabwe’s new coalition government. The U.N. chief is to meet with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame just as the two deeply suspicious neighbors are winding down an unusual joint operation in eastern Congo aimed at eliminating the rebel Hutu militias suspected of atrocities during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Rwandan troops are expected to leave Congolese territory by the end of the month. While in Congo, Ban will meet with a U.N. peacekeeping mission that has struggled prevent violence against civilians during recent fighting between rebels and the government in the eastern region. He will also visit war victims of sexual violence as well as some of those recently displaced from their homes by the fighting. In addition, Ban will make a stop at the international war crimes tribunal for Rwanda in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha, before winding up his trip in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on March 2 for an international pledging conference to rebuild Gaza after Israel’s devastating offensive against Hamas. Ban’s aides portray his trip as an opportunity to press governments to do more for civilians ? and to highlight his own refusal to pull up peacekeeping and humanitarian stakes when challenged in places like Congo, Sudan and Gaza. “He’s there to stand and speak out for ordinary people,” said Michael Meyer, Ban’s communications director.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.