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UN leader pays first visit to Switzerland

Micheline Calmy-Rey and Ban Ki-moon agreed that more reforms were necessary at the UN Keystone

The United Nations new secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has met the Swiss authorities, calling for more support for peacekeeping operations.

This content was published on April 19, 2007 - 21:52

His first trip to Switzerland - home of the UN's European headquarters - more than three months into his mandate has been criticised by some Geneva staff members as neglecting the city's importance within the organisation.

In Bern on Thursday, Ban met Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey as well as Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin and Defence Minister Samuel Schmid.

Discussions focused on the relationship between Switzerland and the UN, reforms within the organisation, Geneva's role and Swiss policy concerning peacekeeping operations.

Ban said after their meeting that he hoped that Switzerland would continue its "strong" and "active" support for the UN's work, and increase its contribution to peacekeeping operations.

Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had a "major interest" that the organisation was able to function properly. She also called for more "transparency" of the UN Security Council's work and a strengthening of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council's role.

Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan, studied and worked in Geneva, and moved back there in January to retire.

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed earlier this week that it was giving its backing to a new humanitarian foundation set up by Annan in Geneva.

The former secretary-general also had close links to the Swiss cabinet. In 2001, he appointed the former sport minister, Adolf Ogi, as UN special advisor on sport for development and peace.

First trip

Ban had not travelled to Switzerland since taking office. His first trip to Europe took him to Brussels and Paris, and he did not attend the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos in January.

The former South Korean foreign minister then went to Nairobi, the UN's African headquarters, before heading to Vienna and the International Atomic Energy Agency to discuss ongoing talks with North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programmes.

He did not attend the session of the Human Rights Council last month, sending a video message instead.

Observers say the new UN boss is more interested in establishing better relations with the United States, which provides the biggest share of the organisation's funding.

Asked whether he had waited too long to make the trip to Switzerland, Ban replied on Thursday that he would have plenty of opportunities to go to Geneva during his five-year mandate. He added that Switzerland should be proud of its work in hosting the UN.

As to rumours that the some of the organisation's agencies were planning to move staff to other locations to cut costs, the South Korean said he had not heard anything.

Ban will hold talks with UN personnel on Friday in Geneva, and meet the heads of the organisation's agencies on Saturday.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland joined the United Nations in 2002 after voters approved the move.

It is currently the 15th biggest financial contributor to the organisation.

In 2007, Switzerland will provide SFr135 million ($112 million) for the UN's work, including peacekeeping operations according to the foreign ministry.

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New UN chief

Ban Ki-moon, 62, was appointed South Korean foreign minister in 2004. He is a career diplomat.

He is the first UN secretary-general from an Asian country since U Thant of Burma who held the post from 1961-1971.

Ban succeeded Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian, who held the post for ten years. The South Korean has promised to make the UN more effective, efficient and relevant.

Observers say he inherited a UN in need of internal reform and tainted by the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq.

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