UN Chief Expects More Good Cooperation with Slovenia
The message the secretary general plans to bring to the region is the need to overcome differences and to focus on progress, while he would also like to highlight the importance of the region for Europe and the whole world, he told reporters from the region in New York on Friday.
The tour, which begins in Slovenia on Thursday, comes at a time when several countries in the region are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their admission to the United Nations and is the first such visit by the secretary general.
"This area has gone through a very significant transformation since the 1990s. They have gone through very difficult and turbulent political process. Now all six countries together with Kosovo are really trying to promote reconciliation among themselves," he said, adding that the UN is committed to helping the region in the long term.
Asked why Slovenia was included in the list of countries he will visit, Ban said that he has been working very closely with the country ever since he served as South Korea's concurrent ambassador to Slovenia from Vienna in the 1990s.
"Slovenia is the only country that I will be visiting for the second time as secretary general. I have been maintaining good relationship with President Danilo Türk, whom I have known since I was serving as chief of staff to General Assembly president and he was assistant secretary general for political affairs."
The secretary general mentioned Slovenia's contribution as member of the UN Human Rights Council and even more importantly as non-permanent member of the Security Council in the late 1990s. "We have been working very closely with the Slovenian government and people and I expect that we can expect more such cooperation."
The secretary general is encouraged that the countries of the former Yugoslavia are trying their best to overcome the historical divisions and are trying to enter Euro-Atlantic integration, which he deems an important direction.
He moreover hopes that the process of the countries' integration into the EU and NATO will help them reconcile among themselves, to establish a stronger rule of law and strengthen their democratic institutions as well as that they will do more about human rights and provide more protection for minorities.
Ban says that Slovenia has made great strides since declaring independence. "I have been always impressed whenever I visited. I think this may be my 10th visit to Slovenia altogether...I have been very much impressed by the way they are trying to promote good governance, human rights and democratic institutions."
This, plus the country's spell at the presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2008 must have enhanced the role and status of Slovenia in the international community, the secretary general believes.
Asked about the possibility that his successor in office may come from the East European group, and that it could possibly be Slovenian President Türk, Ban said that it may be too soon to talk about his successor considering that he has just started his second term.
However, he also said that would welcome "whoever is committed, with strong leadership, good integrity and good vision to work for the ideals and commitment of the United Nations".
Most questions addressed to the secretary general were concerned with Kosovo, which is not yet a UN member owning to opposition by Serbia and Russia. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić, president of the new General Assembly, has recently stated that Kosovo would only be admitted to the UN over his "dead body".
Asked for his comment, Ban said that Jeremić did not make the statement in his capacity as president of the UN General Assembly but as Serbia's official. The decision about UN membership is adopted based on a recommendation by the Security Council and endorsement by the General Assembly, he explained.
The secretary general rejected the suggestion that his visit to Kosovo would in fact mean recognition of the country's statehood. He said that he would wish for the Serbs and Kosovars to reach understanding for the sake of prosperity and peace in the region.
After Slovenia, the secretary general will visit Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia before concluding his tour on 26 July in Bosnia-Herzegovina where he will address parliament and visit Srebrenica, where the UN failed to prevent the massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks in 1995.
He admitted that the UN failed to help the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina when that was necessary and that this would always remain on the conscience of the UN and the whole world. He added that something like that should never be allowed to happen again.