Pretoria, South Africa – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the Government of Zimbabwe to release political prisoners. Mr. Ban is in South Africa as part of his African tour that will include Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Egypt.
Speaking at a press conference held in Pretoria following his meeting with President Kgalema Motlanthe and South African senior government officials, the Secretary-General said he remained “concerned about reports of arrests and detention of opposition activists and human rights defenders,” adding, “I hope that these people will be freed as soon as possible.”
The Secretary-General welcomed the inauguration of the new Government of national unity in Zimbabwe, adding that the partnership between the country’s parties will “need to be nurtured.” He said that although the United Nations had “no direct mandate to help implement the Agreement between the parties,” the world body was “ready to ensure that the enormous challenges confronting the Zimbabwean people are effectively addressed.”
In his response, President Motlanthe said he had been assured by Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, when they met last week in Cape Town that the issue of political prisoners was high on the agenda of the new unity government.
On the situation in the DRC, the Secretary-General commended the role of South African peacekeepers in saving civilian lives in that country “under extremely difficult circumstances”, adding that he could count on South Africa’s continued and significant support to reform the DRC’s security sector.
Other issues the Secretary-General discussed with the Government of South Africa included the impact of the current global financial crisis on poor countries and the problems caused by climate change. The Secretary-General commended South Africa for its leadership on climate change, and urged the country to “help shape the Copenhagen deal in a way that benefits the interests of the continent and its citizens.”
The Secretary-General also offered to support South Africa in its preparations for the 2010 World Soccer Cup through a joint project of the Global Environment Facility, supported by the United Nations. The project’s environment objective is to reduce greenhouse gases from urban transportation in South African cities for the 2010 World Cup and beyond.
The Secretary-General is scheduled to conclude his visit to South Africa today for a meeting with former President Nelson Mandela.