UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described Sudan’s decision to allow 3,000 UN troops into Darfur as “a very positive sign.” The UN contingent will provide support for 7,000 struggling African Union troops there. Sudan’s apparent change of heart comes after months of international pressure to accept UN peacekeepers. But Khartoum is yet to agree to the deployment of a much-larger AU force of 20,000 troops proposed by the UN. The four-year Darfur conflict between rebels and pro-government Arab militia has seen more than 200,000 deaths and at least 2.4 million displaced.

US President George W. Bush, meanwhile, warned Sudan’s president April 18 that he has one last chance to stop violence in Darfur or else the United States will impose sanctions and consider other punitive options. Bush said he has decided to give UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon more time to pursue diplomacy with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir but made clear in a speech at the US Holocaust Museum that his patience is limited. In his speech, he accused Bashir of routinely violating past agreements.

China and an alliance of developing countries April 17 launched a concerted attack against the right of the UN Security Council to debate climate change. The move came at a landmark meeting at which the UK had sought to cast global warming as a threat to international peace. China’s deputy ambassador, Liu Zhenmin, was blunt in rejecting the session, saying, “The developing countries believe that the Security Council has neither the professional competence in handling climate change, nor is it the right decision-making place for extensive participation leading up to widely acceptable proposals.” China, Russia, Qatar, Indonesia and South Africa, among others, also said the Security Council was not the place to take concrete action. Pakistan argued against the debate on behalf of 130 developing nations, with many saying the Council was encroaching on more democratic bodies, like the 192-member UN General Assembly.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon formally endorsed a radical streamlining of UN operations April 16, delivering a report to the General Assembly that urges the elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy. The sprawling UN system contains 16 specialized agencies, 14 funds and programs, and 17 departments and offices, leading to costly duplication and competition for resources. A high-level panel recommended a series of reforms in November including the consolidation of different programs - as many two dozen separate operations in some countries - into one UN operation per country, with one budget, one leader and one common office if possible. Ban said the UN is moving to establish eight such pilot programs, more than initially planned because of high demand.

An international conference in Geneva organized by the UNHCR refugee agency to focus on the plight of the nearly 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes ended April 18 with agreement on the urgent need to stem the outflow of people while assisting those in need, including by providing support to neighboring countries which are sheltering refugees. N High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres voiced hope that international gratitude for the burden assumed by receiving countries – with Syria hosting 1.2 million Iraqis and Jordan another 750,000 – would soon translate into financial support.

Lower prices for HIV drugs have significantly improved access to treatment for people in poor countries, but figures are still far off target for the UN’s long-term goal of universal coverage by 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) said April 17. By the end of 2006 some 2 million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving the anti-retroviral drugs that help treat the HIV infection, according to the WHO’s “Towards universal access: scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector” report. This represents an increase of 54 percent on the 1.3 million people treated the year before, meaning about 28 percent of those in need now receive the drugs.

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