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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrives for a news conference on Tuesday at the United Nations headquarters. ((Frank Franklin II/Associated Press))

On his first dayin the job, new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared to ignore the United Nations' opposition to the death penalty by saying capital punishment should be a decisionmade byindividual countries.

Ban made the comments Tuesday in response to a reporter's question about the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein over the weekend.

"Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people, and we should never forget victims of his crime," Ban said. "The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide."

However, the UN officially opposescapital punishment. The top UN envoy in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, restated the position again on Saturday after the former Iraqi dictator was hanged.

But Ban nevermentioned the UN's position on the death penalty.

Michele Montas, Ban's new spokeswoman, insisted there was no change in UN policy in what she described as "his own nuance" on the death penalty.

"The UN policy still remains that the organization is not for capital punishment," she said. "However, the way the law is applied in different countries, he left it open to those different countries."

Meanwhile, Ban also vowed Tuesday to make the crisis in Sudan's Darfur regiona top priority.

Hevowed to rebuild trust at a critical time when global conflicts have shaken confidence in the world body.

Darfur also 'high' on Ban's agenda

Ban told reporters the ongoing conflict in Darfurwas "very high on my agenda."

Fighting in the troubled region has killed more than 200,000 people in the past few years and shows little signs of abating.

The former SouthKorean foreign ministeralso said he would meet Wednesdaywiththe UNspecial envoyon Darfur,Jan Eliasson of Sweden, to discuss the situation, and would attend an African Union summitlater this month in Ethiopia.

"By engaging myself in the diplomatic process, I hope that we will be able to resolve peacefully as soon as possible on these serious issues," Ban said.

The UN Security Council has proposed sending 20,000 troops to Darfur, but the Sudanese government has only agreed to allow a much smaller African Union force on its territory.

Sudanese forces bombed two rebel locations in Darfur the AU said Sunday,days after the head of the African Union's peacekeeping force visited the areaand urged the rebels to join a ceasefire agreement.

Takes over from Annan

Ban was sworn inMonday as the UN's eighth secretary general, succeeding Ghana's Kofi Annan, who held the chief post since 1997 and stepped down at the end of December.

"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ban. Not James Band," the 62-year-old diplomat announced to applause. "I am not code-named 007, but I will take my office in '07."

Banhas acknowledged the UN is going through hard times in the wake of violence raging in Iraq, unresolved fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, and efforts to stop Iran and North Korea from possibly developing nuclear warheads.

His arrival is expected to usher in some changes in response to criticism lodged against the organization.

"Unfortunately, there has been much criticism over the United Nations' inability and inefficiencies during the last many years," he said. "[The] UN needs to restore confidence."

With files from the Associated Press