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UN officials express disappointment over US, Israeli pull-out from racism conference

UN officials express disappointment over US, Israeli pull-out from racism conference

Senior United Nations officials, expressing regret and disappointment over the withdrawal by the United States and Israel from the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, have urged countries to continue their search for a successful global plan to fight discrimination.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan was "disappointed at the decision by Israel and the United States to withdraw their delegations from these intense negotiations, which, he is convinced, with continued goodwill, can conclude successfully by the end of this week," said a statement issued yesterday by Mr. Annan's spokesman.

"It is tough going, but he urges all countries to stay the course," the statement said. "The Conference cannot afford other defections."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, the Conference Secretary-General, said Monday she truly regretted the US decision to leave the Conference. She noted that the texts already adopted during the preparatory process and at the Conference were constructive and that on three groups of difficult issues - claims relating to past injustices, the situation in the Middle East, and recital of grounds of discrimination - "serious informal processes" were under way.

"Countless people around the world have placed high hopes on this Conference," she said. "We owe it to them to work until the very last minute to have at the end of our meeting a ringing endorsement of tolerance and respect for human dignity."

Meanwhile as the Conference debate continued over the weekend, several developing countries told the meeting that the problems facing their nations, including widespread poverty and underdevelopment, stemmed in part from slavery and colonialism. A number of particpants insisted that racial prejudice was responsible for the diminished economic activity in their countries and that such wrongs could only be righted if the oppressing countries clearly acknowledged the past and established compensation schemes.

Other high-ranking government officials touched on several additional issues, such as modern forms of intolerance as xenophobia aimed at migrant workers, the racism of sanctions, the situation between Israel and Palestine, the right to decent employment, the importance of education and the role of the Internet.

On Sunday, Mrs. Robinson and the Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, said that young people must have their place in the emerging global alliance against racism and discrimination.

"Starting here in Durban, and continuing in New York later this month, we have a golden opportunity to put children at the centre of the global agenda," Ms. Bellamy said upon receiving the report of the Youth Summit. "We must change the world not only for children, but with children."

The results of the Youth Summit, held on 26 and 27 August in Durban, South Africa, will be sent to the UN special session on children, to be held in New York from 19 to 21 September, the first time ever that the General Assembly will focus exclusively on issues facing children and young people.