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Development, AIDS, poverty reduction among top issues in UN Assembly debate

Development, AIDS, poverty reduction among top issues in UN Assembly debate

The inter-ethnic crisis experienced between 1998 and 2000 in the Solomon Islands is a sobering reminder that peace and development are intrinsically linked, the country's Prime Minister said at the outset of this afternoon's session of the United Nations General Assembly's annual high-level debate.

Manasseh Sogavare told the Assembly that his Government had worked resolutely to bring the warring factions to the table and sign the Townsville and Marau Peace Agreements, but that the challenge was far from over. "With a shattered economy and a delicate peace process, the task of rebuilding the country and ensuring lasting peace is formidable," he said, noting that his Government had adopted a National Peace Plan and Programme of Action aimed at addressing the root causes of the conflict. "Development assistance could be a means of conflict prevention and an instrument for peace building," he said.

Ibraimov Osmonakun, Secretary of State of the Kyrgyz Republic, said his country had been defending itself for three years against incursions by terrorist groups. "Had it not been for our firm determination, the serious destabilization of the entire region would have been the inevitable result," he stressed, voicing his Government's support for the current military action by the United States and other countries in the anti-terrorist coalition. Looking ahead, Mr. Osmonakun said a representative government should be created in Afghanistan, with the help of the UN, and that dialogue should be encouraged between the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). In that context, he said a conference would be held in December to discuss security and stability in Central Asia, in which the UN's participation could facilitate solutions.

Highlighting the devastating global impact of HIV/AIDS, Mompati Merafhe, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Botswana, said recent estimates showed that 36.1 million people were living with HIV around the world, 25.3 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. "Unless we join forces to tackle this pandemic, it will continue to have a devastating impact on our societies and economies," he said, encouraging States to contribute to the Global HIV/AIDS and Health Fund proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Turning to the issue of "conflict diamonds" versus "development diamonds," he said that Botswana deplored the use of diamond resources by rebels in a number of African countries to purchase weapons. He noted however, that "conflict diamonds" constituted only 4 per cent or less of the world trade, whereas legitimate diamonds, such as those produced by Botswana, were used to generate growth and development.

Reacting to the speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian, said Azerbaijan's insistence on "inventing numbers, redefining terms, creating history and obfuscating discussion" would not help solve the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh, which, he said, "has never been a part of independent Azerbaijan." For 10 years, his Government has affirmed that the people of that region should enjoy basic freedoms. "Justice for the people of Nagorno Karabakh has been at the core of Armenia's policies and actions because we believe that to achieve lasting peace, economic cooperation and political development, this conflict will have to be resolved fairly and fully," he said, adding that Azerbaijan's calls for a military solution were not acceptable among neighbours serious about peace. Mr Oskanian also said his Government hoped Turkey would establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, open the borders and engage in constructive cooperation.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Togo, Koffi Panou, expressed hope that through collective efforts, the evil of terrorism could be defeated. Towards this end, he called for regional cooperation, noting that in West Africa, non-aggression and mutual assistance pacts between Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria had set up functional structures to combat terrorism. At the same time, he expressed concern over the social and economic plight of developing countries, where marginalization persisted and the HIV/AIDS pandemic continued to ravage societies. The international community, the Foreign Minister emphasized, must live up to the commitments made during last year's UN Millennium Summit while supporting Africa in implementing its New Partnership for Development.

Gabriele Gatti, the Foreign Minister of San Marino, noted that while globalization had unquestionably contributed to exporting job opportunities and long-term economic well-being, the gap between the living conditions in the industrialized world and the least developed countries had widened dramatically. "Such a gap must be immediately bridged in order to guarantee globalization of opportunities along with globalization of markets," he said. "It is not a utopia to think that by addressing and solving the problems of hunger, poverty and the disproportionate social, economic and cultural gap between a tiny minority living in the North and an overwhelming, poor and despaired majority living in the South of the world, also terrorism will be wiped out in the near future," he stressed, adding that poverty and ideological extremism served as fertile soil for terrorism.

Foreign Minister Win Aung of Myanmar said the development efforts of countries like his were hampered by such factors as the debt burden, lack of access to markets and technology, and a decline in foreign direct investment. The UN Development Programme should be permitted to promote capacity-building in his country through the establishment of a country programme, he argued. As Myanmar was pursuing a transition to a peaceful and democratic society, agreements had been reached with 17 out of 18 armed groups in the country and national reconciliation was in progress with the political parties, he said. In its efforts to combat the scourge of narcotic drugs, Myanmar had seen opium production decline by 38 per cent. Myanmar had also enhanced its cooperation with the UN system, including the efforts of the International Labour Organization to effectively address the problem of forced labour, Mr. Aung said.

Kolawole A. Idji, the Foreign Minister of Benin, recalled that the Millennium Summit Declaration had included a special section on responding to the special needs of Africa. "One year later, African countries are waiting for these promises to be realized," he said, adding that the continent's people, not content to simply wait, had taken their destiny into their own hands by elaborating the New Partnership for Development. This document constituted an important step forward. "Africans can now finally hope that their continent will cease to be the continent of sickness, poverty, misery and bloody conflicts," the Foreign Minister said, stressing that through a true partnership between Africa and the rest of the world, that hope would be realized. "Together, we can do it," he said.

Timothy Harris, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Education of Saint Kitts and Nevis, stressed the importance of a dialogue among nations, particularly at next year's conference on financing for development. The vulnerable economies of small islands developing States required a "Marshall Plan" to support their participation in a global economy. "The global agenda must become a humane agenda" that would afford equitable access to modern technology, he said. While welcoming the opportunity to empower the citizens of developing countries with appropriate skills, education and resources, he stressed the need for international cooperation to address such global problems as the AIDS pandemic, which sapped meagre resources away from development programmes to provide costly care and treatment. He also welcomed the multilateral approach of the Organization of American States to the fight against drug trafficking.

Monie R. Captain, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia said that in bringing about any positive changes to UN institutions there was a need for a "level playing field" that would be based on transparency, freedom, fairness and democratic practices. Turning to African issues, he stressed that the continent could not continue to stand by and accept to be perpetually condemned as the least developed region. Noting that African culture and value system stood the risk of being lost in the sea of ethics based on Western values, he said that Africans should not lose the opportunity of the new African Union to achieve meaningful integration within the context of building a powerful African capability. Mr. Captain stressed that Liberia today was a victim of war and poverty, as well as of a regime of punitive sanctions imposed by the Security Council, which had an adverse effect on ordinary people, whose living conditions had declined dramatically.

Officials from Malawi, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Somalia were also scheduled to speak late Wednesday afternoon.