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Despite threats, world should see 2003 as year of new opportunities, Annan says

Despite threats, world should see 2003 as year of new opportunities, Annan says

Despite numerous challenges around the world, 2003 can be a year of opportunity for the international community, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today at his first official press conference of the year at UN Headquarters in New York.

"Nations working together can make a difference. Nations upholding the rule of law can advance the cause of a fairer world," the Secretary-General said in his opening remarks. "We should not see this as an age of threats, but as one of many new opportunities."

Looking ahead, the Secretary-General noted that "we are within striking distance of reuniting Cyprus, ending the long civil war in Sudan, and pacifying the Democratic Republic of the Congo - the battleground of what some have called Africa's world war."

"I remain convinced that peace is possible - in Iraq, in Korea, and even between Israel and Palestine - if States work together on all these problems, with patience and firmness," he said. "And I am convinced that terror can be defeated, too - if 191 Member States of the United Nations pull together to deny terrorists refuge and cut off their funding."

In his statement, the Secretary-General also highlighted the threat of famine in Africa and the crisis in Venezuela as two issues that need urgent worldwide attention. "At the heart of the problem [in Africa] is the crisis in Zimbabwe - a country which used to be the region's breadbasket, but is now wracked by hunger and HIV/AIDS," he said. "This tragic situation is caused partly by the forces of nature, and partly by mismanagement. The challenge now is for all Zimbabweans to work with each other, and with the international community, to find solutions before it's too late."

As for Venezuela, the Secretary-General noted that for the past 20 years, Latin America has been embracing democracy and turning its back on autocratic forms of government. "I hope those who seek to bring about change in Venezuela will respect this achievement, and stick to democratic, constitutional means, in keeping with the principles of human rights and justice," he said.

The Secretary-General also noted that he planned to meet President Hugo Chavez when the Venezuelan leader is in New York on Thursday. "I hope to discuss with him the developments in Venezuela and how one can intensify the mediation efforts to calm the situation and bring it to normalcy," Mr. Annan said in response to a reporter's question. "I've spoken to him on the phone and he knows one should use constitutional and democratic means and that's my message to resolve the crisis, also my message to the opposition."

Yesterday, the Secretary-General met with former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez of Spain for talks on a broad range of issues, including Venezuela. According to a UN spokesman, Mr. Gonzalez shared his views on the current situation in that country, and expressed grave concern about it. "Both are aware of the efforts by the countries in the region to establish a Group of Friends of Venezuela, and feel this would be a positive development, which would contribute to the effort to find a solution," the spokesman said in a readout of the meeting. "This issue will be further discussed in the coming days."



of Secretary-General's press conference