Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


18 February 1999




Strive To Forgive Past Transgressions and To Build Bridges of Tolerance and Trust for the Future,
Kofi Annan Emphasizes in Message to Rome Conference

Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the opening session of the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference, which was delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast, at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome yesterday:

This Conference takes place as the whole world prepares for the celebration of the new millennium, which, after all, commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. The Palestinian city of Bethlehem, where Christ was born, will be a centre of this momentous observance, expected to bring some 2 million visitors from around the world.

Bethlehem's important religious and cultural sites have always beckoned pilgrims of all ages, religions, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.

For centuries, Bethlehem has embodied hope in the minds of humankind. Whether we have had the privilege of visiting the city or not, its historic and sacred meaning shines like a lodestar in our consciousness. It reminds us of the bonds created by belief, of faith's ability to heal humanity, of the power of prayer.

Today, this ancient city is in dire need of renovation. Without it, it will not be able to cope with such a huge influx of pilgrims and visitors. Its population of more than 125,000 -- the majority of whom live in dismal conditions -- place an enormous burden on the city's aging infrastructure.

The Bethlehem 2000 Project of the Palestinian Authority is crucial, therefore, in ensuring the success of the anniversary.

Progress has already been made in achieving the Authority's objectives, which have the full support of the United Nations: improving municipal infrastructure and public services while restoring and preserving Bethlehem's rich archaeological, cultural and historical heritage.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank are working closely with the Palestinian Authority and the Bethlehem municipality on rehabilitating the city and restoring its historical sites, as well as those of the adjacent towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jaia. The international donor community has pledged considerable funds and has been involved in specific projects.

I commend the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for its efforts to promote the Project.

I also wish to thank the Government of Italy for its hospitality and for the considerable assistance provided to the United Nations Secretariat in organizing this Conference.

Yet all these endeavours will come to naught if peace continues to elude the Palestinians and the Israelis. We must continue to focus all our efforts on achieving a negotiated settlement of the question of Palestine. Therefore, on behalf of the United Nations, I would like to send this message to all the parties to the peace process on the eve of the new millennium: strive to forgive the transgressions of the past and to build bridges of tolerance and trust for the future, so that you and your children may enjoy a truly lasting peace in the Middle East.

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For information media - not an official record