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


27 April 2000




Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Conference on Palestine Refugees, delivered by Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast, at the Headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris on 26 April:

It gives me pleasure to convey my greetings to all the participants in this International Conference on Palestine Refugees, which has been organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States. This is the second conference organized by these three bodies on issues relating to the question of Palestine, and as such is another example of the partnership that has developed among our organizations, as called for in General Assembly resolutions. I would like to thank the OIC and the LAS for sharing the costs, and the Director-General of UNESCO for the considerable assistance provided by his staff to the United Nations Secretariat.

This event is being held at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are at a very delicate stage. The parties appear to be bridging some of the gaps on a number of interim and longer-term issues. There is also genuine determination on both sides to bring the negotiations to fruition. The resumption, in March, of the permanent status negotiations was a welcome step in that direction. Once again, I call on the parties not to ease up in their efforts to resolve differences. I urge them to move the peace process forward -- towards the framework and final settlement agreements in May and September of this year, and towards the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

The negotiators face an array of very difficult and divisive issues -- Jerusalem, borders, settlements and water resources. Among them is the plight of more than 3 million Palestine refugees, which has been a major humanitarian and security concern for more than half a century; has had regional repercussions; and is central to the question of Palestine. Indeed, a sustainable peace in the entire region will have to factor in a viable solution to the refugee situation, as underscored in relevant United Nations resolutions.

The United Nations remains as committed as ever to this objective. The General Assembly has repeatedly stressed the need for resolving the problem in conformity with its resolution 194 of 1948, and more than 50 years ago entrusted the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) with the task of providing relief assistance to Palestine refugees. Today, UNRWA is the longest running relief endeavour ever undertaken by the United Nations. It has been the principal source of humanitarian assistance for millions of Palestinians. It has provided them with basic social services, schooling and health care. And it has been an important source of stability. Despite such contributions, UNRWA has been beset in recent years by deep and recurrent financial problems. I call on donors to continue to assist UNRWA so that it can continue to deliver the level of services that refugees require. I would also like to express my gratitude to those governments -- including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria -- that have hosted refugees and closely cooperated with UNRWA over the years.

As the parties close in on the critical transitional issues, they will continue to require support from the international community. I recently appointed Terje Rød-Larsen of Norway -- who had been closely involved in the peace process -- as United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and as my Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. He is working closely with the various parties in an effort to ensure that the varied assistance provided by the United Nations -- its development support, its peacekeeping operations, its political support -- is more effective and efficient.

The peace process in the Middle East is reaching a dramatic point. The parties have traveled a long way, but much remains to be achieved. We cannot allow despair and frustration to set in and upset all that has been accomplished thus far. A concerted effort is needed to clear the remaining roadblocks. In that spirit, I call on all sides to redouble their efforts and to move the negotiations ahead in accordance with the agreed timetable. This conference, by focusing on a key part of the picture, will no doubt make a valuable contribution. On behalf of the United Nations, I offer to you my best wishes for a successful conference.

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