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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


PAL/1856
1 June 1998

UN LATIN AMERICAN/CARIBBEAN SEMINAR AND NGO SYMPOSIUM
ON QUESTION OF PALESTINE OPENS IN SANTIAGO

(Delayed in transmission.)

SANTIAGO, 26 May (Division for Palestinian Rights) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed the urgency of rekindling the peace process in the Middle East and lamented the financial difficulties of the United Nations body which aids Palestinian refugees, in a message read out at the opening of a seminar on the question of Palestine in Santiago, Chile. The four-day meeting, being held from 26 to 29 May, will explore the role of Latin America and the Caribbean in promoting a comprehensive, fair and lasting solution to the question of Palestine through solidarity and assistance.

"Despite the achievements of the past few years, much remains to be done", the Secretary-General said in a statement read by José Antonio Ocampo, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). "The troubling economic situation and stalemate on negotiations undermine confidence in the future." He also lauded the efforts of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides health care, education and relief assistance for millions of refugees, but is dependent solely on voluntary funding. "UNRWA's precarious financial situation threatens this essential work", he added.

The Seminar and Symposium for Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), being held at Chile's Diego Portales Convention Center, will cover such subjects as the current status of the peace process, Israeli settlements, refugees, and social and economic conditions. Panellists will also explore the role of NGOs, cultural institutions, the media and diaspora Palestinians in contributing to the peace process.

Fathi Arafat, member of the Palestine National Council and brother of leader Yassar Arafat, said he had hoped Israel's fiftieth anniversary would mark the beginning of a new peace. "Instead, we have continued asphyxia", he said. Describing the difficult conditions in setting up a government in the evacuated areas, he said "we are not starting from zero -- we are starting from less than zero".

Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, criticized Israel for its "stubborn" position in peace negotiations. "Its efforts to consolidate the occupation and virtually annexing large areas of the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, are directed towards imposing a settlement that is unjust and totally unacceptable", he said. The Chairman also acknowledged progress made over the past years, such as the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the occupied territory, the return of the Palestinian leadership from exile, the Palestinian elections, and the establishment of a functioning administration over the evacuated areas.

The Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chile, Juan Martabit, stressed his country's continued support for the Palestinian cause. "We cannot help but view with concern the stagnation of peace talks", he said.

Other speakers included José Felix Ferreyra, Chairman of the Latin American and Caribbean Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the question of Palestine, and José Elias A., President of the Palestinian Federation of Chile.


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