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Preparations Not Easy for UN Racism Conference - 2001-08-07


Ministers preparing the agenda and text of the final declaration for the world racism conference this month in Durban, South Africa, are meeting for the second and final week. South Africa's foreign minister has assessed the chances of success for the Durban conference.

The preparatory work for the Durban racism conference has not been easy.

There is continuing controversy over the wish of some Arab countries to equate Zionism, the movement that led to the creation of Israel, with racism. Other countries want an apology from former colonial powers, even if it falls short of reparations, which some countries want.

The United States has threatened to boycott the Durban conference if these issues come up. A spokesman for South Africa's ruling African National Congress has criticized the U.S. for its stance.

But South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was more diplomatic. "What I will say is from the government standpoint, we would really like the United States to participate, in as much as we would like every single state that is a member of the United Nations to participate. So that is our starting point. And we do indeed hope they will participate. But we have no control over whether they come or not. I mean, in the end that is their decision. But from our point of view, we would like them to be there," she said.

Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma said countries should come to the Durban racism conference feeling they have the right to raise any subject. But she felt the difficult issues were not insurmountable if everyone displayed a spirit of give and take.

"In our assessment of what people think, because we tried to interact with as many people as possible, we think there is nobody who feels that the matter is a matter of life and death. But I think there are countries which feel strongly that something must be said about the situation in the Middle East. They do not feel strongly about that particular phrase - Zionism as racism - but they do feel strongly that with what is going on, on the ground, in the Middle East it will be difficult not to say anything on that issue," she said.

On the issue of colonialism, the South African foreign minister said there must be, what she calls, acknowledgement of the past and a recognition that a lot of the problems that Africa is now facing are a result of those practices. "We feel that we have to talk about the past. It is important to talk about it, and it is important to close the chapter, so that in the next century we will not be talking about the same thing. But if you do not talk about it, it will accumulate as a grievance and will continue to dog all of us," she noticed.

Let us acknowledge the past, said Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma, let us look at the present and let us work towards the future.

On the progress of the Geneva preparatory conference, Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma said that she had found a much more positive spirit than before.

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