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UN Chief Backs Envoy's Criticism of Arafat - 2004-07-14

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed his support for the U.N.'s leading Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, who has been banned from entering Palestinian territory after he criticized Yasser Arafat in his monthly report to the Security Council.

The secretary-general released a statement affirming that Mr. Larsen spoke on behalf of the United Nations, just hours after the top aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accused the envoy of making what he called "inaccurate and biased statements" and said Mr. Larsen is no longer welcome in Palestinian lands.

On Tuesday, Mr. Larsen told the Security Council that Mr. Arafat has taken no steps to end violence on the ground, and has ignored international calls to make needed changes to the Palestinian Authority, which he said is on the verge of collapse. Mr. Arafat's aide, Nabil Abu Rudeina, responded by saying Mr. Annan should "look into Mr. Larsen's behavior" and dispatch "neutral envoys."

Mr. Larsen was reporting to the Security Council about the status of the road map for peace in the Middle East backed by the so-called Middle East Quartet, made up of Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe read Mr. Annan's statement, which said Mr. Larsen criticized both Israel and the Palestinians.

"Mr. Roed-Larsen's intention was to convey concerns within the quartet and more widely to the international community regarding a lack of implementation by both parties of the road map obligations," she said. "There is a consensus within the quartet that the Palestinian Authority must carry out its reform process, including the full empowerment of the Palestinian prime minister. The government of Israel must dismantle settlement outposts and freeze settlement activity and both sides must return to the negotiating table."

Mr. Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat who was a key negotiator in the 1993 Oslo Accords, has also been a harsh critic of Israeli policy. His five-year term as U.N. envoy for the Middle East peace process is scheduled to end next year.