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Annan: Helping Arab world overcome many challenges

UN ready to help Arab world overcome ‘many formidable challenges’ – Annan

In a wide-ranging review of the “many formidable challenges” facing the Arab world, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today reaffirmed the United Nations commitment to help resolve issues ranging from sectarian violence in Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse to the continued killings, rape and displacement in Sudan.

“You gather during a period of continued turbulence in the Arab world and the surrounding region,” he said in a message to the Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan, delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.

Mr. Annan stressed the need for dialogue and cooperation in overcoming continuing strife on each of the following issues:

Iraq: after last month’s “heinous” bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, a fully inclusive government is needed more urgently than ever to counter sectarian violence. The UN will continue to promote inter-communal dialogue and maintain its efforts, as circumstances permit, to assist reconstruction and economic development.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: an affirmation by the new Palestinian cabinet of the Arab Peace Initiative would be a first welcome step towards the reaffirmation of Palestinian commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and acceptance of the UN-backed Road Map peace plan for a two-state solution. Israel, too, must be reminded, in light of continued creation of facts on the ground, that peace cannot be imposed unilaterally.

Lebanon: the country’s friends and neighbours have a crucial role to play in helping it consolidate its independence and sovereignty and the UN stands ready to help Lebanon and Syria to cultivate productive, friendly ties based on the explicit assurances of respect for each other’s sovereignty, security and independence.

Somalia: the UN will continue to provide political, moral and material support for the transitional process as the Horn of Africa country continues to cope with violence, the weakness or non-existence of governing institutions, and a lack of national consensus on the future. “I hope Arab states will actively seek opportunities to give both humanitarian and development aid,” Mr. Annan said.

Sudan: aspects of the situation remains deeply troubling with actions falling short of expectations on several fronts following last year’s peace accord in the south, while in Darfur “people continue to be killed, raped and driven from their homes by the thousands.” Mr. Annan hailed African Union agreement to support in principle the transition from its mission in Darfur to a larger, more mobile UN operation.

Cultural rifts: the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that many found deeply offensive has led to “an apparent deepening of the already troubling rift between communities and nations of different beliefs and cultures,” Mr. Annan said. The Alliance of Civilizations initiative that he has launched with the support of Spain and Turkey is intended to generate a concerted effort to bridge divides, combat extremism and overcome prejudices, misconceptions, and polarizations which potentially threaten world peace.

UN reform: he thanked the Arab countries for supporting the process and noted that important steps have already been taken such as setting up a new Peace-building Commission, a Democracy Fund, a much improved emergency response fund, and a new, stronger Human Rights Council.

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