- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

The head of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization yesterday denied a congressman's claim that UNESCO planned to spend millions of dollars to rehabilitate Cuba's old Havana and appealed for the United States to rejoin the body.

Director-General Koichiro Matsuura also said in an interview that UNESCO is to lead a global effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through education about the disease.

Asked if he believes the Bush administration will rejoin UNESCO, Mr. Matsuura said: "That's my hope, but there has been no formal decision yet."

The Reagan administration pulled the United States out of UNESCO in 1984 after its then-director-general, Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, attempted to rally Third World and socialist bloc nations behind a New World Information Order that would allow governments to control news reporting.

The Bush administration is now weighing whether to rejoin the organization, the U.N. agency promoting cultural, educational and scientific cooperation.

U.S. dues would be $60 million a year out of the $400 million annual UNESCO budget.

Rep. Thomas G. Tancredo, Colorado Republican, on May 10 in a debate in the House sought to block a $67 million appropriation for rejoining UNESCO. He claimed Mr. Matsuura "plans to use millions of dollars of his organization's funds to help restore colonial Havana," a charge Mr. Matsuura politely but firmly denied yesterday.

Mr. Matsuura said that over the past 20 years, UNESCO has only spent $225,000 to train Cuban specialists on preserving colonial-era buildings.

The full House rejected the Tancredo effort, and approved the money. The issue now goes before the Senate.

Aside from the controversy over freedom of the press, Paris-based UNESCO has been mired in bureaucratic lethargy and accusations of top-heavy management and corruption, Mr. Matsuura conceded in an interview yesterday.

He said he has fired 30 senior advisers since taking over in November 1999, and he is downgrading or dismissing some of the 200 senior-level directors to reduce staff and allow younger people into the organization.

Mr. Matsuura came to Washington after meetings in New York at the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on AIDS, where he met with health, education and political leaders from member states.

Senegal, Uganda and Thailand have all dramatically cut AIDS-infection rates by educating people about how sex spreads the illness and by teaching young people to delay or abstain from sex or to use condoms.

He said there is some resistance by parents and by Muslim leaders or traditionalists who oppose teaching children about sex and condoms, for fear it will spur sexual activity.

"But many young girls don't know about AIDS and we have to tell them how to protect themselves," he said.

"UNESCO has been helping countries in a sporadic, fragmented manner, but now we are preparing a five-year program for education on AIDS," he said. "Now we will try to educate the policy-makers."

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