- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

UNITED NATIONS | A daylong symposium focusing on the victims of terrorism Tuesday was supposed to be an apolitical event with an emphasis on healing, improving support services and combating a common scourge.

Instead, diplomats from many Islamic countries are outraged, with their diplomats complaining that the event was organized in secrecy and haste and that it bypassed their governments’ concerns and input.

“It would have been better if the symposium on victims of terrorism was organized as a result of transparent and all-inclusive, multilateral intergovernmental consultation,” said Farukh Amil, acting ambassador from Pakistan.

Robert Orr, the chairman of the conference and a key adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said that the session had been planned with input from member states.

“The secretary-general felt he could make a contribution” by convening a special program to examine support for the victims and their families, said another member of Mr. Ban’s staff, who was not authorized to speak for attribution.

“The emphasis is on what happens after [an attack]. Is there a support system for them? It could be powerful.”

Organizers indicate that Ingrid Betancourt, French-Colombian politician who was rescued dramatically in July after six years in the Colombian jungle where she had been held by Marxist guerrillas, will attend the event.

But U.N. officials have been reluctant to release the names or nationalities of other victims on the panel, citing visa and security complications.

One of the sticking points for this and seemingly all other terrorism-related discussions is the inability to define the term “terrorism” or “terrorist.”

Most Arab and Islamic nations insist that there be an exemption for guerrillas, whom they call “freedom fighters,” and Western governments call “terrorists.”

These include fighters in Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups that battle Israel, claiming that they are fighting against Israel’s presence in the West Bank, southern Lebanon and Syria.

Israel, the United States and many Western governments say these groups are fighting to destroy the Jewish state and drive Jews from the Levant.

There are 13 U.N. conventions against terrorist acts, but a four-year effort to draft an omnibus counterterrorism accord has run aground on the inability to define terrorism.

Commenting on Tuesday’s conference, U.N. spokesman Michele Montas said, “We cannot release a list that is incomplete.”

She confirmed that at least one Palestinian had been invited, “but not as a victim.” She said that several potential participants were having trouble with visas and other travel documents.

Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour told The Washington Times that his government is sending at least one specialist on terrorism victims, but likely not a survivor of an attack.

“If there are sensitivities, and they don’t want to include an Israeli or Palestinian, we can live with that, ” Mr. Mansour said. “But no other country in the world has been as afflicted by terrorism as Palestine.”

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Carmon could not say last week whether his country would be sending a victim to the panel discussions, but vowed “there is no way Israel would not participate in this very important initiative.”

He said his country “an affected, possibly the most affected country by this phenomenon called terrorism” and has a lot of expertise to share with other nations.

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