- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

JOHANNESBURG After watching Arab nations wreck a U.N. conference on racism last year, South African officials say they are determined to make sure interest groups don't hijack the agenda of another global summit beginning here today.
Organizing officials and security police said in interviews they have made careful plans to thwart the two main threats to the World Conference on Sustainable Development: an increasingly hard-line Arab campaign against Israel and protests by opponents of globalization.
"This is not a conference for anarchy," Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma declared after police used stun grenades and arrested foreign demonstrators who tried to scale the fence of a nuclear power reactor.
Behind the scenes, the South Africans are equally determined to counter an Arab attempt to shift the conference's focus to accusations of Israeli abuses of the environment, linked with charges that the United States has been slow to honor its commitments to the Third World.
Arab-led moves against Israel and its prime backer, the United States, led to the virtual collapse of a U.N. conference on racism and xenophobia last September, also held in this South African city.
So adamant were the Arab and Muslim nations that the conference define Israel as racist that it was extended an extra day until a face-saving formula was forced through.
The United States and Israel had long since departed in disgust, and the Canadians and Australians issued strong expressions of disdain even for the watered-down resolutions.
Alongside the main conference, a collection of pressure groups and nongovernmental organizations had declared Israel a racist, apartheid state, leading U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson to reject the final resolutions as anti-Semitic.
The South Africans have considerable sympathy for the Arab perspective, stemming largely from the ruling party's long links with Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian leadership, as well as rapidly growing economic ties with the oil-rich and arms-purchasing Gulf states.
But the South Africans say they will not allow the Arabs to demonize Israel and its American backer again.
"We will simply not allow our conference to be hijacked, as it so nearly was last time," said Aziz Pahad, the long-serving South African deputy foreign minister.
"We realize the important issues being discussed here affecting the future of us in Africa," he said. "Against that we cannot let side issues become main issues."
Officials said a parallel conference of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has been placed as far away from the main summit as possible.
A phalanx of policemen, many bearing submachine guns, has been placed strategically along the roads leading from there to the ultramodern marble-floored Sandton Convention Center where the main conference is being held.
The South Africans also have used a mixture of persuasion and threat to quiet their own militant groups, who last time had allied with the Palestinian and Arab NGO delegates to push through their anti-Israeli agenda.
The other perceived threat has come from anti-globalization protesters who had hoped to form an alliance with all aggrieved groups to disrupt the summit. Several groups have openly declared their intention to do so.
"We have very high quality preparations," a South African official said. "We have gathered intelligence on each and every troublemaker. We won't arrest them unless forced to, but we will just keep them far from causing harm."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide