- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

Just one, big world
For a while there, it looked as if the World Economic Forum might be confused with the U.N. Secretariat a few blocks to the east.
No fewer than 18 senior officials of the various U.N. departments, agencies, funds and programs were scheduled to participate in all or part of the five-day WEF, which closes today with a half-hour address by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The United Nations is, judging by a skim of the official program, the second-largest contingent attending the WEF, after members of the U.S. Cabinet and Congress.
A senior U.N. official defended the large turnout, saying that the undersecretaries-general and executive directors go to the WEF for the same reason that heads of state and corporate titans do: to network with really important people.
"The fact is, the secretary-general has attended these meetings for years, and this is an audience he needs to reach, to engage," the official said. He also said that unlike previous years, when the forum was held on a remote mountaintop in Switzerland, the conference this year at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York is quite accessible.
But that doesn't quite wash. While some of the U.N. participants at the WEF have, in fact, strolled down 48th Street, most are flying in from their offices in Nairobi, Geneva, Paris, Rome and the Hague.
Among the U.N. officials who were scheduled to fight their way into the Waldorf were Mr. Annan; Lakhdar Brahimi, special envoy to Afghanistan; Carol Bellamy, UNICEF executive director; Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organization; Carla Del Ponte, chief war-crimes prosecutor; Nitin Desai, head of U.N. economic and social affairs; Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization; U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette; Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of peacekeeping operations; South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo, president of the General Assembly; Ruud Lubbers, high commissioner for refugees; Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program; Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO director-general; Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund; Peter Piot, director of UN/AIDS; Mary Robinson, high commissioner for human rights; Juan Samovia, head of the International Labor Organization; and Klaus Topfer, executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program.
The U.N. executive defended the expense, saying that the organization is not paying for any officials to attend (unlike the roughly 1,000 CEOs who pay something like $20,000 each for the priviledge). "Each of these officials have their own travel budgets," he added.
But these ties look suspiciously like partisanship to some namely the anti-globalization protestors, who say the international organization shouldn't be hobnobbing with the fat cats.
"I don't know what the United Nations is doing there, anyway," said a woman at an anti-globalization demonstration on Saturday. "I mean, are they helping poor countries or are they helping themselves?"
Instead, she complained, the United Nations should be represented at an upstart alternative gathering, the World Social Forum, staged simultaneously each year in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Some 40,000 participants and far-left-to-center activists have gathered in Porto Alegre to discuss issues ranging from debt relief to diversity. In fact, the world body will be represented there by Jose Antonio Ocampo, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. He will be delivering an address from Mr. Annan. Mrs. Robinson also has sent a speech to be distributed to participants.
Among big names at the Waldorf: Bill Gates and King Abdullah of Jordan. The headliner in Porto Alegre is renowned linguistics professor and political scholar Noam Chomsky.

Council field trip
The U.N. Security Council is traveling as well to visit the peacekeeping mission on the contested border of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The trip, scheduled for Feb. 20 to 25, will include meetings with President Isaias Afwerki in Asmara and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa.
An independent commission established to draw the final boundary is expected to issue its determination by the end of the month.
Richard Williamson, a political affairs adviser for the U.S. Mission here, will make the trip with other council representatives.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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