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World: Leaders Urge Greater Commitment By Rich To Help Struggling States

  • Robert McMahon

Three Balkan presidents have added their voices to the calls for a stronger commitment of development aid to poor and struggling states. The presidents of Macedonia, Croatia, and Romania -- part of a region emerging from war and economic decline -- spoke on the first day of the summit of leaders attending the United Nation's development conference in Monterrey, Mexico. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports that a number of leaders spoke of the potential for wide-ranging instability caused by poverty.

Monterrey, Mexico; 22 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The UN development summit has opened with appeals for richer states to extend more help to countries gripped by poverty or be prepared to face global instability.

Heads of state and government on 21 March repeatedly cited UN figures on the immense scale of global poverty. Some 1.2 billion people live in poverty; hundreds of millions don't have access to basic health or education services. And despite the growing wealth of the developed world, they noted, development aid has been declining.

Either directly or indirectly, the message was the same -- a world now gripped by the fear of terrorism cannot afford to ignore the conditions that breed extremism.

Three presidents from Balkan states who spoke on the opening day of the two-day summit in Monterrey, Mexico, also touched on this theme.

Croat President Stipe Mesic said the developed world has an obligation to help the poorest states for both humanitarian and security reasons: "The developed world must also help because misery, poverty and dependence create the environment fostering terrorism, producing desperate individuals who are easily misled by the abuse of either religion or ideology, or a just struggle for the achievement of legitimate national rights."

Mesic said all poor countries deserved the chance to speed their own development, and to do this they need foreign aid. Underdeveloped countries, he said, cannot trigger this development on their own, although he stressed he was not suggesting "some kind of economic charity."

Macedonia's president, Boris Trajkovski, proposed that the international community set up a special mechanism to help countries like his that are emerging from conflicts that have scared off investors. He said such a mechanism should provide guarantees to investors, helping war-damaged countries build economic stability.

Trajkovski said developing countries must show they are serious about enacting institutional and legal reforms to attract investors. But he said the developed world must demonstrate a greater commitment to helping countries sustain growth: "The responsibility of wealthier nations toward the rest of the world is to be responsible stewards of the wealth. The best way to accomplish that stewardship is through the promotion of sustainable economic development toward the world and by helping less fortunate countries -- but those that are willing to shoulder their share of the burden -- to become more prosperous."

Macedonian government forces fought ethnic Albanian rebels in the country last year. But the two sides reached a peace agreement and rebels disbanded in exchange for political reforms giving ethnic Albanians more civil rights.

The Stability Pace for South East Europe has identified the needs for countries such as Macedonia and Croatia. Its new coordinator, Erhard Busek, says continued support must come not only from the European Union but Japan and Canada as well.

The president of another struggling Balkan country, Ion Iliescu of Romania, told the development summit the increasing polarization of global wealth has become a growing source of instability in the world.

He called for a greater partnership between rich and poor nations to improve conditions under which development aid is disbursed: "There is need for more active involvement of disadvantaged countries and countries in transition in the process of decision-making in international economic organizations, and for a more accurate reflection of these countries' opinions and interests."

Iliescu noted Romania's difficulties in transforming its command economy through free market reforms. Those difficulties have blocked Romania from joining other former Communist states in the expected European Union enlargement in 2004.

He said Romania's problems in attracting foreign direct investment has been a chief problem. But he said Romanian citizens will only support painful economic reforms that combine what he called "economic efficiency with social justice."

The summit opened on 21 March with the chiefs of the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization (WTO) all urging donor nations to provide more development aid and to eliminate trade barriers.

WTO Director-General Mike Moore made an especially strong appeal for abolishing trade barriers, saying it could lift 320 million people out of poverty by the year 2015.

Moore said if aid and trade patterns continued the way they are, the world would suffer the consequences: "Poverty in all its forms is the greatest single threat to peace, security, democracy, human rights and the environment. It is a time bomb lodged against the heart of liberty. This need not be so. Poverty is man-made and men and women can change this."

Jordan's King Abdullah, one of the few Muslim leaders attending the Monterrey summit, also spoke about the corrosive effect of poverty and its ties to terrorism. He said the struggle against terrorism requires economic, development and diplomatic efforts: "For too long, deep pools of poverty and desperation have served as breeding grounds for conflict and division. Too many people, especially youth, are alienated from all that makes our era so promising. They perceive an unbridgeable divide between Western 'haves' and worldwide 'have-nots.' In their despair, they are listening to voices of hatred and violence instead of freedom and hope."

The Monterrey conference was to end on 22 March with the adoption by all 189 UN members of a plan pledging to provide freer trade, higher foreign investment, debt relief, and a commitment by poor countries to make more efficient use of aid.

Summit speakers early in the day were to include U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac. Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan and Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev were also expected to speak.

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