World Food Summit opens with plea for Zaire refugees
November 13, 1996
Web posted at: 1:15 p.m. EST (1815 GMT)
From Correspondent Richard Roth
ROME (CNN) -- The plight of refugees in eastern Zaire took
center stage Wednesday at the World Food Summit, as the U.N.
secretary general urged countries to unite and aid people who
otherwise "face certain death."
In an impassioned plea, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros
Boutros-Ghali told delegates from the 194 countries gathered
that more than one million displaced Rwandan and Burundian
refugees in Zaire are in desperate need of help. Most of
the refugees are completely cut off from international
assistance. (192K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
"I would like to make a solemn appeal here to the
international community to help those men, women and children
who have lost everything and who face certain death unless
they receive immediate aid," said Boutros-Ghali, who is
trying to put together a multi-national military force to
open aid routes into eastern Zaire.
"This is an all-out emergency and every day counts."
Boutros-Ghali's appeal came in the opening minutes of the
five-day conference and showed how the Zaire crisis has
added urgency to the summit. More than 80 heads of
state are expected to attend the conference, sponsored by the
U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization at its Rome
The refugee crisis was not on the official summit agenda, and
conference planners had encouraged keeping the meeting
focused on the ambitious but non-binding policy goal: to
reduce by half the number of undernourished people in the
world by the year 2015. About 840 million people are
malnourished around the world, according to the
Food and Agriculture Organization.
Jacques Diouf, the organization's director-general who also
spoke Wednesday, urged delegates to remain focused. He said the
Zaire crisis should serve as a reminder of the rest of the
world's hunger problems that go largely unnoticed. (212K/19 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Pope: Gap between rich, poor intolerable
Pope John Paul II, the first speaker at the conference,
denounced the imbalance between the rich and the poor and
challenged the delegates to "eliminate the specter of hunger
from the planet."
"We have to jointly seek solutions so that never again will
there be hungry people living side by side with people in
opulence ... such contrasts between poverty and wealth cannot
be tolerated," he said. (129K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
The pontiff, wearing white robes and sitting in a high-backed
chair, alluded to the Zaire crisis, appealing for aid to
"countries torn by conflict and refugees forced from their
lands without assistance."
He also criticized the use of economic embargoes "imposed
without sufficient consideration" and appealed for the West
to ease the debt burdens that "weigh on the destinies" of
The pope has often denounced sanctions as unfairly hurting
common people -- putting the Vatican at odds with the United
States and other Western nations.
His comments came a day after the U.N. General Assembly voted
337-3 to urge the United States to end its 34-year embargo
against Cuba, whose leader, Fidel Castro, is expected to
attend the summit and meet later this week with the pope.
"Leaders, economists and every one of goodwill must look for
every possible way of sharing more equitably resources which
are not lacking," the pope said. "By sharing in this way,
everyone will demonstrate their sense of fraternity."
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