Third World leaders deliver harsh truths to Millennium Summit

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The Independent US

No one can be more pleased in the wake of the Millennium Summit in New York than Count Carlos Maruulo di Condojanni. In the official summit photo, published in most of the world's press earlier this week, he was the man at the top left corner - the one with the enigmatic grin (left).

No one can be more pleased in the wake of the Millennium Summit in New York than Count Carlos Maruulo di Condojanni. In the official summit photo, published in most of the world's press earlier this week, he was the man at the top left corner - the one with the enigmatic grin (left).

By inserting himself into what is surely the most exclusive family photo of all time, the Count pulled off quite some trick. He has a grand title, for sure - Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta - but that does not make him leader of a nation. The order, in fact, is a stamp-issuing authority based near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

It took an entire day before the UN protocol department could identify the stranger in the picture.

Sharp words were exchanged into the final hours of the extraordinary Millennium Summit in New York as leaders of several nations took a last opportunity late on Friday to speak their minds about a world where they see the privileged few still exploiting the many.

The plain speaking - some delivered at the summit site itself and some in oratory at other venues around the city - became one of the distinguishing features of a historic gathering of world leaders, which encouraged honest exchange and dispensed almost entirely with ceremony and pomp. Almost the only exception was the group photograph.

In spite of the conflicting currents of opinion and ideology, the meeting went off without mishap. The 147 leaders even managed to adopt an eight-page declaration. Though its goals were wildly ambitious - for instance, it pledged to halve those living on under one dollar a day by 2015 - at least it had the blessing of the most powerful on the planet.

Among those determined to dispel all self-congratulation and inject some discomfort into the proceedings were Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and - this goes without saying - Communism's last firebrand, Fidel Castro.

President Castro, who grabbed the headlines by shaking President Clinton's hand on Wednesday, left UN headquarters early on Friday to address his own rally at the Riverside Church in Manhattan's Morningside Heights. "The world is undergoing a catastrophic situation," he bellowed. "Don't believe the experts who feign optimism and ignore the cruel realities of the developing world."

The evening before, President Mugabe had similarly used a church setting, though in Harlem, to excoriate the critics of his land-seizure policy. He was barely less incendiary in tone when his time at the summit podium came on Friday. "Our conscience is clear. We will not go back. We shall continue to effect economic and social justice for all our people without fear or favour,'' he told the hall.

"We have sought to redress this inequity through a fast track land reform and resettlement programme. My country, my government, my party and my person are labelled "land grabbers", demonised, reviled and threatened with sanctions in the face of accusations of reverse-racism.''

Mr Mugabe summoned fresh passion to decry the continuing divide between the rich and the poor. "If the new millennium, like the last, remains an age of hegemonic empires and conquerors doing the same old things in new technological ways, remains the age of the master race, the master economy and the master state, then I am afraid we in developing countries will have to stand up as a matter of principle and say, 'Not again'."

Mr Mugabe, however, became the only leader to leave New York with more than a copy of the final declaration. As he left the Harlem church he was served with a civil lawsuit filed in US district court alleging that he orchestrated a campaign of violence to keep his political party in office ahead of Zimbabwe's election.

The plaintiffs, who filed the case under a 211-year-old law that allows foreigners to sue for violations of international law, include relatives of three people slain and a political opponent who claims she was attacked. The lawsuit seeks about $400 million in damages from Mr Mugabe, the Washington Post reported yesterday.

Indonesia found itself chastised in the closing hours of the summit. An emergency session of the Security Council condemned the killing of three UN workers earlier last week in West Timor and lambasted Jakarta for its failure to ensure security there.

In a resolution, the council said it was "appalled" by what it called "this outrageous and contemptible act against unarmed international staff who were in West Timor to help refugees". It told Indonesia to take "immediate and effective measures" to protect foreign personnel on its territory.

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the leaders to go home remembering what they had committed themselves to. "It lies in your power, and therefore it is your responsibility, to reach the goals that you have defined. Only you can determine whether the United Nations rises to the challenge,'' Annan said.

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