Boycott threat to women's conference

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The Independent Online


in Peking

The European Union and other governments yesterday stepped up diplomatic pressure on China to reverse its decision to keep non-governmental groups far away from a United Nations women's conference to be held in Peking in September.

The manoeuvres came on the eve of a deadline set by women's organisations for China to come up with a solution to the dispute, which threatens to cripple the largest gathering ever held under UN auspices.

The intention was to accommodate a forum for non- governmental organisations (NGOs) in central Peking near the conference proper, which will be attended by ministers from most UN member governments. In April, however, China announced that the NGO venue, the Workers' Stadium, was unsafe and that the forum would be located instead at a tourist centre in Huairou, 33 miles north of the capital.

The switch was rejected by the NGOs on the grounds that the distance would make their task of lobbying ministers at the conference impossible. In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the NGO forum facilitating committee, in New York, said it expected a response from Mr Boutros-Ghali and Peking today.

If no flexibility is shown by the Chinese, the conference could unravel. Many NGOs are threatening to stay away if no venue in Peking is provided. That could prompt governments to withdraw from the conference. Several EU countries have warned that they would join an NGO boycott. However, Britain, which is planning to send a three-strong delegation, headed by the Foreign Office minister Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, has stayed silent on the issue.