UN woman praises China forum

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The Independent Online
The questions were all about the apparent difficulties of holding a major United Nations conference in Peking. But yesterday's answers, from Gertrude Mongella, secretary-general of the Fourth World Conference on Women, repeatedly praised China's "excellent" preparations for September's gathering.

Mrs Mongella was in Peking to check arrangements for the official conference and the parallel Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Forum. In particular, she had visited Huairou, a small town 30 miles north-east of Peking and, controversially, the venue for the NGO Forum.

"I think [Huairou] is one of the best sites ever given to the NGO Forum in any conference," Mrs Mongella said yesterday. "I am very satisfied there are enough facilities, not only for the UN conference but also for the NGO Forum."

When China in April abruptly changed the NGO Forum site from central Peking to Huairou it was widely interpreted by Westerners as an attempt to prevent 35,000 unpredictable women activists being too visible to the Chinese people. Many of the NGO concerns focus on issues not freely discussed in China.

With China intransigent over Huairou, attention has now moved to whether some NGOs will have particular difficulties. Asked to give the number of NGOs which have been refused observer status at the official UN conference, Mrs Mongella said: "The process of accreditation is still going on, so we can't know which ones have been turned down until the process has been completed."

The UN's Economic and Social Council in Geneva is currently hearing appeals from those rejected. Six countries, including China and Iran, are opposing observer status for a number of organisations, including human rights groups, exiled Tibetan organisations, a US-based Iranian women's group and a Bhutanese group.

Observer status allows an NGO to attend the official UN conference site in Peking, where it can directly lobby government delegations. So far, more than 2,000 NGOs - the largest ever at a UN conference - have been awarded this status, including several hundred that were originally turned down.

Some 185 nations will be represented at the official UN conference and about 35,000 NGOs have applied to go to the forum.

One Chinese woman yesterday made her own plea for help. Li Guopin, wife of Shanghai's leading dissident, Yang Zhou, said her husband needed urgent medical care for a growth near his stomach.

Mr Yang was released on medical parole on Saturday after serving one year of a three-year "re-education through labour" sentence.