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Un especial de Tierramérica: Cumbre Mundial sobre el Desarrollo Sostenible,
Johannesburgo, 26 de agosto - 4 de septiembre 2002
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Walk Out Averted!
Civil Society and U.N. Reach Truce over Sandton Access

Por Bert Wilkinson

The United Nations and representatives from more than 12,000 registered NGO and civil society groups, reached a peace accord late yesterday, averting a potentially embarrassing NGO boycott of the official negotiations over access to the Sandton Convention Centre.

“We must say that the U.N. and the South African government moved very quickly and were very cooperative. They clearly averted protest action in the form of a boycott, a march or a sleep, whatever people were planning,” said Renate Bloem, president of the International Confederation of NGOs and a key member of the International Steering Group (ISG).

Tensions between the groups and U.N. administrators boiled over into a full-fledged row yesterday, after U.N. security officials moved to deny dozens of civil society representatives access to the convention centre where negotiations are taking place.

But following three rounds of emergency meetings, including at least two attended by South African Social Development Minister Zola Skneyiya and Nitin Desai, the U.N. conference secretary-general, the two sides reached an accord, averting what the German-born Bloem called a “near crisis” at the summit.

From today, between 1,500 and 1,900 civil society representatives will be allowed access to the centre to interact with delegates and lobby ministerial delegations. Two more entry points will be added to avoid embarrassingly long queues that were evident yesterday.

The special pass system to Sandton, implemented by security official, has been abolished, but Bloem acknowledged that U.N. security and fire department officials would be keeping an eye on overcrowding in the event of an emergency.

In all, non-government representatives will have three entryways compared to one for negotiators.

Additionally, talks are going on with transportation organisers to have shuttle buses moving on a non-stop basis between Sandton and NASREC, to cut down on the commuting time between the two major centres.

Earlier in the day, NGOs had demanded the ISG take decisive protest action to pressure the United Nations to ease access restrictions at Sandton. Suggestions ranged from organising a massive march, whether permission was granted or not, to withdrawing representation at Sandton.

But despite yesterday’s success, more problems may lie ahead because U.N. officials have already warned the groups that access will be severely cut for security reasons from next week when heads of state and government leaders arrive for the meeting. U.N. officials have promised to consider setting up huge television screens in temporary tents to cater to those unable to enter for security reasons.

“I would say that the U.N. and the South African government did everything with their heart and soul there. They wanted to ensure this was a success,” said Bloem.

“Our voices need to be heard and Sandton is the main place for that. We have not travelled all this way for nothing,” declared Paul Tennassee of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labour.

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