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Annan Sets Tone of General Assembly

September 20, 1999

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ With the deployment of multinational peacekeepers in East Timor as a backdrop, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants world leaders gathering in New York to be more ready to intervene in strife-torn regions to protect civilians.

Annan was to speak today in an opening-day address to the U.N. General Assembly’s annual debate _ two weeks of speeches by heads of state, ministers and a crown prince. He was expected to talk about the need to protect and promote ``human security″ in the coming century.

Annan has made clear that the main challenge facing the United Nations is its role in protecting civilians, who are more and more often the targets of warring parties and not just the unintended victims of their fighting.

And to do that, Annan has said, the United Nations and the Security Council in particular must be willing to take action, even when individual nations’ interests are not at stake.

``A global era requires global engagement,″ Annan said in his prepared remarks. ``Indeed, in a growing number of challenges facing humanity, the collective interest is the national interest.″

He contrasted the inability of the council to find a common strategy in Kosovo with its unanimous and quick vote last week to approve a peacekeeping force for East Timor as evidence of an apparent growing willingness to intervene when innocent lives are at stake.

Such decisive action should deter those who may be thinking of waging new wars, he said.

``If states bent on criminal behavior know that frontiers are not an absolute defense; if they know that the Security Council will take action to halt crimes against humanity, then they will not embark on such a course of action in expectation of sovereign impunity,″ he said.

The first wave of Australian-led peacekeepers deployed today in East Timor’s capital, Dili, to impose order after a rampage by anti-independence militia men, though to have left hundreds dead.

With Kosovo, Congo and East Timor certainly on the minds of many of the more than 185 leaders lined up to speak, the theme of humanitarian intervention is sure to figure prominently in the addresses over the next two weeks.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen were scheduled to be among the first to take the podium today. President Clinton decided to skip his usual opening-day speech because today is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

While the headline-grabbing conflicts around the world are sure to be the priority subjects of this year’s debate, other topics are expected to include Iraq, the ongoing battle against poverty, the United Nations in the next millennium and U.N. reform.

In addition, the smallest U.N. member states will have a chance to voice their concerns at a special two-day session next Monday and Tuesday on the problems facing small island states.

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