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    Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2557
    Release Date:   10 May 2000
    Secretary-General Says Palestine Refugees 'Special Cause' for UN,
    At Palestine Relief Agency's 50th Anniversary Photo Exhibit

    NEW YORK, 9 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the opening of a photo exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), at Headquarters on 8 May:

    Thank you, Peter, for those kind words of introduction.  It is a pleasure to join you in commemorating the vital work that UNRWA has carried out for more than half a century.

    Palestine refugees have been a special cause for the United Nations.  The photographs in this exhibition show the deplorable conditions in which they live.  During my own visit to the refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza two years ago, I saw for myself how difficult daily life is there, and how deeply Palestinians yearn for an end to their long years of hardship.

    But I also saw bona fide accomplishments of which both the refugees and UNRWA should be proud.  With UNRWA's assistance and support, Palestine refugees have achieved infant mortality rates that are among the lowest in the region.  Malnutrition is virtually unknown.  Health care, education, job training, micro-credit lending -- UNRWA has provided these essential services and more, especially for women.

    These are uncertain times in the Middle East, and no people feel this uncertainty more acutely than do the Palestine refugees, who today number more than 3 million.  It is my fervent hope that the refugee issue, which is on the agenda of the "final status" talks that are now under way, can be resolved as soon as possible.  The United Nations stands ready to play its part in that process.

    I would like to pay tribute to the refugees themselves, and to the men and women of UNRWA -- especially its Palestinian staff -- for the magnificent work they have done under trying circumstances.  I call on the international community to ensure that UNRWA has the resources it needs to keep up with the growth and rising needs of the refugee community.  UNRWA relies entirely on voluntary funding and has been beset by an almost constant financial crisis in recent years.

    I would like to thank Commissioner General Hansen and his colleagues for bringing this display to New York.  And I invite all people to view this exhibit and to see in these vivid photographs the role the United Nations can play in alleviating hardship and furthering the cause of peace.  Thank you very much.

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