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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Slavery row divides Europe
A delegate with flags at the UN conference
Some African states and black Americans want an apology
Divisions have emerged among European Union countries on whether to apologise for the transatlantic slave trade at a UN racism summit already plagued by differences.

British diplomats say they are sticking to the line that European countries agreed on before the beginning of the United Nations World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa.

If you don't feel apologetic for slavery, if you don't feel apologetic for colonialism, if you feel proud of it then say that

Jesse Jackson
This is to accept that the slave trade was deeply regrettable, but not to apologise or to agree that it was a crime against humanity.

Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands are believed to be in sympathy with Britain.

All four were heavily involved in the slave trade.

Other countries that were not, led by current EU president Belgium, want to move closer to African and black American demands for an apology.

Senior African-American campaigner, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, said a failure to apologise would indicate that these countries were proud of their colonial past.

"If you don't feel apologetic for slavery, if you don't feel apologetic for colonialism, if you feel proud of it, then say that," he told the BBC.

"But if one has a sincere desire to overcome the ravages of the past it doesn't take much to apologise and move towards some plan for restoration."

Some countries may indeed fear that an apology would add momentum to demands that those which traded in slaves pay reparations.

The question of reparations has been among the most divisive issues at the conference.

But for President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, the concept of reparation is "absurd and even insulting", arguing that three centuries of slavery cannot be evaluated in terms of dollars.

He has also pointed out that slavery has been practised by everyone, including his own ancestors.

Dogged differences

The situation in the Middle East has also haunted the summit.

The US, Canada and Israel sent just low-level delegations to Durban in protest at draft declarations indicating condemnation of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

On Sunday, about 6,000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) drew up their own final document branding Israel a racist state.

Israeli delegate Mordechai Yadid
Israel's Mr Yadid says he could leave
The declaration, which is in no way binding upon the conference, raised tempers both in Durban and in Israel.

"It is an outburst of hate, of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism without any consideration," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile the leader of the summit's Israeli delegation warned he was weighing up his options.

"We are reaching a stage where we have to consider whether to walk out," Mordechai Yadid told a news conference.

Norwegian negotiations

Norway is trying to draw up a document which will bridge the gulf between the demands from Arab and Islamic states and US and Israeli anger that Israel be condemned.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is hosting the summit, told Reuters that the US was responsible for allowing the Middle East dominate the agenda in this way.

The US had "aggressively lobbied" on Israel's behalf in the run-up to the summit and delegates had been "forced to make statements in order to asserts which side they are on in this debate", he said.

But Mr Mbeki was optimistic that the conference's differences over the Middle East and slavery reparations could be resolved.

"I am confident that we will find a common and acceptable position with regard to those issues," he said.

Delegates have four days to work out their differences before the conference closes on 7 September.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"There is little grounds for optimism"
The BBC's David Loyn, in Durban
speaks to UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson
Mark Almond, Oxford University
"Who exactly would you pay the compensation to?"
Linda Bellos, African Reparations Movement
"We are insisting on symbolic sums [of reparation]"
See also:

09 Aug 01 | Americas
US may boycott racism conference
04 Aug 01 | Africa
New warning on racism conference
30 Jul 01 | Africa
Rows threaten racism conference
03 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK challenged over slavery
03 Sep 01 | Africa
Focus on the slave trade
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