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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Conference split on slavery issue
Demonstrators at the conference against racism in Durban, South Africa
Other issues are sidelined by slavery and Zionism
Talks between African and European Union countries on the subject of slavery and reparations have run into deep difficulties at the UN conference against racism in Durban, South Africa.

European diplomats at the conference say that African nations have hardened their position and that it is not clear how an agreement can be reached.


You can't imagine what a boost to morale it was, after so many centuries of exploitation, when the French parliament accepted that slavery was a crime against humanity

Aloiun Tine
Coordinator of African NGOs
On the conference's other contentious issue - the Middle East - French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said on Wednesday that France and the EU would follow in the footsteps of the US and Israel and quit the conference, if delegates were determined to equate Zionism with racism.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips reports from Durban that, while most EU countries were previously in favour of offering some sort of apology for the transatlantic slave trade, they are now united against what they call unreasonable African demands.

African demands

African countries, lobbied by black American groups, want an explicit apology, debt cancellation, more aid and reparations.

Namibia and Zimbabwe have been driving this hard-line agenda.

As the host, South Africa wants the conference to succeed but also wants to show solidarity with other Africans.

Demonstrators in Durban
Reparations for slavery is a divisive issue
But different African countries interpret reparations in different ways.

Some say that increased aid would be acceptable. Others want new payments which are specifically acknowledged as being in compensation for the slave trade.

But the Europeans do not want any mention of reparations in a final document.

"We fear that the issue of reparations may be sabotaged, as the Middle East issue was," said Aloiun Tine, the coordinator of African non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

"You can't imagine what a boost to morale it was, after so many centuries of exploitation, when the French parliament accepted that slavery was a crime against humanity."

Zionism and racism

Five delegates representing South Africa, Belgium (on behalf of the EU), the Arab League, Norway and Namibia have meanwhile been fine-tuning a statement on the Middle East.


If the final resolution continues to assimilate Zionism and racism, France and the European Union delegation will consider leaving the conference

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin
The EU has set Wednesday evening as the deadline for making progress in removing anti-Israel language from the proposed declaration.

The United States and Israel walked out of the conference on Monday over what they called "offensive language" in the declaration on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

The controversy has overshadowed the conference, which is meant to highlight discrimination around the world, as France warned it would also walk out.

"If the final resolution continues to assimilate Zionism and racism, France and the European Union delegation will consider leaving the conference following consultations with our European partners," Mr Jospin's spokesman quoted him as saying during a cabinet meeting.

The new draft now being worked on was written the by the conference chairman, South African Foreign Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

No details of the new text were available, but the EU considers it an "acceptable basis for negotiation", said Koen Vervaeke, a Belgian foreign ministry spokesman.

The original draft document stated its "deep concern" at the "increase of racist practices of Zionism and anti-Semitism".

It talked of the emergence of "movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas, in particular the Zionist movement, which is based on racial superiority".

See also:

05 Sep 01 | Africa
Racism summit seeks breakthrough
03 Sep 01 | Africa
Racism summit turmoil: Reactions
03 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK challenged over slavery
03 Sep 01 | Europe
Europe split over slavery row
03 Sep 01 | Africa
Focus on the slave trade
04 Sep 01 | Americas
Compensation for slavery
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