July 29, 2005

Ice broken in long-frozen UN terror treaty talks

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Bombings in Britain and Egypt
and a week of informal talks have given new momentum to a
long-stalled effort to draft a comprehensive U.N. treaty
against terrorism, diplomats said on Friday.

"The talks were very positive. We have broken the ice,"
said Ambassador Mohamed Bennouna of Morocco, chairman of the
U.N. General Assembly's treaty-writing legal committee.

The panel, which ended five days of talks on Monday, has
scheduled another week of informal talks in early September
before its next working session on Oct. 10.

The draft "comprehensive convention on international
terrorism" aims to give nations new tools and a strong legal
framework to fight terrorism collectively but has been stuck in
the U.N. committee since India first proposed it in 1996.

Each of the 191 U.N. nations has a seat on the panel.

The dispute centers on how to define terrorism and whether
Palestinian suicide bombings should be excluded from the pact.

Following a recent wave of bombings, U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan challenged the panel to complete work on the treaty
by the end of this year. He has suggested a simple statement
defining terrorism as any intentional maiming or killing of
civilians, regardless of motive.

Arab delegates until now have argued the U.N. Charter's
assertion of a right to self-determination authorizes national
liberation movements -- such as the Palestinians -- to fight
foreign occupation, even with tactics like bombings.

But during this week's informal talks, some Arab and
Western nations laid out a potential path to a compromise,
exploring the possibility of adding language referring to the
right of self-determination to the treaty's preamble rather
than to its operative provisions.

"While there was no breakthrough, there has been more
progress this week than in the past three years," said one
Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"But at least some in the Organization of the Islamic
Conference remain fixed on having an exclusion for freedom
fighters in the definition," this diplomat said.

After last weekend's deadly attacks in Egypt, drafters took
heart from a statement issued by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC
secretary-general, who urged a collective Muslim response to
such bombings including the adoption of "new measures to
eradicate this scourge."

"Terrorism ... has inflicted so much damage and brought
nothing but harm to the Muslim world and its standing,
particularly by demonizing the image and reputation of Muslims
in the eyes of the world," Ihsanoglu said in the statement.

In addition to the attacks in Egypt, which killed 64
people, London's mass transit system was hit by bombs that
killed 56 people on July 7 and two weeks later suspected
bombers failed in attempt to set off four more.