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Wed, Aug 08, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Nobel conference hits a snag

PUBLIC RELATIONS FIASCO In what could be a major embarrassment, the foreign ministry is refusing to fund an upcoming conference involving six Nobel prize winners

By Lindy Yeh  /  STAFF REPORTER

One would think that the possibility of six Nobel peace prize winners attending a conference would be an event that a diplomatically isolated country like Taiwan would long for.

However, as the scheduled date approaches, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and her co-organizers have yet to raise the funds needed to sponsor the event.

According to the vice president's office, six Nobel peace laureates, including former South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk, Poland's former president Lech Walesa, the former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias Sanchez, Northern Ireland peace advocate Betty Williams, British anti-nuclear activist Joseph Rotblat and American anti-land mine activist Jody Williams have accepted invitations to attend this meeting.

The 2001 Global Peace Assembly is scheduled to be held in Taipei on Aug. 15 and 16.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), however, has yet to promise funds for the convention, despite official and private requests for financial and personnel assistance from Lu's office.

According to a ministry official from the Research and Planning Board, which is in charge of the convention, the ministry has promised only administrative assistance, such as extending invitations and collecting information.

"First of all, the government, including the Presidential Office, the Vice President's office and the foreign ministry, have all defined this convention as an NGO gathering organized by the private sector. The foreign ministry would find it very embarrassing to be a major financier of this meeting," said a ministry official in charge of the matter.

"The foreign ministry is not the private sector. Secondly, such a large-scale convention will cost tens of thousands of NT dollars, our budget is limited and has been shrunk by the depreciation of the NT dollar.

"The ministry cannot afford to finance this meeting initiated by the vice president. One or two million will be our limit for funding this event,'' the official said.

The official also complained that Lu's office did not make its request through proper channels, saying that his office had only received personal phone calls from Kuo Ta-wen (郭大文), a senior aide of the vice president asking the ministry for financial and personnel assistance.

But according to a high level official of the Presidential Office, the ministry's explanation was just a pretext to avoid involvement with one of the vice president's pet projects.

According to the official, due to past unpleasantries, the ministry fears interacting with Lu.

Tsai Ming-hua (蔡明華), the vice president's spokeswoman, refuted the ministry by saying that the vice president's plans were indeed presented through due process.

"First, the vice president made an oral report to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and then she presented an official report to the president. How can anyone accuse the vice president of not handling this matter through due process?" Tsai asked.

"As far as the budget is concerned, we don't organize activities one year in advance like the bureaucracy does. The vice president is just trying to help Taiwan break out of its isolation by inviting internationally influential figures like the Nobel prize winners,'' Tsai said.

Being the personal contact for the vice president with MOFA, Kuo also rebutted the ministry's complaints.

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