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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

War fears put water forum in jeopardy


Staff writer

KYOTO -- The remainder of the 3rd World Water Forum, which is scheduled to end Sunday, was thrown into confusion Tuesday by fears that a U.S.-led war on Iraq is imminent.

News photo
Journalists covering the World Water Forum watch U.S. President George W. Bush deliver his Iraq ultimatum in the press room of the Kyoto International Conference Hall.

Hours after U.S. President George W. Bush delivered an ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face an invasion, some participants, particularly those from the Middle East, said they were rethinking their attendance plans.

In response, forum officials set up a special desk to provide information on flights leaving Japan and would not rule out the possibility of major schedule changes.

Five Iraqi participants, including the deputy minister for irrigation, left the event in the morning and returned home from Narita airport.

U.S. officials said the U.S. delegation, led by Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, was still scheduled to attend ministerial-level conferences slated for later this week.

The World Water Council, which is sponsoring the event, vowed to go on with the conference.

"At this point, we do not think it is necessary to consider canceling," said Hideaki Oda, the forum's secretary general, at a hastily called news conference in the afternoon.

But forum officials indicated that several events scheduled for later this week, including the final two-day conference involving ministers from 165 countries, could be changed if a war actually starts.

Discussion topics between Wednesday and Friday include water resources in the Middle East and Israeli/Palestinian water rights.

Forum officials could not confirm that all government ministers scheduled to attend this weekend's ministerial conference will actually show. Nor did they comment on media reports that land minister Chikage Ogi, slated to cochair the conference with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, might end up canceling if the Iraq invasion goes ahead.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry is one of the event's sponsors.

"If war breaks out, a good number of government delegations will not come or scale back their attendance," said one Middle Eastern delegate who asked not to be named. "At that point, I would expect the weekend conferences will be canceled."

Meanwhile, several nongovernmental organizations that came to discuss water issues announced that they would hold antiwar demonstrations in and around Kyoto over the next few days. During Tuesday's sessions, antiwar demonstrators could be seen outside the meeting halls.



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