Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The day I met my hero President Nelson Mandela

On the morning of 29th September 2000 after the daily briefing with the members of my parliamentary delegation at the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, I ran across to the UN building two blocks down the road on 1st Avenue and 43rd Street. The day before on 28th September, I had delivered my official youth statement to the 55th Session of the UN General Assembly. Now I wanted to listen to my hero President Nelson Mandela, as he was due to brief the UN Security Council on the peacekeeping operation in Burundi.

I made sure I had all my UN security clearance tags to enter the Security Council chamber, as it was a closed meeting only for government delegates. I thought I was running late, but as I was about to open the chamber’s door, I heard a deep voice behind me and as I turned back, there was my man wearing a colourful shirt different from the rest who were all in their dark suits. So I held the door for him and his bodyguards and as he was about to enter the chamber, he stopped looked at me and greeted me "good morning young man". It is the happiest moment in my life to have the honour of shaking his hand and to wish him good luck on his briefing. I then entered the chamber and walked behind this tall man and sat close enough where I could film his briefing.

The Council President Moctar Ouane of Mali opened the show and introduced Nelson Mandela to the chamber packed with top UN officials and diplomats from many countries. Then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan thanked President Mandela for travelling all the way to New York to brief the Council on the current phase of his peace efforts in Burundi. After that great introduction, Mandela started his briefing with a deep and slow voice “Mr. President” he said, addressing the Security Council President and I got it all on tape. It was just great. Thanks to his work, the peace process has moved forward significantly. The signing of the Arusha Agreement on 28 August, followed by the agreement on 20 September in Nairobi on the participation of the remaining three parties, is surely a very important milestone in Burundi's long and painful road to peace.

In his briefing President Mandela stressed that there could be no justification for the violent attacks on Burundian civilians when a comprehensive political agreement had been reached, opening the way for all sides to bring their concerns to the political table. He called on the rebel groups to demonstrate the quality of their leadership, announce a ceasefire and halt the slaughter of innocent people. He also told the Security Council that if the armed groups were not included in the peace process, there was no guarantee that the issues agreed to recently in Arusha by the 19 political parties would be followed by the rebels.

Secretary General Kofi Annan, who also addressed the Council, called the Arusha agreement a "comprehensive blueprint" for the reform of Burundian society. "It addresses the root causes of the conflict, such as exclusion and genocide, as well as the tragic consequences of the war, including the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people," the Secretary-General said. He also said that the United Nations was ready and willing to make its contribution to the success of these efforts -- for the sake of the people of Burundi, but also for the stability and prosperity of a troubled region, which could find a source of inspiration in a successful peace process in Burundi, for the negotiated settlement of its wider conflicts.

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