November 18, 1998

Mr. President,

My Government has aligned with the statement made by the distinguished representative of Austria on behalf of the European Union. A member of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Cyprus welcomes the initiative for inclusion of the item entitled "Bethlehem 2000" in the agenda of the 53rd Session of the General Assembly.

My Government sees in this initiative a message of hope and optimism, necessary today more than ever in a world plagued by conflict and intolerance. We therefore fully endorse the decision of the Palestinian National Authority to celebrate the 2000th Anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ and we call for the strong practical support of the International Community to make this project a success.

This initiative comes at a crucial juncture in the evolution of the Middle East Conflict and we therefore hope that it will strengthen even further the forces of reconciliation and cooperation in this very sensitive region and will affect positively the peace process on which the International Community has placed so many hopes. The peace process is of the highest importance not only for the Palestinian and Israeli people but also for the future of peace throughout the region.

Throughout history, the Eastern Mediterranean has been a cradle of civilizations, of coexistence between religions, an important trade route and a strategic location of extreme significance. Cyprus as an integral part of this area believes that no effort should be spared in seeking a comprehensive, just and lasting peace on the basis of the U.N. relevant resolutions. We must grasp the opportunity presented by the breakthrough achieved in September 1993 with the signing of the Declaration of Principles and all subsequent agreements between the parties, since for the first time after years of conflict the people in the region have a real prospect of finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel and can begin to dream of a peaceful and more prosperous future for themselves and for their families. In this respect, the Cyprus government has welcomed the recent agreements in the Wye plantation and expressed its hope that the deal will be fully implemented.

We hope that the Bethlehem 2000 anniversary celebration will also bring economic benefits to the Palestinian people, who need to see the practical results of the peace dividend since their economic prosperity is a necessary underpinning for lasting peace.

We sincerely hope that the United Nations as a whole will display explicit support for this historical occasion thus affirming the engagement of the international community in a project of world wide significance. The multi-dimensional character of the initiative which combines religious, cultural and artistic celebrations and which is to bring together the believers of the world on the eve of the new millennium, makes that event a moment for peaceful coexistence, prosperity and hope for all mankind.

Indeed, in the year 2000 the past and the future will meet in Bethlehem in a commemoration which we hope will usher in a new era during which we could all live together with respect of each other's culture and religion in a climate of international legality.

We, in Cyprus, are drawing inspiration from this event since we are also living with the vision of a free, united and demilitarized Cyprus without foreign troops, member of the European family, with mutual respect between the two Communities, in a democratic, multicultural and tolerant country.

Thank you Mr. President.

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