Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

At the outset, I would like to congratulate you, Mr. President, on your election to preside over this historic session of the General Assembly. It is a tribute to your rich experience and to your great country, Namibia.

Your predecessor Mr. Didier Opertti of Uruguay also deserves our appreciation for the excellent manner in which he discharged his important responsibilities.

Permit me also to pay tribute to the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, for his dedication and commitment to the ideals of the United Nations.

As we meet for the final session of this century, and, indeed, of this millennium, we are faced with a future that holds for us promises and perils, hopes and fears, opportunities and challenges. We cannot secure a better future unless the root causes of the problems of our times are resolved. The United Nations, as the only true global organization, is best suited to address these problems. Its role therefore, must be reaffirmed and must remain central to our efforts in the reconstruction of a more just world order where human security is guaranteed.

Mr. President:

Since the establishment of this august organization, the small states have earned a legitimate voice in multilateral diplomacy. I am delighted today to welcome the three new members of the United Nations, the Republic of Kiribati, Nauru and the Kingdom of Tonga. As small states, the Maldives and the three share numerous interests and concerns, which are vital to our common survival and progress.

Mr. President:

We stand at cross roads. This is an ideal opportunity to review our past performance and to map out innovative approaches to address existing and emerging problems. As we get ready to enter the new century and the new millennium, we, in the Maldives, have developed a Vision 2020 for our country based on the lessons of the past. The vision sets out major directions for the next two decades. We envision a community that is just, caring and peaceful. Our country must continue to be one in which good governance; democracy and welfare of the people are given the highest priority. We seek a society where gender equality is a reality and everyone has the opportunity for self-actualisation. We want our children to be happy, creative and safe. These aims can only be realised through a high level of economic achievement and social progress. However, our resources are meagre. We face numerous natural hazards and are vulnerable to a wide range of man-made threats. Nevertheless, we remain firm in our determination to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. But, for that to happen, our own efforts must be supplemented by a supportive international environment. That much we need, and that much we seek.

Not withstanding, Mr. President, the withdrawal of that supportive framework seems to be regrettably imminent. The Maldives has been earmarked for graduation from the list of Least Developed Countries next year. Mr. President, we do not feel comfortable with the LDC label. Indeed, we would like to enter the new millennium as a self-reliant country. National pride, however, cannot transcend harsh economic reality. Our economy is small and narrowly based. Capacity for economic diversification in the immediate future is limited. Graduation would therefore impose unbearable burdens on us. This august Assembly is to review the graduation process and its criteria this year. I appeal to you to consider the ground realities. I call upon you to look beyond abstract indicators to the inherent vulnerabilities of small states. My President has already conveyed our concerns in detail to the President of ECOSOC. The Commonwealth has strongly supported our case.

Mr. President:

Liberalisation of trade and the globalisation of the economy have created windows of opportunity for increased economic growth. Their impact, though, has created a particularly difficult economic road for developing countries. Globalisation must progress without marginalisation. Globalisation must proceed without further impoverishment. The seven nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are working together to enhance our prospects in the new international economic climate through greater regional co-operation. Yet, ominously, on a global scale, the gulf between rich and poor nations has reached tragic proportions.

These harsh economic realities have been accompanied by the fragmentation of the international will to foster greater equality. Aid programmes had previously supplemented domestic savings in recipient countries. But today, they are not even adequate to save the destitute, leaving many developing countries with little choice but to replace their visions of advancement by those of survival and life-support.

The world's present focus on poverty eradication only underscores its past failure to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. It is disheartening to note that the gap has more than doubled since 1950.

Mr. President:

I am happy that a number of international initiatives on social issues have taken place during this decade. The Maldives attaches great importance to the fulfilment of the Copenhagen commitments and the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. We look forward to their review meetings next year to give a fresh impetus for action. In South Asia, the Maldives has called for the drawing up of a Social Charter that will institutionalise social development in the region. We are also pressing for a SAARC convention on regional arrangements to promote and protect child welfare. I hope that the convention will be adopted as we mark the Tenth Anniversary of the Child Rights Convention.

Mr. President:

The international social agenda is indeed a demanding one. It cannot be addressed by national governments acting alone. Co-operation among states and partnerships with inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations are essential for victory on this front.

At the same time, our approach to economic performance needs to be reoriented towards human security and ecological safety. We need to temper our obsession with economic growth with concerns for the quality of life. We all accept the importance of sustainable development. We all agree on the need for effective global action to achieve environment-friendly progress. Yet, the clear message that has emerged from the review of the Barbados Programme of Action completed this week is that of weak commitment and poor implementation. Our deeds must match the sentiments we have expressed. Our promises must be delivered.

Small island developing states have few options that they can pursue on their own. International co-operation is vital to ensure that sustainable development strategies are viable for them. It is also necessary to help them adapt to the dangers posed by global warming and climate change.

Mr. President, as we have reiterated on numerous occasions, the Maldives could very well cease to exist if the sea-level rises by one metre. Many other low-lying regions would suffer a similar fate. Should the sea level rise by one metre, the developed countries too would be affected significantly and the direct impact on biodiversity would be unfathomable.

The Maldives is therefore deeply disappointed by the lack of action in implementing the Barbados pledges.

Mr. President:

While great powers may be able to look after their own security needs, the small states need to rely on institutions of collective security. I am happy to recall that ten years ago, this Assembly adopted resolution 44/51 which recognised that the international community has an obligation to make provision for the protection and security of small states. We are grateful for the support of the international community for our initiative on this issue, but remain concerned that, time and again, the response of the UN to crises, especially those involving small states, has been found wanting in speed and in effectiveness.

Mr. President:

It is a pity that we have to enter the new century and the new millennium still carrying baggage containing many unresolved and deep-seated problems that confronted the UN at its birth.

One such problem is the Middle East problem. Peace in the Middle East still remains elusive. Hesitant steps have been taken, but many issues remain unresolved. The Maldives has welcomed the Middle East peace process from the beginning. We are disappointed at its slow progress, and look forward to a more earnest and bold search for peace. Once again, we express our full support to the Palestinian cause, and call for the full implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions on lasting peace in the region.

Eight years after the Gulf War, there are still many unresolved issues that affect the security and progress of the region. The Maldives calls upon all parties concerned to fully comply with the resolutions of the UN on the subject. We regret the suspension of talks between Kuwait and Iraq on outstanding bilateral issues including that of missing persons and believe that the resolution of these issues should be pursued within the existing framework of relevant UN resolutions. The Maldives re-affirms its unwavering support to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait. We reiterate our belief that the UN has an obligation to uphold the security and territorial integrity of all member states, including the small states.

The post-Cold War years have seen the bitter betrayal of the promise of greater freedom and development. Rather than seeing a celebration of human rights and the legitimate rights of communities to their own identity and cultural values, arrogant ethnocentrism and intolerance appear to be rampant. Indeed, the violent disintegration of states and civil wars have led to the most gruesome crimes against humanity. Genuine aspirations have often been met with brutal force as in Bosnia and Kosovo. Protracted disputes, such as in Kashmir, are continuing to inflict a high price in human lives and constantly endangering security at both the regional and international levels.

Mr. President:

Strategies of nuclear deterrence which presumably rely on the credible threat of mass destruction cannot be justified on moral grounds. We welcome the steps that are being taken to increase nuclear safety. We continue to be alarmed by the increased risk of nuclear war that accompanies proliferation. The Maldives is a staunch supporter of non-proliferation. We firmly believe that the world will be a safer place without nuclear weapons. We hope that the NPT review process will find ways to achieve progress in all aspects of the non-proliferation regime.

Mr. President:

The continuation of many conflicts and the flaring up of others call into question the efficacy of this Organisation. It is not only the passage of time that demands the reform and restructuring of the UN. The most persuasive argument is the urgent need to increase the ability of the UN to realise the objectives for which it has been set up. Whatever reform is undertaken should be instrumental in that sense. Reform must enhance its legitimacy. Reform must make the UN more democratic and transparent. Reform must also reinforce the UN's ability to uphold equality among nations.

Mr. President:

As we step into the new century, the world has reached a major turning point. We are bidding farewell to a millennium and are marching stridently into a new one. It is one in which a stronger commitment to multilateralism would be essential. Many of the hazards that we are faced with do not recognise national borders. The world has become closely integrated and Communities have become highly interwoven across national frontiers necessitating global approaches to global problems. Advances in science and technology give us optimism in our efforts to over come several of the challenges that confront us today. These are assisted by new mind-sets of co-operation and emotional intelligence. We need to nurture the positive strands and prune the negative. Yet the new century would not usher in a new age unless hope and progress become universal.

The new millennium would not set an enlightened course for world politics until what is right can triumph over might and double standards give way to justice for all.

That, Mr. President, is the millennial challenge!

Thank you!