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NGO FORUM ON WOMEN // Give up men's "war toys,' nations urged

It was a double-feature video day Thursday at the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum on Women _ but not the sort of blockbuster performance that host nation China is eager to repeat.

The conference, in its first full day of meetings, was a display of more free expression than has been seen in China since the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

The highlight was an address by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese dissident recently released after nearly six years of house arrest. Her videotaped remarks had been smuggled into China.

"It is not the prerogative of men alone to bring light to this world," Suu Kyi said. "Women, with their capacity for compassion and self-sacrifice, their courage and perseverance, have done much to dissipate the darkness of intolerance and hate."

She urged governments to spend "less on the war toys of grown men and much more on the urgent needs of humanity as a whole."

Suu Kyi (pronounced SUE CHEE) drew laughter from the 3,000 delegates crowded into a small auditorium in Huairou, an hour's drive from Beijing, when she referred to the "age-old prejudice the world over . . . that women talk too much." She asked, "But is this really a weakness?"

Suu Kyi argued that men's tendency toward physical action to resolve conflict "has a far more damaging effect on its victims than feminine gossip."

She continued: "Women have a most valuable contribution to make in situations of conflict by leading the way to solutions based on dialogue rather than on viciousness or violence.

"The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all," Suu Kyi said.

Delegates applauded for a full minute when the address ended.

The video was noteworthy as one of the first public speeches by the newly released democracy advocate and because it was shown in tightly controlled Communist China, which has maintained close relations with the military dictatorship in Burma. Suu Kyi did not seek to attend the women's forum for fear of being barred from re-entering Burma.

Chinese authorities made no effort to interfere with the showing of the video, but witnesses said a scuffle broke out between Chinese security people and conference participants after the screening of a video about Tibet titled Voices in Exile. The topic is a sensitive one here because China invaded Tibet in the 1950s and ever since has been struggling against an exile-based independence movement.

The incident was just one of the controversies that have dogged the conference, which is supposed to be about drawing up recommendations to help promote women's health, human rights and economic advancement, in anticipation of an official U.N. women's conference that opens here next week.

Participants complained Thursday that the Chinese had broken commitments to provide adequate transportation to the meeting in Huairou. Instead of buses every 20 minutes, as promised to the United Nations in June, China provided once-a-day bus service to and from Beijing hotels.

Many women also complained about heavy surveillance of particularly controversial groups.

But more than a dozen activists of the London-based human-rights group Amnesty International took part in an unprecedented protest on Chinese soil without much interference. Standing in front of the meeting place, they held up posters and T-shirts bearing pictures and names of 12 female victims of human-rights abuses.

The people on the posters included Chinese journalist Gao Yu, 51, who was jailed last year for six years on charges of leaking state secrets.

By keeping the meetings well away from the main Chinese public, the government has managed, so far, to limit the potential political spillover. For the most part, the Chinese news media has played down the women's meeting.

The official People's Daily newspaper noted the opening of the meeting in an article on its second page. Television concentrated on the singing and dancing that accompanied the opening ceremonies.

The isolated setting and afternoon showers failed to dampen the enthusiasm of forum delegates, whose number is expected to swell to 30,000 next week. Women danced, sang, argued, embraced and generally celebrated their gender. The more contentious issues, centered on abortion and reproductive rights, were reserved for later in the conference.

The most glaring absence at the conference was large numbers of Chinese delegates. North American, European and Japanese delegates far outnumbered their Chinese hosts.