UN defuses dispute over UNEP building plan in Kenya

United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim has stepped in to end a dispute raging here over who would build a new headquarters for the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

Mr. Waldheim rejected all plans for construction of the new UN complex in Nairobi -- on grounds that the cost (nearly $23 million) was excessive.

In so doing, the UN Secretary-General ended for the time being a controversy among rival contenders for the building contract.

The United States had been putting pressure on UNEP to accept the lowest bid, from an Israeli firm, for construciton of a headquarters for the agency here.

But it appears that Arab and African pressure was being put on the UNEP executive director, Dr. Mostafa Tolba, an Egyptian, to give the contract to the next lowest bidder, a Kenyan firm.

The Arab and African blocs at the UN said that the Israeli firm, Solel Boneh International, has been operating in white-minority-ruled South Africa, where an apartheid racial policy is in effect.

UNEP was told by US Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher that if the lowest bidder principle was not followed, the United States might withdraw its support from the agency. (The US contributes about one-quarter of UNEP's annual

The Israeli company strongly denied it has any dealings with South Africa. "We have been operating in developing African countries only for some 25 years," said Joseph Maoz, the manager.

The company has constructed some of Kenya's biggest and most prestigious buildings. Several other Israeli construction firms are operating in Kenya, which has a liberal attitude toward Israel, despite the anger of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Arab states with missions in Nairobi.

Solel Boneh's bid was $1.4 million lower than its nearest rival, N. K. Brothers of Nairobi.

If new bids are sought on a reduced project, Solel Boneh may be among those submitting a bid on the revised plans.

UNEP was the first UN agency to establish a headquarters in the third world. It currently is operating from temporary buildings outside Nairobi.

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