Budapest, Hungary - 24 June 2002. The World Heritage Committee opened its 26th annual session in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday, 24 June.

The opening session was attended by 320 participants representing all 21 Committee members, over 50 observers from States Parties to the World Heritage Convention, representatives from the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee (ICOMOS, IUCN, and ICCROM), and nearly 20 other organizations.

The 21 Committee members are Argentina, Belgium, China, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Hungary, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Oman, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, South Africa, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe.

The meeting, hosted by Hungary in the Budapest Congress Centre, was opened by Mr Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture; Mr Laszló Kocsi, Secretary of State for Hungary; and Mrs Mária Kóródi, Minister for Environment and Hydrology.

Mr Henrik Lilius (Finland), outgoing Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, highlighted the Committee's achievements of the last year, and thanked the Committee members, Advisory Bodies, and Secretariat for the good work accomplished. He encouraged the Committee to adopt the revised Operational Guidelines as they had been prepared by two drafting groups in October 2001 and March 2002.

The Committee adopted its agenda and timetable for the session with amendments, and proceeded to the election of the new Bureau.

The Committee elected Mr. Tamás Fejérdy, Director of Conservation of the Hungarian National Heritage Office as Chairperson of the Committee. Mr. Fejérdy is an architect/engineer with a broad expertise in the conservation of historic districts.

Mme Bénédicte Selfslagh of Belgium was elected as Rapporteur. As vice-chairpersons of the Bureau, the following Committee members were elected: China, Egypt, Greece, Mexico, and South Africa.Following the election, the Chairperson invited the outgoing Rapporteur, Dr Francisco Javier Lopez Morales (Mexico) to present the Report of the Rapporteur of the twenty-sixth session of the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee, Paris, 8-13 April 2002.

Following the luncheon recess, in the presence of the Minister of Information and Culture of Afghanistan, H.E. Dr. Sayed Makdoon Raheen, the Committee heard the report of UNESCO's recent activities to support the rehabilitation of Afghan cultural and natural heritage.

The first day's session closed with a progress report and discussion on preparations for the 30th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.