Famine, AIDS to overshadow southern Africa summit, despite hope for peace
LUANDA, Oct 1 (AFP) - The 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) opens a two-day annual summit Wednesday in Angola, as the region faces a growing threat from famine and AIDS but also new hopes for peace as the host nation emerges from a 27-year war.
The United Nations estimates that more than 14 million people in six countries face famine in six countries, because of a combination of drought and government policy.
That figure doesn't include the famine in Angola, where a ceasefire signed April 4 has opened up a country to aid workers who discovered that entire communities once isolated by warfare are in desperate need of food and medical aid.
Health officials fear the famine could take an enormous toll on the region, which already suffers the highest incidence of HIV and AIDS in the world.
Malnutrition leaves people with HIV more susceptible to the effects of the virus, which attacks the immune system and leaves the body more susceptible to other diseases.
As many as one in three adults suffer from HIV in the hardest-hit countries, such as Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, whose violence-wracked policy of redistributing white-owned lands to blacks has been blamed for exacerbating the effects of a regional drought, is expected to attend the summit.
The meeting in Luanda will be his first encounter with South African President Thabo Mbeki since the Zimbabwean leader made a last-minute cancellation of a meeting in Abuja with Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
Australia, Nigeria and South Africa form a Commonwealth troika tasked with monitoring the political situation in Zimbabwe, which was suspended from the body's diplomatic meetings after Commonwealth observers declared presidential elections did not express the will of the Zimbabwean people.
The troika failed to agree to take further action against Zimbabwe, despite frustration at Mugabe's no-show.
Despite the crises in the region, recent progress in peace efforts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have brought new hopes for regional stability.
Angola's army and the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) signed a ceasefire on April 4, only weeks after the UNITA's founding leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in combat.
Six months later the deal has held, and Angola's government has indicated that it wants to hold elections in the next year or two. President Jose Eduardo dos Sanots also wants the United Nations to help organize a donor conference to win money for rebuilding the country.
In the neighboring DRC, peace deals have led many foreign forces to withdraw from a conflict that had drawn in Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to support the government against rebel movements backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
Namibia has withdrawn all its forces, while Zimbabwe has pulled out a majority of the 11,000 troops Harare was believed to have deployed. Uganda completed its pullout in late September.
SADC comprises Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
gs/wdb AFP 011229 GMT 10 02
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 10/01/2002 14:24:52
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