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Africa: Holbrooke outlines new US policy

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PRETORIA, 7 December (IRIN) - In the keynote speech of his 10-nation African tour, the American ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, has pledged "to elevate African issues on our list of national priorities". Diplomats called it one of the most important policy statements on Africa by the US administration. The following are excerpts from the speech, delivered in the South African capital Pretoria on Monday:
On Africa

"When the United States assumes the presidency of the UN Security Council next month, in January 2000 - the first month of the new millennium - I wish to announce today that we intend to make Africa the priority of the month. In fact we intend to call January of next year, the 'Month of Africa' in the UN Security Council."

"I believe firmly that if we scale back our rhetoric, the resources will simply shrink more. It's better to dream the larger dream and try to lead people towards it. In the coming year, we will work long and hard to attain more support for our programmes. We will continue to make the case that it is in America's interest to see an Africa that is at peace, prosperous, and whose people are free and empowered to shape their own destinies."

AIDS

"I am particularly concerned with the issue of AIDS, all around the world, but especially in Africa, given the statistics on AIDS we have been hearing at every stop of this trip. It threatens development and progress everywhere. Pretending the AIDS problem does not exist, failing to destigmatise it, hiding it, or obscuring its true nature, will only make it worse. We faced the same problems in the United States a decade ago and were too slow to react and it was only when we destigmatised the problem, brought it out of the closet and explained to everyone that it strikes people indiscriminately and the massive danger that AIDS is that we began to deal with it."

"This is not just a health problem, it is an economic problem that can sap the economic development and potential future of countries that are making very significant economic progress - I think of Namibia, and I regret to say, the threat that AIDS poses to this country."

The nature of conflicts

"In every crisis, every warring party always argues the uniqueness of its historical grievances. In every crisis in every part of the world, we are told: 'You are ignoring us and paying attention to the other regions of the world.' The complaints that we have heard here on our trip and in the States about neglect of Africa, are world-for-word identical to those we heard a week ago in Indonesia and East Timor, and that I have heard for the last few years in Bosnia and Kosovo. They are not unique to Africa. As I travel the world - and in the last three months I have been to four main arenas of UN responsibility: Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and now Africa - I'm struck by characteristics that are common to all these problems: the breakdown of states, ethnic hatred, greed on the part of leaders, violent nationalism, oppression of minorities and refugees."

South Africa's role

"Former President Nelson Mandela yesterday addressed this issue (the nature of conflicts) with our delegation... Of course, not everyone is Nelson Mandela - in fact no-one else is. He is, to my mind, the world's leading moral authority today, and his message must be listened to."

"South Africa has been a leader in addressing and mediating conflict on the continent. As we told President Mandela yesterday, we enthusiastically support his recent decision to put his skills and influence and vast authority to bear as a special facilitator for the Burundi crisis, as we hope that it can avoid falling into a new catastrophic round of bloodshed."

The main African conflicts

"As we set out to create the structures for peace to prevent future conflicts, we must do all we can to solve current crises like those in Burundi, Angola, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC). In Sierra Leone, the West African states have courageously worked through ECOWAS to secure a lasting peace. We joined other Security Council members to establish a peacekeeping force for Sierra Leone. Last week, the United States delivered an additional US $6 million to (the ECOWAS peacekeeping arm) ECOMOG."

Angola

"In Angola, a country that our delegation visited only three days ago, the United States and the United Nations have been engaged for years in an effort to end its civil war, one of the deadliest and longest-running conflicts on earth. Tragically, and primarily because of the actions of (the rebel group) UNITA, we have seen the peace unravel yet again in recent months.

"We saw first-hand on our trip the terrible results of this war - the personal trauma, the amputees, the refugees, the disintegration of the entire infrastructure of Angola, the malnourished children and the victims of landmines.

"We will therefore hold a special Security Council meeting on Angola in January, and we will immediately begin to seek ways to tighten the sanctions regime (against UNITA). But I want to say that this does not mean a blank cheque for oppression by either party in this struggle. Those responsible for this endless war, now in its thirty-fifth year, deserve the contempt and the opprobrium of the world."

Democratic Republic of Congo

"Let me turn now to what is perhaps the biggest challenge we may face in Africa in the coming year."

"Last week, the United States joined the other members of the Security Council in approving a resolution that authorises the UN to begin preparations for deployment of 500 military observers. Preparing a peacekeeping mission in the Congo, getting it right, is our main focus for the remainder of this trip. The task is truly daunting, as South African President Thabo Mbeki warned us yesterday. But as he also said, we - the US, the UN, the international community - must not turn away from this responsibility.

"As it happens, there is a ready and excellent path to peace that has been laid out for Congo. It has been signed by all the parties, after a negotiation superbly led by President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia. It is called the Lusaka Agreement. The United States supports the Lusaka Agreement fully."

"The renewed fighting in Congo, which is a direct violation of the Lusaka Agreement, threatens to leave this important agreement negotiated by President Chiluba in tatters. If the parties in Congo truly want the international community's involvement and support, such violations of these commitments are simply unacceptable."

"I am please to announce that the United States will deliver US $1 million to the Joint military Commission within the next few days. We hope this action will invigorate the JMC. We urge other countries that have made commitments to follow through and deliver the money they have promised.

"The JMC has a vital, but difficult task to carry out. So too, however, do the parties. We cannot expect that outside peacekeepers will deliver a peace that is lasting and just. The people of the region, the government of Congo, the rebel groups, the neighbouring countries, must commit themselves to the implementation of the Lusaka Agreement, to stop all the fighting, to bring in an outside facilitator into the process, to withdraw the outside forces and to replace them with a peacekeeping force.

"At the same time, the government in Kinshasa must enable UN liaison officers and the UN assessment teams to do their jobs. Kinshasa must assure them the necessary access, freedom of movement, and security.

"All sides must disavow provocative action; publicly disavow statements showing intent to abrogate Lusaka; prevent attacks on civilians; and bring justice to those who commit such atrocities. And we urge them, we call on them, to take the most immediate next step in the Lusaka Agreement: To choose a facilitator for the political process. However, to the frustration of nearly everyone, this simplest, but essential step has not been made. We respectfully urge that a facilitator be chosen rapidly. Without even this basic requirement fulfilled, the United States will be unable to support moving to the next stage of peacekeeping."

"And it is critical that, when required, UN peacekeeping is effective. We cannot afford to repeat the failed peacekeeping efforts from earlier this decade, the catastrophes that almost took the United Nations down - the UN's sad performances in Bosnia and Somalia, its - let me be frank - our inaction in Rwanda."

[ENDS]

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