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On OAU's anniversary, Annan hails Organization as 'voice of Africa'

On OAU's anniversary, Annan hails Organization as 'voice of Africa'

As the Organization of African Unity (OAU) celebrated today its thirty-eighth anniversary, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the body as "the voice of Africa in the concert of nations" and a vital forum for regional cooperation.

In his message to an OAU meeting held to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General stressed that the Organization had helped Africa to play its part on the international stage and provided the nations on the continent with "a clear goal and a collective vision." Mr. Annan's message was delivered on his behalf by his Special Adviser for Africa, Ibrahim Gambari.

Paying tribute to the OAU's successes, Mr. Annan pointed to the OAU's role as a rallying-point during the liberation struggle and its efforts today to mobilize the collective will of the continent against war, want and disease, including HIV/AIDS. He also expressed confidence that as the world increasingly came to recognize the potential of regional organizations to achieve peace and prosperity, UN-OAU cooperation would grow even stronger.

Looking to the future, the Secretary-General said the OAU would provide an indispensable forum and structure for its Member States to plan how best to further their shared interests. He added that plans to transform the OAU into an "African Union" constituted "a bold endeavour which deserves the fullest support from the international community."

This initiative was also highlighted in the anniversary message of OAU Secretary-General Salim A. Salim. "The inspiration of the African Union, and the spirit that propelled all of us to pursue it, has been the recognition of the imperative necessity for Africans to pool together our strengths, solidify our unity and solidarity and dedicate ourselves to our common destiny," he said.

While noting several "positive and encouraging" developments across the continent, including the progress towards peace in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone, Mr. Salim pointed to areas where continued vigilance was warranted, especially "the grave situation between Liberia and Guinea and the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Burundi."

On broader challenges facing Africa, the OAU chief said the AIDS pandemic was "threatening to tear apart the fabric of our societies" and warned that it was "an illusion" to believe that such problems could be surmounted through individual efforts alone. "We need to be together," he said.