At OAU summit, Annan flags need to address AIDS, conflicts in Africa

At OAU summit, Annan flags need to address AIDS, conflicts in Africa

Addressing the opening of the annual summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Lusaka, Zambia, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged the continent's leaders to show "singular determination" in putting an end to armed conflict and combating the spread of HIV/AIDS - two tasks he said were important to the success of a future African Union.

"This Summit holds a great promise for Africa's peoples - the promise that it will be remembered for launching the African Union, and setting the continent as a whole on a firm path to peace and development," the Secretary-General said. However, if the historic effort was to do for Africa what the European Union did for Europe, it would require courage and a willingness to depart from the ways of the past, he cautioned.

Achieving peace, cooperation and economic progress will require African countries to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS, the Secretary-General said, noting that defeating the virus - as well as tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases - will not happen unless the battle is also won for basic health care, clean water and sanitation.

Halting armed conflict on the continent will also be essential in fostering economic development and social progress, he said, calling attention to the conflicts in Burundi, Sierra Leone, Angola, the Sudan and Western Sahara. "Bringing these conflicts to an end requires that we acknowledge two central truths: that they imperil the peace of all of Africa, and that they are in great measure the result of misguided leadership which is unwilling or unable to put the people's interests first," Mr. Annan said.

At the root of the continent's conflicts are often prejudices and hatreds tied to ethnic and racial differences, which are exploited by leaders for destructive ends, the Secretary-General said. "While Africa and Africans have suffered terribly in the past few centuries from slavery and colonialism, and people of African descent still suffer discrimination in many societies, we cannot hide the fact that today some of our own societies are also disfigured by ethnic hatred and violence," he said. In this context, he underscored the importance of the upcoming World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in Durban, South Africa, in September.

This morning, the Secretary-General attended a breakfast meeting hosted by the President of Nigeria. The main subject of discussion was HIV/AIDS, a topic to which Mr. Annan devoted a substantial portion of his OAU address.

According to a UN spokesman, Mr. Annan also met separately with the President of Algeria, the President of Somalia, and was scheduled to meet with the President of Côte d'Ivoire and the President of the Palestinian Authority. In the afternoon, he brought together for about an hour the Presidents of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Earlier, he had met with Ghanaian President John Kufuor.

On his arrival in Lusaka yesterday, Mr. Annan had a private meeting with former South African president Nelson Mandela to discuss peace efforts in Burundi.