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Arriving in Lesotho, Annan urges action to combat AIDS and food shortages

Arriving in Lesotho, Annan urges action to combat AIDS and food shortages

Annan with Prime Minister Mosisili of Lesotho
The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, arrived today in Lesotho, where he repeated calls for action to fight the AIDS epidemic and the looming famine in southern Africa.

Earlier Wednesday, prior to leaving Botswana, the Secretary-General held a meeting with President Festus Mogae in which he raised his concerns about food shortages and AIDS in the country, according to a UN spokesman. Mr. Annan appealed to Botswana to join the UN standby arrangements for peacekeeping and raised the issue of the country's indigenous people. The two also exchanged views on the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development and on the newly created African Union.

When asked afterwards by reporters about his views on possible military action against Iraq, the Secretary-General said: "The UN is not agitating for military action."

After his arrival in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, the Secretary-General took a short helicopter tour of the Mohale Dam. He then met in Mohale with Prime Minister Pakalitha Bethuel Mosisili and discussed the country's recent elections, as well as the two crises - food shortages and AIDS - that are facing the nation.

The Secretary-General noted that Lesotho was spending 2 per cent of its national budget to treat victims of the AIDS epidemic, and pledged the UN's help in tackling the scourge.

Later, in an address to a joint session of the nation's Parliament, Mr. Annan returned to the theme of the AIDS crisis, noting that 30 per cent of all people in the country between the ages of 15 and 49 were estimated to be HIV-positive. He also congratulated the people of Lesotho for the elections held last May, and underscored the importance of education and the empowerment of women.

The Secretary-General's speech before the country's lawmakers echoed his remarks made last night in Gaborone at a dinner held in his honour by President Mogae. Mr. Annan praised the people of Botswana for achieving a stable, multi-party democracy with a consistent track record of high economic growth and improvements in health, water, sanitation and education. "That only makes the tragedy of HIV/AIDS all the more poignant, since it is snatching away the precious development gains you had made," he observed.

Among his other activities in Lesotho today, Mr. Annan planted an olive tree at a ceremony to launch the International Year of the Mountain and met with His Majesty King Letsie III, while his wife, Nane, met with the Queen. Later, the Secretary-General witnessed the re-naming of a road in the capital from Maseru Bypass to Kofi Annan Road. He asked anyone using that road from now on to drive carefully.