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UN Hails Milestone in AIDS Fight, Says More Must be Done

Senior U.N. officials are hailing a milestone in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Officials are speaking of a transformation in the way world leaders view AIDS.

The Security Council passed Resolution 1308 five years ago to increase AIDS education among U.N. peacekeepers at a time of concern about the role of peacekeeping troops in spreading the deadly virus.

There were reports that the blue-helmeted troops were bringing AIDS home from war zones from Africa to Haiti to Cambodia, as well as spreading it among civilian populations they were sent to protect.

But there was relatively little awareness of what the UN Security Council could do about it. On the fifth anniversary of resolution 1308's adoption, U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno noted the revolution it triggered in attitudes toward AIDS.

"That landmark resolution, which to be frank, some of us initially wondered whether it belonged on the agenda of the Security Council, turns out to have provided the jolt we desperately needed," Mr. Guehenno says. "In retrospect, at that time, AIDS was not sufficiently on the radar of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. It deserved to be. It certainly is now."

Mr. Guehenno says awareness of the danger of AIDS is now being impressed on all the 66-thousand uniformed U.N. troops and 13,000 international civilians and police serving in the 17 peacekeeping operations worldwide.

Dr. Peter Piot, director of the U.N. AIDS campaign, said one million AIDS awareness cards are being distributed in 13 languages to peacekeepers and national security forces.

He told the Security Council resolution 1308 has transformed the anti-AIDS fight.

"Transformation, because many now view AIDS as a threat to national security and stability rather than to development and public health alone," Dr. Piot says.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke returned to the Council chamber to mark the five years of progress since 1308's adoption. Mr. Holbrooke, now in private business, contrasted the progress in AIDS awareness with what he called the "empty rhetoric" that often characterizes the U.N. response to crises.

"Five years ago, when we began this process, U.N. peacekeepers were bringing AIDS to regions and taking it home with them," Mr. Holbrooke says. "As the Finns found out in Namibia, and as happened all over Africa and Cambodia. I saw it with my own eyes in 1992, with the U.N. in Cambodia, and the U.N. was in denial."

Despite the progress, U.N. official say there is still a long way to go in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Piot, the UNAIDS chief, says even with a five fold increase in spending on the AIDS fight in the past five years, more people became infected with HIV, and more people died of AIDS last year than in any previous year.