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Rice to Talk With African Leaders on Peace Prospects

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set for talks Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, home of the African Union, to explore peace prospects in conflict zones from Sudan and Somalia to the Great Lakes region. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the secretary of state will discuss a host of difficult issues with heads of state or senior officials from seven African nations.

Rice's whirlwind stop in Addis is jam-packed with meetings. She has scheduled talks with Great Lakes leaders, including Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, and Democratic Republic of Congo Foreign Minister Antipas Mbusa Myamwisi.

Those talks will focus on existing security mechanisms' to deal with what are called 'negative forces' in Africa's Great Lakes region. Those mechanisms include a comprehensive strategy to counter, and possibly disarm, insurgents from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC that operate in vast lawless stretches of the Congo.

Veteran Africa-watcher Gerard Prunier of France's National Council for Scientific Research calls the meeting a courageous attempt at finally picking up the pieces left over from extensive fighting in Central Africa from 1998 to 2002. But he says any attempt to tame insurgent groups is short-sighted.

"Nobody has the military capacity to do it unless there is a full-scale military offensive, and the only people who could do that would be not the Congolese army, which does not have the capacity, but the United Nations, and the United Nations is in a very delicate position undertaking a military offensive," said Prunier. "So I am afraid this will remain largely at the talking level."

Secretary of State Rice's schedule had included talks with the Somalia's president Abdullahi Yusuf and the country's newly-named Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein. The meeting will go on without Mr. Yusuf. He canceled at the last minute, citing illness.

Later in the day, Rice meets Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, before attending a dinner hosted by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

In her talks with President Bashir, the secretary of state is expected to push for a renewed Sudanese commitment to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a 21-year war with southern rebels. Some view the CPA as a possible model for ending the conflict in Darfur.

But analyst Gerard Prunier questions President Bashir's commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

"If the parties were loyal and in good faith in carrying out the provisions of the CPA, there would not be too much of a problems," said Prunier. "Problem is the Khartoum government is not serious in applying it. As the saying goes, 'You can take a horse to water, but you cannot force him to drink.' The horse has been taken to the water. The problem is, he does not want to drink."

State Department officials have been busy downplaying expectations for the visit.

And the cancellation of Somalia's President Yusuf makes it less likely there will be substantive talks on that country's shaky political reconciliation process.

Secretary of State Rice's talks with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles are expected to touch on Somalia, where Ethiopian troops are bogged down battling Islamic extremists trying to oust Somalia's transitional federal government.

Rice and the Ethiopian leader will also discuss renewed tensions with neighboring Eritrea, but there will be no Eritrean representative at the meetings. A commission charged with settling their bitter border dispute closed down last week, leaving unresolved the critical question of where boundary markers should be placed.