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UN General Assembly Takes Up African Development Plan

World leaders Monday committed themselves to aiding economic development in Africa, provided African leaders adhere to a new strategy of good economic and political governance. The U.N. General Assembly held a special meeting to discuss a plan of action devised by African leaders, called a New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD.

Shared responsibility and accountability is the key concept underlying Africa's development plan, which was launched by 15 African nations last year. It calls on African states to manage their economies and their politics more competently and democratically, with an emphasis on free markets, in exchange for more investment, better trade access and more debt relief.

It represents a change of direction for Africa, as well as a re-invigorated commitment by rich countries.

But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told African leaders the United States will hold them to high standards, and warned, U.S. assistance should not be taken for granted. He cited Zimbabwe, which, among other things, is engaged in a controversial land-reform policy, as an example of what Washington considers bad judgment.

"We welcome this new direction in Africa's development efforts. But countries that fail to live up to NEPAD's commitments will suffer," Secretary Powell said. "Zimbabwe's economic decline is a warning of the dangers of ignoring the linkage between good policies and human development.

African leaders attending the U.N. gathering, from South Africa, Lesotho and Botswana to Nigeria, said they are ready for the changes. At the same time, Ghana's president, John Kufuor, pointed out, if NEPAD is to succeed, wealthy nations have to provide enough assistance to make sure basic needs are taken care of during the transition.

"There is also the need to assure Africa levels of support that will enable the continent to provide social safety nets, to sustain the minimum acceptable standards of health, education and nutrition for all," he said.

Some developed countries said they plan to increase their development budgets, earmarking a substantial part of the new money for Africa.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced Canada planned to remove all tariffs and import duties on African goods, starting in January. He also pounded away at one of his favorite themes, that the failure to address world poverty can lead to violent outcomes, even terrorism.

"Simply put, we can't afford not to address these issues," the prime minister said. "This is the time to act. NEPAD is the blueprint. The rest is simply a matter of political will."

The U.N. estimates that the number of Africans living in poverty increased by some 80 million in the past decade, while foreign aid and investment in Africa shrank. Many rich countries were convinced their money was simply disappearing, mismanaged by corrupt or incompetent governments.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers urged African leaders to incorporate the continent's refugees in their new plan for economic recovery, including about three million displaced by Africa's long-running conflicts. The high commissioner said leaving them idle in camps will not help improve overall peace and security, a necessary condition for economic growth.