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Blair Heading to Sudan, Ethiopia - 2004-10-04


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is traveling to Sudan and Ethiopia this week as part of his diplomatic initiative to deal with some of the most difficult problems in Africa.

The four-day Blair trip will focus on the Darfur crisis in western Sudan, and a meeting of the British-sponsored Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry says Mr. Blair will hold talks Wednesday in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir and other senior officials. The main point of discussion will be Darfur, where an ethnic conflict has killed about 50,000 people and driven more than a million blacks from their homes.

A Blair spokesman declined to comment on the Sudan stopover, citing security reasons. The spokesman said the main purpose of the prime minister's trip is to conduct a meeting of his Commission for Africa.

The commission is preparing a report on how to help solve Africa's problems of debt, disease, and poverty. Mr. Blair intends to use the commission's recommendations to rally Western support for Africa when Britain chairs the Group of Eight industrial powers and the European Union next year.

The director-general of the British branch of the Save the Children foundation, Mike Aronson, says success of the Blair initiative hinges on cooperation between Africans and Westerners.

"There has to be ownership within civil society in Africa. Ordinary people have to be able to engage with this sort of process. It is no good if it is just a top-down, donor-driven initiative," said Mr. Aronson. "But on the other hand, there is a fundamental bottom line here, which is that much of Africa is suffering from chronic poverty, and it does need a great deal more assistance provided by the rich world."

The Blair spokesman said there also is a link between the prime minister's Africa policy and the broader international struggle against terrorism. He says that, as Mr. Blair sees it, if Africa's problems fester, and instability grows, the results could spin out of control, with dangerous consequences for the rest of the world.

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