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African Leaders Seek Progress, Better Representation


Heads of state meeting at the 53-nation African Union summit in Abuja, Nigeria are seeking ways to ensure progress for the continent and better representation at the United Nations Security Council.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told African leaders Sunday in Abuja they were lagging behind in attaining the so-called Millennium Development goals established by all nations five years ago.

"It continues to suffer from tragic consequences of deadly conflicts and poor governance," Mr. Annan said. "There are many ways that the United Nations can help provided that the organization itself is strengthened and effective. Africa has an indispensable contribution to make in ensuring that 2005 becomes the turning point for the continent."

The goals include reducing poverty, hunger, disease and increasing education. Mr. Annan said assessment should be made at the next African Union summit in September.

The host of the summit, Nigerian President Olusegun Obansanjo, was optimistic progress could be made quickly.

"Let us not play around with history and with the future of our youths, women and children," Mr. Obansanjo said. "Let us work harder for peace, harmony, love, unity, growth, development and democracy. I know that we can do it."

Speaking through an interpreter, the head of the African Union, former Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, also pleaded for unity.

"We should expand and strengthen our representation outside and improve our mechanisms and means for negotiations," Mr. Konare said. "We should speak with one voice, a strong united voice, and we should assert this strategy of African influence."

African states are trying to get two permanent seats on the possibly soon-to-be modified U.N. Security Council, with Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt the leading candidates for those seats.

African leaders are also discussing more effective ways to return peace to conflict zones - Sudan's Darfur region, divided Ivory Coast, the Rwandan-Congolese border and Somalia. They are also assessing their efforts to combat diseases such as AIDS, malaria and polio.

Poverty and disease have been rampant in Africa's war zones but even in Nigeria, the summit's host country, which has huge oil reserves, most people live on less than $1 a day, AIDS is rising, while indicators on literacy are failing to show any progress.