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US Official Says New Africa Military Command Will be Transparent

On a stop in Burkina Faso, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte talked about U.S. plans for a new military command for Africa. The command has been controversial on the continent where some countries oppose an increased U.S. military presence. Kari Barber has more from our regional bureau in Dakar.

At a news conference in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, Negroponte said that as decisions are made on the new Africa command, they will be shared with African countries.

"When we do establish a headquarters of Africa command on the Africa continent, it will be in full consultation and in full transparency with all concerned, including of course the country where it will be established," he said.

U.S. officials have said the so-called Africom will simply reorganize existing U.S. military training and counterterrorsim efforts on the content and will not include new initiatives.

But government officials in Africa's most powerful countries, including South Africa, Nigeria and Libya, have expressed concern about the new command. Leaders say they worry that more U.S. military involvement could force countries into conflicts that do not concern them and would also give Washington greater influence over the continent. This, they say, could undermine efforts to build regional solidarity and minimize dependence on the West.

The West African nation of Liberia, which has strong historical ties to the United States, is the only country to openly welcome Africom's eventual headquarters.

Experts say the new command reflects the increased strategic importance of Africa to the West as nations compete for influence and resources.

U.S. military officials say they hope the new command will make operations on the continent more effective and organized.

Negroponte says African countries should not see the command as something threatening or unusual.

"We have regional military commands in other parts of the world such as in Europe, East Asia and elsewhere, so there would be nothing unusual about that," he added.

The first U.S. military mission in Africa since the creation of the new command began Monday with the arrival of a U.S. Navy cruiser off the coast of Senegal. The boat will be used for training African naval forces in the Gulf of Guinea.

Africom, expected to be fully operational in 2008, is temporarily based in Germany while possible locations for headquarters are being weighed. Experts say it is likely the new command will not be based in one place, but with multiple bases in several countries on the continent.

While in Ouagadougou, Negroponte also talked about problems facing Africa's cotton industry, which is a substantial part of Burkina Faso's economy. Negroponte said the United States is reconsidering agricultural subsidies to its own farmers, which make it difficult for Africa's cotton to compete with cotton from America and Europe. Negroponte says the United States will be watching what the European Union does about its own subsidies.

The World Trade Organization has ruled that U.S. subsidies to its cotton sector need to be eliminated, while African leaders have called for a quicker phase out than the suggested U.S. timetable.

Negroponte's West Africa tour also included stops in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Mali.