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Rice Consults African Leaders on Regional Flashpoints


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, for a whirlwind series of meetings with African leaders on a series of regional flashpoints, from Somalia to Darfur to the Great Lakes region. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the secretary of state's focus is on ways to strengthen peacekeeping and security forces.

Secretary of State Rice met Somalia's newly-named Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein during a one-day visit to the African Union capital, Addis Ababa.

Afterward, Rice told reporters she is pushing regional and world leaders to organize a robust peacekeeping force, preferably a blue-helmeted U.N. mission, that could replace the beleaguered Ethiopian troops sent to Somalia last December to support the country's transitional federal government.

"I spoke to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon just before I left Washington and we talked about the need to get this peacekeeping force in place," said Rice. "So that is part of why I am here. We do believe Ethiopian forces should not have to stay in Somalia past a certain point, but it is going to require peacekeeping forces to be fairly robust peacekeeping forces."

The secretary of state also met Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, and Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, along with Democratic Republic of Congo Interior Minister Daniel Kalume to discuss countering what she called 'negative forces' in a vast lawless stretch of the Congo.

Rice said all had agreed to seek international help in strengthening the DRC's battered security forces.

"I think everyone believes strengthening of the security institutions of the DRC is a prerequisite to the long-term solution to the problems of the Congo, and affecting the Great Lakes region," added Rice.

Rice said all those present had agreed not to harbor 'negative forces', which include Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, the renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda, and the FDLR, or Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, made up of key figures in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"They committed not to harbor 'negative forces', the illegal groups, militias and armed groups that are causing destabilization," continued Rice. "There was a promise not to harbor."

Rice's schedule during her stay in Addis Ababa included talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on topics such as his country's border tensions with neighboring Eritrea, as well as on efforts to withdraw Ethiopian troops from Somalia.

She is also meeting what a U.S. official termed 'concerned parties from Sudan', although Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would not see her.

A U.S. official said Rice would push Sudanese officials on the delayed deployment of a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur

The secretary of state said earlier she would also work to shore up the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the Khartoum government and southern rebels in 2005. The deal has run into trouble, with former rebels accusing President al-Bashir's government of reneging on its commitments.

But Secretary Rice told reporters "That is an agreement we cannot afford to let unravel".