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Powell, Obasanjo Back OAU Efforts to Resolve Madagascar Political Crisis - 2002-06-21

Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the situation in Madagascar and other regional issues Friday with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. They are backing efforts by the Organization of African Unity to settle the political crisis on the island.

The Nigerian president, who joined President Bush at a civil rights dinner in Washington Thursday night, spent about 50 minutes with Mr. Powell in a meeting focussed on African trouble spots including the conflicts in Congo and Liberia, and the deepening political crisis in Madagascar.

The island nation has been in turmoil since disputed elections in December, with both the court-declared election winner Marc Ravalomanana and former leader Didier Ratsiraka still claiming power.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Mr. Powell and President Obasanjo were principally looking to the Organization of African Unity to resolve the crisis.

Mr. Boucher stressed U.S. opposition to reported attempts this week to import mercenaries supporting Mr. Ratsiraka into Madagascar, while encouraging Mr. Ravalomanana's promised effort to set up a unity government:

"Obviously we would condemn the use of mercenaries to incite further violence in Madagascar, " he said. "We welcome Marc Ravalomanana's commitment to form a government of national reconciliation and encourage him to continue taking steps toward reconciliation. It's our understanding that the meeting of the Organization of African Unity's central organ in Addis today, Addis Ababa, began late but that's where we would expect to see discussion of Madagascar on the agenda."

Mr. Powell told reporters he had had an "excellent" meeting with President Obasanjo, with whom he said he has been a good friend since serving as a U.S. observer to the 1999 Nigerian voting that brought the former general and military ruler into power as the head of an elected government.

Officials here say Nigeria will be one of several countries on the itinerary for President Bush when he makes his first visit to Africa, a trip Mr. Powell said will come early next year.