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Most African Countries Cooperate with US on Terrorism, State Department Report Says - 2004-04-30

U.S. State Department's annual terrorism report singles out several African countries as "particular problems," but at the same time says a number of African nations are cooperating well with the United States in the battle against terrorism.

The report lists Sudan and Libya as state sponsors of terrorism, and it says Somalia continues to be a threat because of active al-Qaida elements operating there.

But most African countries are said to be cooperating with the United States on terrorism. Nations singled out for praise in the report include South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, as well as Djibouti, which hosts the only U.S. military base in sub-Saharan Africa.

The head of the terrorism and organized crime program at the Institute for Security Studies in Cape Town, Peter Gastrow, says there are two levels of cooperation. The first, he says, is the actual exchange of intelligence and information.

"That is the level which is not normally open to the public, we know very little about it," he said. "The second level has to do with more effective legislation. It has to do with accepting and implementing the international conventions which exist. It has to do with looking at border control. It has to do with looking at money laundering and financial systems."

Mr. Gastrow says non-cooperation can have financial implications for African states. He says many nations cooperate with the United States on terrorism partly out of self-interest, for the same reasons that they are committed to fighting terrorism in the first place.

"Certainly the question as to whether the country sees it in its interest is a crucial one, because that to a large extent determines the intensity of possible cooperation," said Peter Gastrow. "In South Africa's case, it has had incidents of terrorism over many years, obviously not as intense, and no international terrorism as we've seen it more recently. But it has a clear interest in ensuring that South Africa does not become an area where international terrorism, particularly, gets a foothold."

On the same day that the State Department report was released, the U.N. Security Council also published a list of 68 countries that failed to report on their enforcement of U.N. sanctions against al-Qaida and the Taleban, as required by a Security Council resolution adopted two years ago. More than half of those nations are in Africa.

The Security Council says lack of compliance is not necessarily due to lack of commitment, but for many nations has more to do with a lack of resources and coordination.

Mr. Gastrow agrees that many African states need technical assistance in order to meet the U.N. requirements. But for some countries, he says, terrorism is just not a priority.

"There are countries in Africa - I'm not referring to countries on the east coast, more in the central and western part of Africa - who really do not see the issue of terrorism as being high on their own agendas, and who therefore have not had the motivation or the urgency to actually address it," said Peter Gastrow.

The Security Council set a March 31 deadline for countries to file reports explaining what they are doing to enforce the U.N. sanctions against al-Qaida and the Taleban. One U.N. official says there has been a last-minute rush to comply, meaning the final number of "failure" countries could drop significantly.