- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2000

Preparing for Jackson

Ambassador John Ernest Leigh of Sierra Leone says his government is preparing a "public relations campaign" to calm public anger over comments by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who hopes to visit the war-torn country on his current trip to West Africa.

Mr. Leigh this week said Mr. Jackson, acting as a special peace envoy for President Clinton, is expected in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, on Sunday.

Before he left on Wednesday, Mr. Jackson suggested that new peace talks in Sierra Leone should include Foday Sankoh, the leader of a rebel army that is holding 270 United Nations peacekeepers and has brutally assaulted civilians while devastating much of the country.

Mr. Jackson gave the impression that he was comparing Mr. Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with the African National Congress (ANC), which evolved from urban guerrillas to South Africa's leading political party.

He issued a new statement on Tuesday, denouncing Mr. Sankoh and the RUF.

Mr. Leigh said his government is "readying a public relations campaign so that public anger against Jackson will evaporate during his visit, following alleged derogatory statements by Jackson linking the RUF with the ANC of [former South African] President Nelson Mandela."

Mr. Leigh, who talked by telephone with Mr. Jackson late Tuesday night, said the Clinton envoy emphasized that the "ANC is a completely different organization from the RUF and that Sankoh is the complete antithesis of President Mandela."

Mr. Jackson "deeply regrets the statement he made that caused some people to take his remarks as equating Sankoh to President Mandela. Reverend Jackson wants the RUF to forthwith cease fire and disarm," Mr. Leigh added.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Wednesday that Mr. Jackson's visit to Sierra Leone depends on "security conditions." He arrived in Nigeria yesterday and is due to visit Liberia, Mali and Guinea.

'Bangladesh matters'

President Clinton included Bangladesh on his trip to South Asia in March because "Bangladesh matters to America," U.S. Ambassador John Holzman said Thursday.

Mr. Holzman, who is ending his tour as ambassador to Bangladesh, told reporters in the capital, Dhaka, that Mr. Clinton "was not motivated by any grand strategic design" when he stopped in Bangladesh on his visit to India and Pakistan.

His visit was designed to show that "we want Bangladesh to succeed," said Mr. Holzman.

"Bangladesh is in the midst of a difficult passage from a turbulent past, marked by dictatorship and despotism, to constitutional democracy, [and] Americans understand this never-ending struggle to achieve democracy because it is our struggle too," he said.

"At peace with its neighbors, Bangladesh is a stabilizing element in the subcontinent, which President Clinton called the most dangerous place in the world, as India and Pakistan pursue their nuclear programs" he said.

Prime Minister Sheik Hasina's fall visit to Washington, the first such official visit by any Bangladeshi leader, will help to strengthen bilateral ties, said Mr. Holzman.

Afghan 'grand council'

The United States this week endorsed Afghanistan's idea of a "grand council" for peace, the State Department said Thursday.

Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering told a visiting delegation that Washington supports the concept of the council, or "loya jirga," to bring together all factions in the country, now controlled by the Islamic extremist Taleban.

The proposal was initiated in Rome by former Afghan King Zahir Shah, who was overthrown in 1973.

In a statement, the State Department said, "Ambassador Pickering expressed U.S. support for initiatives, such as the Rome process, which seek to end the conflict and establish a government that represents the interests of all sectors of the Afghan population.

"He encouraged the delegation to meet with the Taleban, the Northern Alliance and other factions and to consult with the United Nations and other countries concerned about the deteriorating conditions inside Afghanistan."

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