- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

African apologies

The Freedom Forum had hoped to host a major news conference with four foreign ministers from Africa, talking about the future of the continent in the 21st century.

Instead they got apologies.

The ministers were stuck in New York yesterday where they had to represent their presidents at the U.N. General Assembly, one African diplomat explained.

"It is disappointing, but it was just one of those things," said Henry Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro of the Zimbabwean Embassy.

The Freedom Forum, the well-respected organization that promotes free speech, learned of the cancellations shortly before the scheduled 8:30 a.m. press breakfast.

"I am perplexed. I have no answer," said spokeswoman Joan Mower. "We are extremely disappointed they passed up an opportunity to tell their story to leading journalists in the United States."

Foreign ministers Theo-Ban Gurirab of Namibia, Isack S.G. Mudenge of Zimbabwe, Lilian Patel of Malawi and Leonardo Simao of Mozambique were scheduled to discuss "strategies for African nations in the new millennium," according to the Washington public policy institute, Constituency for Africa, the cosponsor of the event.

The news conference was not a complete loss, according to our correspondent Didi Tang. She reports that several African ambassadors who attended the event took questions primarily on the AIDS epidemic sweeping the continent.

"We are educating our people about AIDS and how to avoid it," said Ambassador Simbi Veke Mubako of Zimbabwe. "Everybody has to fight [the disease] together."

Ambassador Lebohang K. Moleko of Lesotho admitted that his government was initially reluctant to discuss the issue.

"There was a taboo for [government] ministers [and] priests to talk about sexual relationship. Yet they're now starting to talk about it, to promote the AIDS education.

"Schools are involved in the education. The church is involved. The government is involved. It is an issue that we need to tackle jointly."

The United Nations estimates that 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are infected with the AIDS virus, about two-thirds of the total worldwide.

Ambassador Tony Kandiero of Malawi talked of the need for Africa to settle its numerous armed conflicts peaceably.

"People are tired of wars," he said. "We have a history of terrible wars, and people are the ultimate sufferers."

Israeli update

Israel's acting foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, arrives here today for a brief but intense visit to give Washington an update on events in the Middle East.

His one-day visit follows a decision by the Palestine Liberation Organization to delay declaring an independent state until Nov. 15.

"He's coming to Washington to discuss both with the administration and Congress how it is still possible to move this [peace] process forward," said Israeli Embassy spokesman Marc Regev.

"We believe it is the moment of truth, and we hope the Palestinians won't let this opportunity fall by the wayside."

Mr. Ben-Ami is scheduled to meet National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota.

He will have lunch with members of the House International Relations Committee and later speak to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

This is his first visit to Washington in his new position. Mr. Ben-Ami led negotiations with the Palestinians at the recent Camp David summit. He is a Labor Party member of parliament and a former ambassador to Spain.

Mr. Ben-Ami leaves for the United Nations tomorrow.

Hong Kong's site

Hong Kong has opened an Internet site to promote its economy, which is ranked as one of the freest in the world.

At www.freeconomy.org, Hong Kong promotes its "one-stop shop, providing comprehensive information on everything from Hong Kong's free-market policies and practices to its legal and tax systems," said Hong Kong's Washington office.

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