- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

BAMAKO, Mali — Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday promised not to pull the plug on U.S. training programs for African peacekeepers, but vowed that no American troops would get directly involved with fighting in Africa.
On the first trip to Africa by the first black secretary of state, Mr. Powell was mobbed by adoring crowds of students.
"There is an emotional connection," he said.
But he focused on the tough problems of Africa and decisions the Bush administration has to make on dealing with wars in Sierra Leone, Congo and Sudan, as well as the AIDS epidemic, wavering democracies and trade.
"Im going [to Africa] not to see it as a black problem and as a black man looking at a black problem, but as a secretary of state of the United States looking at a human problem," he told reporters.
Speaking on his plane en route from Washington to Bamako early Tuesday morning Mr. Powell conceded that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants to "back off on some of the overseas commitments we have, and thats his job."
"But we have to balance it against our responsibilities."
Some 500 U.S. Special Forces troops from Fort Bragg, N.C., are to arrive in this blistering hot capital in July for the Flintlock 2001 military exercises. They will spend 40 days training Malian troops to deal with military and humanitarian crises.
The U.S. training programs began in 1996 after 18 U.S. soldiers died on a humanitarian mission in Somalia in 1993, and the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
Today, Mr. Powell will review U.S. and Malian troops involved in another training program, the African Crisis Response Initiative.
The State Department is committed "to move foreign policy along by training these guys in peackeeping units," in Mali and elsewhere in Africa, Mr. Powell said.
"The president specifically told [Nigerian] President [Olusegun] Obasanjo when he was in the Oval Office a couple of weeks ago that he would continue to furnish that training.
"But I really dont see any missions coming along where I can anticipate a need for or see a need for U.S. combat troops."
He said that the U.N. peacekeeping mission trying to halt the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone is building up to 17,500 troops — almost none of them American.
"Aside from just a few liaison and training-type people we have there, theres no need for U.S. combat troops," said Mr. Powell.
Mr. Powell said he supported sanctions on Liberia and said its leader, Charles Taylor, "holds a lot of responsibility" for wars being fought in the region.
Mr. Powell also said he will soon name a special coordinator to seek a political solution to a 20-year conflict in Sudan, which he will examine when he visits Kenya on Saturday, following a trip today and Friday to South Africa.
"I would expect that our interest in Sudan will remain high, and our efforts to solve the problems in Sudan, humanitarian, political, economic and otherwise, will also increase," Mr. Powell said.
The United States has cut diplomatic relations with Khartoum, which it considers a sponsor of terrorism.
Mr. Powells meetings with Malian President Alpha Konare and other officials, to deal with malaria, AIDS and wars, overshadowed but did not hide the personal side of the visit.
"That a black man has become secretary of state gives me a lot of pleasure and that he came here gives us comfort," said pharmacy student Mariatout Traore, 25, at Mali University where Mr. Powell visited a malaria research center backed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
"This shows that democracy works, when a black arrives at this level. It shows the voice of the people," she said.
Another student raised a hand-lettered sign as Mr. Powell toured the university campus. "Colin — we are proud," it said.
Mr. Powell, his wife, Alma, and the newly installed administrator of the Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, toured the malaria research labs where they saw containers filled with mosquitoes involved in tests for the first human vaccine for the debilitating disease.
Miss Traore said she and other students at the medical and pharmacy schools have been sent out to villages by the Health Ministry to teach people how to prevent malaria by cleaning out stagnant water sources and teaching people to use mosquito nets with insecticide.
Mr. Powell chose Mali as his first stop in Africa because it is making efforts to curb malaria and AIDS, and since 1991, it has held democratic elections.
"President Bush has made a commitment to do everything we can do to solve the problem of communicable disease, especially in Africa," he said. He dismissed critics who said last weeks announcement by Mr. Bush of a $200 million U.S. contribution to a Global Health Fund aimed at fighting AIDS was too little given the scope of the crisis and U.S. economic power.
"I dont think America has anything to apologize about," he told reporters aboard his plane. "We are giving so much more to this problem than any other country or group of countries that we should be very proud of what we have done and be energized to do even more."
Mr. Powell will focus more sharply on AIDS today and Friday.


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