- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

No condom shortage

Ugandan Ambassador Edith Ssempala insists her country has plenty of condoms and denies that a reported shortage caused some men to resort to the use of garbage bags.

Mrs. Ssempala said those reports damaged the reputation of Uganda’s campaign to combat AIDS and the related HIV virus through emphasis on safe sex, marital fidelity and abstinence. She also strongly denied reports that the United States pressured Uganda to reduce the distribution of condoms in order to force people to abstain from sex.

The ambassador said the rumor of a condom shortage most recently appeared last month in the New York Times in a report she called “simply … a mistake.”

“Reports have been appearing in the media … that our country’s successful AIDS prevention efforts are in jeopardy due to a purported shortage of condoms,” she said.

“The New York Times even reported that Ugandan men have been reduced to using garbage bags as condom substitutes. We are not facing a condom shortage, and the New York Times simply made a mistake.

“There is no pattern of men in our country using garbage bags when they have sex, and we seriously doubt it has happened at all.”

Mrs. Ssempala said Uganda has reduced the cases of AIDS to 6 percent of the population from a high of 30 percent in the 1980s.

“We succeeded at preventing the spread of this terrible disease through our own approach, known as ABC. ‘A’ for abstinence. ‘B’ for being faithful, and ‘C’ for condoms for high-risk populations,” she said.

“Yes, we recognize condoms reduce risk, but we also recognize they do not eliminate risk. And no, the United States is not pressuring our government to withhold condoms from the Ugandan people in order to promote an abstinence-only approach to AIDS prevention.”

Afghan elections

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan yesterday said he expects violence in this weekend’s elections but is confident that any terrorist attacks will fail to disrupt the voting.

Ambassador Ronald Neumann also denied reports that the United States is planning to withdraw 20 percent of American troops from Afghanistan early next year to allow NATO to assume a greater role in securing the country from attacks from the ousted Taliban regime.

Mr. Neumann told reporters in Kabul that he is encouraged by the enthusiasm he has seen among Afghans who plan to vote in Sunday’s elections for a national parliament and local councils.

“I can’t rule out that there could be some large violence, but I don’t think there will be any kind of violence that will stop the success of the election,” he said.

“I think there is one standard that is going to really count for this election and that is whether the Afghan people come out of it feeling that they have had a credible process.

“If the Afghan people believe that this election has, with reasonable credibility, met their expectations, then that is going to be a successful election. I think that will happen.”

Mr. Neumann also dismissed news reports of a planned withdrawal of 4,000 of the 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“There is no decision on force reduction,” he said.

Gesture from Belize

The tiny Central American nation of Belize made a “nice solemn gesture” by canceling the government’s national day reception and donating the money for the celebration to the American Red Cross, a State Department official said yesterday.

The Belize Foreign Ministry informed the department’s Hurricane Katrina Task Force on Tuesday, the official said. The country celebrates its independence on Sept. 21.

“We’re not sure how much money was involved, but we thought it was a nice solemn gesture of solidarity,” the official said.

Belize Ambassador Lisa Shoman was in New York on U.N. business yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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