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Schroeder: Anti-poverty fight key to African peace

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Reuters) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, on his first official tour of Africa, said on Monday the continent could end its chronic wars only if it defeated the poverty and disease that created a "vicious cycle" of suffering.

In Ethiopia on the first leg of a four-nation visit, Schroeder announced 650,000 euros ($825,200) in bilateral funding for African Union (AU) peace missions to Liberia, Sudan, Somalia and Burundi and said the European Union would soon unveil a significant contribution to AU peace efforts.

"Africa has become the continent with the most armed conflicts in the world," Schroeder said in a speech at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa on his first official visit to Africa since he took office in 1998.

"They claim millions of lives and impede any chance of people leading a dignified life. This vicious circle must be stopped before conflict erupts."

"Our joint efforts to achieve security and peace are doomed to failure if they do not also include the fight against hunger and poverty, the containment of AIDS and other diseases as well as the preservation of (Africa's) natural resources."

Schroeder arrived late on Sunday on a tour that will also take him on to Kenya, South Africa and Ghana.

German diplomats say the countries were chosen because they are "anchors of stability" in Africa and their recent political history provide examples of peaceful democratic transition.

Accompanied by about a dozen business executives, Schroeder will focus on development aid, trade and security on his tour.

Sub-Saharan Africa nations represent less than two percent of Germany's total foreign trade but receive 20 percent of Berlin's total bilateral development aid, official figures show.

The AU won the power last month to intervene militarily in conflicts on the continent after a security pact won the backing of most of the 53 members. Under the pact, the AU can set up a force drawn from member nations and use it to prevent conflicts.

Negotiators are working around Africa to end civil wars in Sudan, Somalia and Burundi and cement peace efforts in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Schroeder's visit coincides with the centenary of massacres by the troops of Kaiser Wilhelm of the Herero people in what is now Namibia. Germany has pledged to step up aid for its former colony following demands for descendants of the victims for compensation, but has stopped short of making a formal apology.

Asked by a reporter whether he supported compensation for wrongs such as the Herero massacres, AU's commission chairman, Alpha Omar Konare, told reporters the main obligation of those who had done wrong was to recognize wrong had been committed.

"We have no conflict regarding the past. We are the people of our time. We are resolved to move ahead," said Konare, seated beside Schroeder at a news conference.

Schroeder welcomed what he called Ethiopia's willingness to use dialogue to solve a border row with Eritrea less than four years after the Horn of Africa countries fought a brutal war.

The peace process has been stalled since Ethiopia refused to accept the ruling of an independent commission set up under a peace pact over where the disputed frontier should lie.

Tensions between the countries have been rising ever since, prompting concern that continued deadlock could impede efforts to battle humanitarian crises affecting both countries.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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