POWELL encourages African democracies

Thursday, May 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) _ Secretary of State Colin Powell is offering encouragement for African democracies, promising U.S. support and assistance. But he also concedes difficulties in winning support back home.

``This gives me greater standing when I go before Congress and ask for additional funds to support our programs in Africa,'' Powell said of his trip.

He also faces resistance within the Bush administration to widening U.S. commitments overseas.

Wrapping up a visit to the West African nation of Mali, one of the world's poorest, Powell reviewed troops being trained by U.S. Army Special Forces. A $20-million-a-year U.S. program provides instruction and nonlethal equipment for nations committed to democratic progress and civilian rule in Africa.

``I am very impressed, particularly impressed by the commitment and dedication that the government of Mali puts into peacekeeping operations,'' Powell said. ``They have a distinguished record of having done it well in the past and ... they will play an even more active role in the future.''

Mali has participated in peacekeeping missions across the continent.

Powell was traveling Thursday to South Africa, meeting in Pretoria with South African President Thabo Mbeki.

One topic will be strife in neighboring Zimbabwe, Powell told reporters. Some critics have suggested Mbeki should do more.

``I'm troubled by the situation and I'd like to hear President Mbeki's assessment,'' Powell said. He said he did not have any ready-made suggestions.

``I'm here to speak to the leaders in the region, speak out for democracy and for the free enterprise system and America's role in Africa,'' Powell said.

On Wednesday in Mali, Powell expressed strong support for continuing to help train African peacekeepers _ although said there was ``nothing on the horizon'' to suggest any role for U.S. combat forces.

Powell was warmly received on his first stop on a four-nation African tour. He said he picked Mali because it was ``firmly committed to democracy'' and ``a model for the rest of the world.''

He met with Mali's president, Alpha Oumar Konare and then toured a center, financed by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes for Health, where research is under way to try to find a vaccine for malaria.

``We're going to see what we can do to stop this dread disease,'' Powell said. On other stops, he intended to emphasize the AIDS epidemic.

He spoke to a mostly young crowd of hundreds, saying he was rejoicing in ``all your smiling, beautiful faces.''