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Rice to visit Ethiopia in rare Africa trip

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Ethiopia next week for meetings on the conflicts in the volatile African Great Lakes region and Sudan and Somalia, said the State Department on Thursday.

Rice, a rare visitor to the African continent, will make her third trip to sub-Saharan Africa since becoming Secretary of State in 2005. She has previously been to Liberia, Senegal and Sudan but cancelled a trip to Africa last July.

State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Rice would be in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, on December 5 to attend a meeting of leaders from the African Great Lakes region — Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

”[They] will discuss issues of regional peace and security,” he said.

After her brief Africa trip, Rice will travel to Brussels on December 6 for a meeting of Nato foreign ministers to discuss Afghanistan, Kosovo and other issues, McCormack said, before she returns to Washington on December 7.

McCormack had no details on whether Rice planned to offer any new proposals on how to curb violence in lawless eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a conflict that has brought in the vast Central African country’s neighbours.

The conflict in the eastern province reflects the political and ethnic tensions behind the DRC’s 1998 to 2003 war in which six neighbouring countries, including Rwanda, invaded the country to plunder its vast mineral wealth.

President Joseph Kabila met US President George Bush in Washington last month and appealed for US help in trying to stabilise his country. Kabila has been battling to forcibly disarm soldiers in North Kivu province in the east, loyal to renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda.

The United States plans to help train a Congolese army rapid reaction force to tackle the rebels, and the State Department has been negotiating the terms of a training contract.

During her two-day visit, Rice will also discuss Somalia and Sudan with African Union members, the United Nations and East African ministers, said McCormack.

In addition, the top US diplomat will meet officials from Ethiopia, which cooperates closely with the United States on counterterrorism issues.

Tensions have been rising in recent months between Ethiopia and its neighbour Eritrea over its disputed border, with Eritrea accusing the United States of siding with Addis Ababa. – Reuters

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