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Sunday, August 15, 1999 Published at 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK

World: Africa

SA drops HIV murder trial

Campaigners are fighting a major HIV epidemic

Police in South Africa say they have withdrawn charges against four youths suspected of killing an Aids-awareness campaigner after she publicly disclosed she was HIV positive.

The move has enraged Aids campaigners, who have accused the authorities of laxness in bringing the woman's killers to justice.

[ image: The HIV problem is particularly serious in KwaZulu Natal]
The HIV problem is particularly serious in KwaZulu Natal
They say the decision sends the wrong message to the public.

But the police say the charges have only been provisionally withdrawn pending further investigations and that the case is still being given top priority.

Gugu Dlamini, a 36-year-old volunteer field worker for the National Association of People Living With HIV and Aids, was beaten to death in a town in KwaZulu-Natal province last December.

The attack came after she after revealed she was HIV-positive on television and radio during a World Aids Day gathering.

The suspects were arrested and later released into their parents' custody earlier this year.

HIV epidemic 'engulfing' country

[ image: Thabo Mbeki has made the Aids problem a top priority]
Thabo Mbeki has made the Aids problem a top priority
It is estimated that 20% to 30% of the population in KwaZulu Natal are infected with HIV or Aids, while in South Africa as a whole an estimated 3.6 million people - 8.6% of the population - are HIV positive.

New South African President Thabo Mbeki has made the battle against the virus one of his top priorities.

He has done so amid warnings that his country's HIV epidemic is one of the world's fastest growing.

US conservation group the Worldwatch Institute says the epidemic is engulfing South Africa.

The country's Medical Research Council says one in five mothers have the virus.

The United Nations is funding a $100m programme to address the Aids crisis in Africa.

But the South African Ministry of Health says it cannot afford the drug AZT, one of the treatments available for HIV.

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