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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK

World: Africa

Albright praises Malian democracy

Mrs Albright inspects Malian troops in Bamako

The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, hailed Mali's democratic reforms and contribution to West African peacekeeping missions during a visit to the country on Tuesday.

"We see Mali as a pivotal state in this region of Africa," she said, describing Malian democratic reforms as a beacon for the region.

Mrs Albright is on a six-country tour of Africa which also takes her to the funeral of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.

She said Mali enjoyed enhanced international stature on account of its role in the UN Security Council and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

"[This] puts Mali in the position of being a very large influence for good. [Mali] is central to our partnership with African democracies," she told a news conference.

Aid announcement

Mrs Albright announced $2 million-worth of aid to provide scholarships for women and girls to add to the $38m of US assistance already sent to Mali in 1999.

She also met Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare and inspected a battalion of Malian troops trained as part of African Crisis Response Initiative, a body begun by the US.

Mali was the first country to agree to take part in the force, which US officials now say numbers between 5,000 and 6,000.

Strong peacekeeping reputation

"Malian forces have built a strong reputation as peacekeepers, serving with distinction in Liberia, Central African Republic and Sierre Leone," Mrs Albright said, adding: "Mali benefits ... from a new voice in world affairs".

Mrs Albright also visits Nigeria on Tuesday, after which she will travel to Tanzania and Kenya.

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