Clinton pushes rights issues in Congo, Angola

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday pressed for progress in two war-scarred African nations, calling for an end to mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo after winning a pledge by Angola to hold a "timely" presidential election.


AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday pressed for progress in two African nations recovering from war, calling for an end to mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo after winning a pledge by Angola to hold elections.

Clinton was given a rousing welcome in Kinshasa, with some onlookers performing impromptu dances as her motorcade snaked through packed streets, but she later faced some tough questions from students.

Hours earlier, she had ended a 24-hour visit to Angola with what she described as a commitment by longtime leader President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to hold a "timely" presidential election.

Clinton heads Tuesday to what she considers a highlight of her trip -- Goma, in the war-torn east of DR Congo, where the United Nations says nearly 3,500 women have been raped since the beginning of the year.

Clinton, a longtime advocate of women's rights, told a forum with students in the capital Kinshasa that the sexual violence in the former Zaire was "one of mankind's great atrocities."

She said she will "be pressing very hard" on the issue when she meets President Joseph Kabila in Goma.

"We are now in the 21st century. It is no longer acceptable for there to be violence against women in the home or in the community," she said. "People need to stand together against it."

Clinton faced a flurry of questions from the students, not all to her liking. At one point, she showed a rare flash of public anger as a young man asked for the views of her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

"My husband is not the secretary of state, I am," Clinton said forcefully.

Another student told Clinton, to applause from the crowd, that  underdevelopment stemmed from a long history of Western exploitation in the resource-rich nation, once notoriously the private fiefdom of Belgium's King Leopold II.

"I cannot excuse the past and I will not try," Clinton commented, saying that the United States was not alone responsible for Africa's problems.

"We take responsibility for the role that we played in the past but others must as well," she said, adding:. "We're not going to work with people who are looking backwards because that's not going to get us anywhere."

The top US diplomat has made democracy and good governance a major theme of her seven-nation trip through Africa in which she has tried to throw the spotlight both on the continent's success stories and trouble spots.

She started the day at an AIDS clinic in Angola, where she walked past baskets of free condoms and promised to more than double US funding for HIV prevention in the country to 17 million dollars.

In Kinshasa, she made her first stop at a state-of-the-art hospital funded by basketball star Dikembe Mutombo where she greeted nurses and saw a baby who is barely a month old.

"This is a symbol of hope for Congolese and for a brighter future in Africa," said Mutombo, one of the best known Congolese in the United States.

Clinton's team painted a bright picture of its meetings in Angola, with one aide coming out of the meeting saying: "This has reset relations."

Dos Santos has ruled the Cold War flashpoint turned major oil producer for the last 30 years and his government has hinted it may have to delay polls due this year, citing delays in drawing up a new constitution.

"He gave a very thoughtful description of the choices they are trying to make but committed that the constitution would be completed and elections held in a timely manner," Clinton told reporters on her plane.

However, she gave no indication if Dos Santos had given a time-scale by which the election would be held in the former Portuguese colony.

She said that Dos Santos contended that the main issue holding back elections was figuring out what type of political system the nation would have, with Angola looking at the US, French and South African models.

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