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SADC rallies around Zimbabwe

Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries closed their 23rd annual summit on Tuesday united in their support for Zimbabwe and clear in their call for sanctions on the country to be lifted. In the final communiqué, read at the closing ceremony in Dar es Salaam, SADC said that the region would continue to work with Zimbabwe to address the political and economic situation and "encourage and sustain the political developments that are taking place in the search for lasting solutions". The region also committed itself to continue to oppose sanctions imposed by the Commonwealth, the European Union (EU) and the United States, as they affected "not only ordinary Zimbabweans but also have profound social and economic implications on the region as a whole". However, while Tanzanian President and the new SADC chair Benjamin Mkapa left little doubt over his opposition to sanctions on Zimbabwe and his support for land redistribution, he was quick to stress that it should not be "interpreted as [an apology] for arbitrary, illegal, unlegislated and economically unproductive and unbalanced restitution". The need to redress the imbalance in world trade also dominated proceedings. The regional leaders hoped developed countries would make concessions on agricultural subsidies, allowing African agricultural produce fairer access to their markets. The summit also called for the lifting of laws limiting the availability of cheap lifesaving generic drugs. Mkapa called agricultural protectionism "ridiculous" and, referring to the lack of access to antiretroviral drugs in Africa, said that there was a need to differentiate between laws that promoted trade and denied people access to their right to life. Yesaya Nyamu, Namibia's minister for industry and trade, added that if next month's World Trade Organisation summit in Cancun, Mexico, fails, the system as a whole would have failed. "Everyone would have lost out because world trade should benefit everyone and, if we create our own failure, we will have ended up shooting ourselves in the foot." Equally high on the SADC agenda during the summit was the HIV/AIDS pandemic, in a region where 14 million people are infected and, it is becoming increasingly clear, developmental gains are under threat. Following an HIV/AIDS summit in Lesotho earlier this year, SADC leaders this week approved the establishment of a regional fund for the implementation of the SADC HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework and Programme for Action 2003-2007. The new initiative has been given an initial budget of $10.5 million and will offer targets against which efforts made in the fight against HIV/AIDS can be measured. "To begin with, the estimated budget of $10.5 million might seem insurmountable," Mkapa said. "But placed against the loss in economic productivity, mounting health costs and the suffering of our people, our families, countries and region, the amount would in the long term be considered a wise investment." He warned: "Our region is the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS scourge. So many of our people are HIV positive, or sick with AIDS, that the proper, frank name for the challenge ahead is survival."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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