Japan, despite its economic difficulties, will continue to support development in Africa, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi pledged Monday.Addressing the opening session of the Second Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-II), Obuchi also said Japan would take measures to push for so-called South-South cooperation to aid Africa, adding that he will urge other Asian countries to accept some 2,000 trainees from Africa over the next five years. “By mapping out an action agenda, we intend to draw together international efforts to promote economic and social development of Africa and to improve the welfare of African people,” Obuchi said in his keynote speech.Eighty countries and 40 international organizations are represented at TICAD-II, which is cosponsored by Japan, the United Nations and the Global Coalition for Africa, an international nongovernmental organization. The conference is expected to adopt an action agenda Wednesday to fight poverty in Africa and integrate the continent’s economies fully into the global economy.About 20 African countries are posting annual economic growth of more than 5 percent, and many are promoting democratization. But poverty is still widespread and such problems as civil war and terrorism are threatening overall peace and stability — important elements for sustainable development, Obuchi said. It is thus essential for African development that conflicts on the continent be prevented and democracy promoted, he said.The heads of state or government from 13 African countries are attending the meeting, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will join the gathering today. Obuchi said Japan will respect Africa’s self-help efforts toward development and will extend assistance based on the principle of an equal partnership.Japan will place importance on social development in extending assistance and will increase efforts for cooperation in basic education and health and welfare for African countries, he said.Obuchi also stressed the importance of South-South cooperation, under which the development experiences of Asia are applied to Africa. Obuchi said that Japan will arrange for training of 2,000 Africans over the next five years in other Asian and North African countries. Japan and Egypt exchanged a note on such cooperation on Monday.Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in a speech at the opening session of the conference that African countries are almost half a century behind in terms of development, but Malaysia and other countries, including Japan and France, together can make up for the loss of time and help set up job-creating industries in Africa.”Africans, Asians and Europeans will benefit from the stabilization and prosperity of Africa brought about by the cooperative efforts of the three continents,” Mahathir said.The response by African leaders, including Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, to Obuchi’s keynote speech was a cultured medley of gratitude and expectancy.While all thanked Japan for taking the initiative to organize such an important international development forum for the second time in five years, most also felt much more remains to be done.

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