• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Wednesday inspected a site from which land mines are being removed in Huambo, about 500 km southeast of Luanda, Angola’s capital.

Accompanied by Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Bernardo de Miranda, Kawaguchi inspected the site where the Halo Trust, a British-led nongovernmental organization, is conducting the removal.

The former Portuguese colony, with a population of 12 million, is said to have 15 million land mines.

Kawaguchi is visiting the southwest African country on the second leg of a three-nation tour of Africa.

Angola’s government and the UNITA rebels reached a ceasefire agreement in April.

Kawaguchi wore a mask of reinforced plastic and a protective suit while inspecting the site. She received explanations from NGO members during the inspection.

The Japanese government grants vehicles and radio equipment to the Halo Trust as part of a grassroots aid scheme.

“I was able to see with my own eyes that it is important for Japan to continue supporting the operation, as there will be no peace for the people here unless the mines are removed,” Kawaguchi told reporters after the inspection.

On Wednesday evening, Kawaguchi said in an informal meeting with the Japanese reporters accompanying her that she felt anew the importance of Japan’s official development assistance to Ethiopia and Angola.

“We should be confident in giving such support,” Kawaguchi said.

“Africa lags behind in economic development for various reasons. It is natural for Japan, as a major economic power, to take responsibility in supporting African countries.”

She vowed to work to ensure the success of the third Tokyo International Conference on African Development, slated for October 2003.

“I understand African nations recognize the importance of the conference,” she said.

Kawaguchi was in Ethiopia for the first leg of her tour. She will next visit South Africa to attend the ongoing U.N. conference on sustainable development before returning to Japan on Sept. 5.

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