The world will lose interest in helping poor African countries unless the continent's rulers end the "vicious cycle" of wars and conflict, President Clinton's national security adviser said.

The United States has committed $1.5 million to support the Organization for African Unity's conflict resolution program, Anthony Lake told the group at the beginning of a nine-day visit to Africa.Yet even the most willing international donors, facing the reality of shrinking resources, feel "an honest skepticism about the return on our investments in peacekeeping and development" in Africa, he said in a prepared statement released Thursday night.

"Too many African nations are caught in a vicious cycle. Bloody civil wars and deadly ethnic conflicts make political stability impossible. Without political stability, there can be little development."

Lake is heading an 18-member delegation that includes representatives of the State and Defense departments and the Agency for International Development. They also plan to visit Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Angola, Benin and Senegal.

He said the United States now spends only half as much on development as it does on disaster relief on the continent, where 16 nations are involved in some form of civil conflict, 6 million people are refugees and 17 million are displaced within their countries.

"The African nations must reverse the economic slide of the lost decade of the 1980s," Lake said.

He said the U.S. government has begun talks with African governments and international aid donors to work out a three-part plan on famines, recovery and long-term development, for which up to $1 billion could be donated.