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U.S. urges AIDS education and voluntary testing for all troops

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UNITED NATIONS — Declaring AIDS "a truly global risk" to military forces, the United States introduced a Security Council resolution Thursday urging all countries to provide education and voluntary testing for their troops.

The resolution is aimed primarily at nations providing U.N. peacekeepers, but notes that all uniformed military forces are at risk of both contracting and spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

It calls for national education programs for civilians and military personnel to prevent the spread of the disease and voluntary and confidential AIDS counseling and testing for members of military forces, especially those to be deployed to international peacekeeping missions.

"I hope that it will ... be another step forward in this relentless war that must be waged on all fronts against the spread of HIV/AIDS," U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said after introducing the resolution.

Holbrooke has focused his attention on the global AIDS problem, holding the first Security Council meeting on the issue in January, and insisting that every subsequent council resolution authorizing a peacekeeping mission include a reference to AIDS education for soldiers.

Holbrooke said the resolution has the support of the 14 other council members.

Statistics on HIV infection rates among U.N. peacekeepers — now numbering about 35,000 including civilian police— are scant since the United Nations doesn't test troops. And U.N. officials note that only a handful of peacekeepers had to be evacuated in the past five years because they became infected.

The U.N. peacekeeping department already provides condoms to peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, East Timor and Lebanon.

But Holbrooke said the resolution makes clear that the United Nations needs to do "much more."

Holbrooke noted that the appropriations committees in both houses of the U.S. Congress have included $10 million in the Defense Department appropriations bill this year to work with national militaries or the United Nations on preventing the spread of AIDS in military establishments.

"This is important because the military and the police are usually in many of these countries among the primary ways that AIDS is being spread," he said.

The money in the bill — which has not yet been approved by either house — could be used for testing, Holbrooke said, but he stressed that the resolution does not make testing mandatory.

"It definitely will be another step in that direction, and I personally believe without any question that testing should be mandatory for everyone entering a peacekeeping force," he said, but the United Nations cannot order any soldiers to be tested.

In the United States, testing is mandatory to join the military or deploy overseas, Holbrooke said.