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Clinton joins effort to end Burundi fighting

But negotiations hit snag as rebels fire on Bujumbura

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ARUSHA, Tanzania — President Clinton sought Monday to prop up Nelson Mandela's faltering efforts to end seven years of ethnic warfare in Burundi that has killed more than 200,000 people.

After two days of trying to bolster a 15-month-old democracy in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, Clinton flew to Tanzania, where Mandela and other mediators have tried for weeks to craft a Burundi cease-fire.

The former South African president had hoped Clinton could join 12 African leaders in witnessing a peace agreement between Burundi's Tutsi-controlled government and Hutu rebels. But the talks hit a barrier.

On the eve of the hoped-for agreement, rebels fired on Bujumbura, Burundi's capital. The administration, noting that some rebel groups have not come to the negotiating table, declined to connect Clinton's visit to a signing ceremony and cast it instead as a show of support for Mandela.

"We see the Burundi peace process as . . . ongoing," said Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "The best we can hope for is an outcome that takes the process a large step down the road. In any case, the United States will continue to support the efforts of President Mandela."

Tribal drummers in headdresses and flowing robes greeted Clinton and daughter Chelsea as Air Force One touched down at Kilimanjaro International Airport. He was greeted by Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, and they immediately went into private talks.

Afterward, Clinton recalled the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya two years ago that left more than 200 people dead, including 12 Americans. He said the terrorists "failed utterly" to deter the partnership between Tanzania and the United States.

"We still share your sorrow and your determination to see justice done," Clinton said. "I am glad to be here in a place of peace to visit a champion of peace," he said, noting that Tanzania is hosting both the Burundi talks and the Rwanda war crimes tribunal.

For his part, Mkapa said: "We are deeply touched that President Clinton has reached out to Africa more than any other (U.S.) president." He commended Clinton for allowing Africans to try to resolve their own conflicts rather than dictating policy. "Only the owner can free his home from mice" Mkapa said, quoting an African proverb.

The two leaders signed an open skies agreement giving both countries airlines unrestricted access to each other's airport. Clinton signed a similar accord with Nigeria. Tanzania's $8 billion foreign debt and a devastating drought were also on the agenda.

After a few hours in Tanzania, Clinton planned to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo to discuss the status of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, then head home.

Clinton closed his weekend visit to Nigeria on Sunday night with an address to business leaders, in which he announced the United States would make Nigerian exports eligible for duty-free treatment.

He called Nigeria "America's important partner," and said the entrepreneurs could begin turning around Nigeria's reputation for corruption by investing in its people and diversifying the economy.

Clinton promised continued U.S. support for Nigeria's transition to democracy but did not, as President Olusegun Obasanjo had hoped, agree to cancel or cut the nearly $1 billion U.S. portion of Nigeria's $32 billion foreign debt, a move that would require congressional approval.

Before meeting the business leaders, Clinton visited a women's health center, where director John Ibekwe suggested he press African leaders to be more aggressive about battling AIDS.

"With you as an advocate on our side, governments in Africa will do more than they have been doing," Ibekwe said.