ENTEBBE, Uganda — President Bush said today at a Ugandan AIDS clinic that the country's aggressive prevention and treatment programs are "leading the way" in efforts to combat the global pandemic.

Bush spoke after an emotional visit to the clinic, in which he met with about two dozen AIDS patients at the clinic, hugging many of them.

"It's one thing to hear about the ravages of AIDS or to read about them, another thing to see them first hand," the president said from a small courtyard outside the facility. "I met generals in the armies — in the worldwide army of compassion."

Earlier, the president met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and heaped praise on him at a picture-taking session. "You have shown the world what is possible in terms of reducing infection rates," Bush said.

Uganda, an Oregon-sized nation in east-central Africa, is a model for stemming its once-spiraling rate of HIV infection. It stands in sharp contrast to Botswana — another stop on Bush's African journey — which is struggling with the world's highest HIV infection rate.

Bush's own five-year, $15 billion AIDS plan is modeled after a program in Uganda, which stresses abstinence, monogamy and condom use.

"This is such a land of hope in the heart of Africa," he said in the speech. "You're leading the way here in Uganda."

During their joint appearance, Bush also praised Museveni as "a strong advocate of free trade" and a force for peace in Central Africa.

Then and during his speech, however, Bush steered clear of any mention of Uganda's involvement in the 5-year civil war in neighboring Congo.

Uganda sent troops into Congo to back rebels seeking to oust then-President Laurent Kabila when the war there erupted in August 1998. Uganda withdrew its troops in May, but human rights groups accuse Uganda of continuing to fuel the fighting in eastern and northeastern Congo — where thousands have been killed — by arming Congolese factions in the region.

Amnesty International urged Bush to press the Ugandan government to end all military support to the groups. In a statement, the human rights group also called on Bush to back calls for a "truly robust international military force capable of protecting civilians" in Congo.

U.N. troops deployed in Congo can only fire in self-defense and have not attempted to stem the violence.

Uganda was one of four African countries that openly supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Museveni seized power in 1986.

Uganda was Bush's fourth stop during a five-nation African tour. After the speech, Bush flew to Nigeria, where he had no public events scheduled today.

In the speech, Bush mentioned his $15-billion AIDS program, without mentioning that the Republican-controlled House has not provided all the money he seeks. "You are not alone in this fight. America has decided to act," he said. "We want to be on your side in a big way."

His audience of about 60 people was made up of mostly men, many in business suits but others in colorful traditional African clothing. A Ugandan children's choir sang "America the Beautiful" and signs proclaimed: "Living Positively with AIDS" and "United Against AIDS." The president took his picture with the children, then embraced them in a group hug.

The AIDS Support Organization Clinic saw 4,787 patients in 1997, and 28,776 last year. Founded in 1987, it was the first and largest indigenous HIV-services organization in Africa. Most founders of the TASO clinic network have already died of AIDS.

Uganda has managed to put the brakes on a rising HIV infection rate that had devastated the country in the 1980s and 1990s. But the disease is still taking a heavy toll, with about 1 million Ugandans infected out of a total population of 24 million.

A massive public education campaign helped drop the infection rate to about 5 percent. Condom use is widespread, the average age of first sexual contact has been raised and the average number of sexual partners has been reduced.

The government's latest awareness campaign promotes the "A,B,C,D" of HIV — "abstain," change "behavior," use "condoms," or "die."

"We made it our highest priority to convince our people to return to their traditional values of chastity and faithfulness or, failing that, to use condoms," Museveni told drug company executives in Washington last month. "The alternative was decimation."

Prevention is affordable but drugs to treat the infected are not. They cost about $26 a month, while Uganda spends about $3.50 on health care per citizen annually.

Bush's $15 billion AIDS plan would target prevention and treatment assistance to a total of 14 hard-hit countries — two in the Caribbean and a dozen in Africa. In Washington, a House panel approved only two-thirds of the $3 billion it had authorized for the first year of Bush's battle plan for global AIDS.