Rock stars in last-ditch Africa plea to G8 leaders

HEILIGENDAMM, Germany (Reuters) - Rock stars Bono and Bob Geldof launched a last-ditch effort on Thursday to force Group of Eight leaders to honor aid pledges they made to Africa two years ago.

The two, long involved in the campaign to help the world’s poorest continent, have held private meetings with world leaders gathered in the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm to discuss issues including climate change and development.

U2 singer Bono described his talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hosting the summit, as tough.

“We are now having a row with the Chancellor’s office about their aid numbers. We agree on the goals but we are not convinced that they have a robust plan to get there,” said Bono.

“The Chancellor has asked us to trust her - and we are tempted, but we cannot risk being let down by the G8 again.”

Officials are arguing up to the last minute about how specifically to recommit to pledges made at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, when leaders said they would double development aid by 2010.

There, they promised to raise annual aid levels by $50 billion by 2010, $25 billion of which was for Africa. Aid agency Oxfam says G8 nations risk missing their 2010 pledges by $30 billion, which they say would cost at least five million lives.

Campaigners believe the final G8 declaration will include the same language agreed at Gleneagles on the headline figures.

“We are really running to stand still here,” said Oxfam policy adviser Max Lawson.

Officials are also arguing over whether commitments for individual countries and for areas like education and AIDS treatment will be spelled out separately.

“The important thing is that we continue the process we started at Gleneagles, that we reconfirm our commitments, but that we go further,” said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, host of the Gleneagles summit.

Canada and Italy have been blocking the inclusion of specific language or numbers, say officials and activists, although Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi signaled to Bono and Geldof late on Wednesday that he would drop his resistance.

Leaders could also back away from 2005 targets to fund universal access to AIDS treatment and instead include a target of treating five million people with AIDS.

“We are worried they will be setting less ambitious access targets,” said Oliver Buston, European Director of campaigning group DATA.

Officials are also still arguing over whether to acknowledge a funding gap in the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria or set a funding target of $6-$8 billion a year by 2010.

Prodi told Bono and Geldof Italy would pay up money it owed to the Global Fund and also pay $200 million per year for the next two years, according to Global Fund spokesman Seth Amgott, who welcomed the move.

Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin