Delivering an opening address this morning, ECOSOC President Martin Belinga-Eboutou of Cameroon said the Council would accord special attention during this year’s session to African development, particularly poverty eradication, in a context marked by the debt burden, economic stagnation, declines in international assistance for development, decreases in foreign direct investment, and difficulties associated with armed conflict and HIV/AIDS. Also addressing this morning’s meeting, Nitin Desai, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said ECOSOC must build on the many momentous recent events held under UN auspices, including the Millennium Summit which had produced the ground-breaking Millennium Declaration, the Conference on Least Developed Countries, and last week’s General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS. This year, the Council’s “high-level segment,” which runs from 16 to 18 July, will discuss the UN’s role in supporting the efforts of African countries to achieve sustainable development. The high-level segment will bring together ministers and representatives from the Council’s 54 member countries as well as observer States. The heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other UN officials will also take part in the discussions.Among other events being organized in conjunction with the high-level meeting there will be a panel of eminent personalities which will hear a keynote address by Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa.ECOSOC, which was established by the UN Charter, serves as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to the UN and its Member States. The Council can initiate studies and make recommendations on international economic, social, cultural, educational, health and related matters. The Council is also mandated to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. In addition, it assists in preparing international conferences and coordinates the activities of UN agencies.