August 20, 1997
Muhammad Ali Aids Refugees
SAN PEDRO, Ivory Coast (AP) -- Greeted by fans chanting ``Ali! Ali!'' former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali delivered food and gifts Wednesday to young war refugees near the Liberian border.
Ali came to this west African nation after receiving a letter from a Roman Catholic nun asking for assistance in helping Liberian children forced by civil war to flee their country.
``I never actually expected to get such a response,'' said the nun, Sister Sponsa Beltran.
Ali delivered toys, medicine and food to the Centre Bon Berger Catholic Mission, 200 miles west of the capital Abidjan, where Beltran oversees the care of 105 Liberian children, including 61 who are handicapped. She said an additional 400 children depend on her for food and medical care.
Ali, 55, suffers from Parkinson's disease and speaks in a barely audible whisper, but he shook hands and traded friendly jabs with scores of children who crowded the mission grounds to see him.
Ali's most famous visit to Africa was in 1974, when he defeated George Foreman in the ``Rumble in Jungle'' in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, known then as Zaire.
He returned to Africa in 1980 in an attempt to persuade African countries to follow the United States in a boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow. Many African countries refused to support the boycott.
Ali was accompanied on his latest trip to Africa by Yank Berry, a Canadian entrepreneur whose VitaPro Foods Processing company produces a soy-based meat substitute that has been used to feed refugees elsewhere in continent.
Ivory Coast became home to 350,000 Liberian refugees during Liberia's seven-year civil war. The war ended last year and presidential elections held in July were peaceful, but many refugees have not returned to their homeland because they fear renewed violence or because their homes were destroyed.