Nairobi, June 10-(AFP) More than 120 senior African religious leaders were to open an inter-faith assembly on Monday to focus on the role of religious communities in addressing the impact of AIDS on children, conference organisers said.

The historic three-day conference, organised by the World Conference for Religion and Peace (WCRP), aims at harnessing moral leadership and untapped resources of religious communities in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has shattered African societies and left behind millions of orphans, they said in a statement.

During the conference, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is to press Africa's religious leaders to help break down a wall of silence on some key issues on HIV/AIDS. "I am here to challenge the religious community," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy told AFP in an interview here on Sunday. "We will encourage religious leaders to help create an environment in their communities, where people would be open to understanding at the most intricate level," Bellamy added.

Those attending the conference include the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kampala Emmanuel Wamala, Ethiopian Orthodox patriarch Abune Paulos and deputy mufti of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, Sheikh Twaib Mukuye. Also attending are former Tanzanian president Ali Hassan Mwinyi and the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane, an outspoken advocate in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

At the assembly, religious representatives, a quarter of whom are women religious leaders, will be joined by other notable speakers equally committed to addressing the plight of children in the context of this ravaging pandemic. The delegates will also visit some of the most effective programmes meeting the needs of children in the Nairobi area.

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