Conflict in the Central African Republic and South Sudan looked set to dominate the agenda Thursday as African leaders gathered for an African Union (AU) summit that is officially scheduled to focus on agricultural development and food security.
But the 54-member regional bloc seemed destined to spend much of the two-day summit trying to resolve yet another conflict among its member states.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn opened the talks in Addis Ababa before handing over the one-year post of AU chairman to Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
The unfolding humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic (CAR), where a 5,300-strong AU force is deployed alongside 1,600 French soldiers, started off as a key talking point.
"Our hearts go out to the people of the Central African Republic and South Sudan, who face devastating conflicts in their countries and especially to women and children who've become the victims," AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in her opening remarks.
"We have to work together to ensure that we build lasting peace," she told the delegates.
CAR descended into chaos 10 months ago after rebels overthrew the government in a March coup, sparking inter-religious violence that has uprooted a million people out of a population of 4.6 million.
African leaders and Western diplomats will hold a pledging conference on Saturday to raise cash for the AU-led MISCA peacekeeping mission looking to re-establish security in the country.
Unrest in South Sudan
Clashes between government forces and rebels have continued in South Sudan despite the warring parties signing a fragile ceasefire deal last week. Thousands have been killed and more than 800,000 people have been forced from their homes in six weeks of bloodshed.
AU peace and security commissioner Smail Chergui said the bloc was calling on Juba to release four remaining prisoners – after seven were set free – rather than put them on trial for attempting to topple the government of President Salva Kiir.
Chergui said their release is key, "so they can participate and contribute to the dialogue that will be initiated between all the parties of South Sudan".
Peace talks led by the regional East African bloc IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) adjourned after last week's ceasefire agreement, with mediators calling for the AU to play a greater role in the peace process.
The controversial role of the International Criminal Court in Africa is also expected to be addressed at the summit.
Phil Clark, politics lecturer at London's SOAS University, said the AU faces criticism for its response to regional crises, noting that there is widespread concern that “the AU isn't showing sufficient leadership in resolving these types of conflicts".
Leaders are also expected to focus on "Agenda 2063", a 50-year roadmap for the AU’s future.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-01-30