AU to send peacekeepers to DRC

2012-07-15 18:26
Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma attends the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. (Simon Maina, AFP)

Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma attends the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. (Simon Maina, AFP)

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Addis Ababa - The African Union said Sunday it is ready to send peacekeeping troops to the restive eastern DR Congo, as leaders met at a biannual summit to discuss trouble spots and to vote for the bloc's top job.

AU Commission chair Jean Ping told African leaders at the opening of the two-day summit that the AU was "prepared to contribute to the establishment of a regional force to put an end to the activities of armed groups," in DR Congo.

No further details about the potential force were given at the meeting, attended by both DRC President Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame, who rejects accusations by UN experts and Kinshasa he supports the mutiny by Congolese troops.

"The violence must end immediately, countries of the region ought to respect principle of non-interference," said UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson.

The renewed violence in the mineral-rich eastern DRC is a key focus of the summit as well as conflict elsewhere on the continent, including instability in Mali, and the ongoing crisis between Sudan and South Sudan.

Ping described the crisis in Mali - where authorities are struggling to tackle Islamist militants who control the vast desert north - as "one of the most serious threats to security and stability of the continent".

"The situation in the north of Mali... is alarming and is a threat to the region and beyond," Eliasson added.

However, signs of improvement were seen in the dispute between Sudan and South Sudan, following fierce battles in April and March along their contested oil-rich border.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir of South Sudan shook hands warmly, following their first face-to-face talks on Saturday since the border fighting took them to the brink of all-out war.

AU leadership race

Ping noted "with satisfaction the end to the fighting and advances made recently" in talks between Juba and Khartoum, who have been holding months of slow-moving AU-led talks to resolve a raft of contentious issues.

"Their people desperately hope for security and prosperity, we have a common duty not to shatter their hopes," Eliasson said.

For once, Ping noted positive changes in war-torn Somalia, praising the nations who had sent troops to battle the al-Qaeda linked Shabaab, including Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda in the 17 000-strong AU force, as well as Ethiopia.

"The prospects for peace have never looked so encouraging," said Ping.

However, the hotly contested AU leadership race is expected to dominate later proceedings.

South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is challenging Gabon's Ping, the current commission chair, after neither won the required two-thirds of the vote at the last summit six months ago, leaving Ping in the post.

Benin's president and current AU chair Thomas Boni Yayi warned that another failure to agree on a new head would damage the reputation of the 54-member body.

"The current situation cannot drag on without undermining the running of the African Union and tarnishing its image," Yayi told the summit.

"Africans and the outside world will be judging our capacity to unite our continent on our success in choosing a new commission chair... This time round we must not fail."

Analysts say unwritten tradition is that continental powerhouses do not run for the post - leaving smaller nations to take the job - and that South Africa's decision to override this rule has sparked bad feeling.

If no chair is selected at this summit, Ping - who has held the post since 2008 - could legally be asked to stay on as leader until the next summit in January 2013.

Read more on:    jean ping  |  omar al-bashir  |  nkosazana dlamini-zuma  |  sudan  |  ethiopia  |  east africa

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