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Leaders gear up for top AU job vote

2012-01-30 10:44

Addis Ababa - African leaders focused on Monday on the race for the pan-African bloc's most influential post and efforts to resolve regional hotspots, including Sudan and South Sudan's bitter oil dispute.

Incumbent African Union commission chairperson Jean Ping of Gabon faces South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the race to head the AU's executive arm.

The heads of state are meeting here for the second and final day of the 18th ordinary summit of the 54-member African Union, after choosing Thomas Boni Yayi, the president of Benin, as the bloc's rotating head on Sunday.

South Africa said at the weekend it was optimistic Dlamini-Zuma, former wife of President Jacob Zuma, can unseat Gabon's Ping, who was first elected in 2008.

However, sources close to Ping say he is confident of re-election, counting on support from French-speaking West and Central Africa countries.

"The race is much closer than I anticipated before arriving in Addis," Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies told AFP at the weekend.

"The chair of the AU needs two thirds of members to be accepted. Voting is done by secret ballot by heads of state or their representatives," normally their ministers of foreign affairs, he said.

Continental hotspots

Sources in Addis said they expected the vote to take place late morning or early afternoon.

Among the various continental hotspots that have cropped up on the summit's agenda, the Sudan crisis has taken centre stage.

The UN chief Ban Ki-moon, attending the summit, said on Sunday both Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir lacked the "political will" to tackle border and oil disputes since the South seceded last July.

"The situation in Sudan and South Sudan has reached a critical point, it has become a major threat to peace and security across the region," Ban told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

Khartoum and Juba are at loggerheads over pipeline transit fees to transport the South's oil to port in the rump state of Sudan.

Tensions have also risen over the two countries' still undemarcated border - cutting through oil fields - as well as allegations by each side that the other backs proxy rebel forces against the other.

"The international community needs to act, and it needs to act now," Ban added. "As long as these issues remain unresolved, tensions will only grow."