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Eritrea-Ethiopia and other conflicts focus of AU Summit

AFP, 4 July, 2004 - More than 40 leaders from across the continent are expected at this week's summit of the African Union, where conflicts such as those in western Sudan's Darfur region, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ivory Coast are expected to take centre stage.


Also up for discussion are Eritrea and Ethiopia, Somalia, the Indian Ocean's Comoro islands, and Burundi.


Especially Darfur, a vast semi-arid region in Africa's largest country to which atrocities by pro-government militia have brought considerable international media attention of late.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has just visited the region and who is trying to mobilise the international community, arrived in Addis Ababa on Saturday night and is due to speak at the opening of the summit on Tuesday.


Over recent days Annan has congratulated the AU for its efforts to resolve the conflict and especially for having deployed military observers to monitor a shaky ceasefire signed by rebels and Khartoum in April.


He said he was studying how the UN could boost its support for the AU.


Alpha Oumar Konare, the chairman of the AU's executive Commission, went Friday to Chad, which shares a border with Darfur, and anounced that political negotiations would start in Addis Ababa on July 15.


"The problem in Darfur is political, its solution is political, so there is a need for the parties to quickly engage in political negotiation," he said in the Chadian capital during the inaugural meeting of a joint commission set up to monitor the ceasefire.


The risk of a third war in less than a decade in DRC, and hence the stability of all its neighbouring countries, is also of great concern to the AU, which has repeatedly warned that there can be no prosperity in Africa without peace and stability.


Fears of renewed conflict were raised in late May, when former rebels theoretically integrated into a new national army rose up against their regular peers in the east of the country, prompting Kinshasa to accuse its old enemy Rwanda of involvement.


"Our organisation is deeply involved in managing problems between DR Congo and Rwanda," Konare told foreign ministers preparing the agenda ahead of the summit.


He said it was up to the AU to rescue the transition process in DRC, which has also been threatened by coup attempts in the capital.

Annan is also due to discuss the situation in the former Zaire with the heads of state.


Ivory Coast, which hasn't settled down since a rebellion erupted in September 2001, is the third major theatre of unrest on the summit agenda.


"We must continue our support for brother (President) Laurent Gbago and Ivorian political leaders to avoid a new and serious derailment," Konare said.


Konare wants the summit to commit to "urgently setting up the common defence and security policy", an initiative born at the same time as the AU and since constantly finetuned.


A key element of this policy is the Peace and Security Council - a decision-making body similar to the UN's Security Council - which came into being earlier this year.


The summit will also witness the unveiling of a three-year strategic plan for the continent, a document central to the AU's ambitions to distance itself from its defunct and ineffective predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.


Konare said "those who defy the rule of law, corruption and the impunity that accompanies human rights abuses keep Africa mired in conflict and compromise all sustainable development initiatives".


The plan has a budget of some $1.7 billion, money the AU doesn't have and which member states and the international community will be asked to provide.