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03 Feb 2003 17:51
Heeding an appeal from South African President Thabo Mbeki, African leaders agreed on Monday to set up a peace and security council with the power to intervene in the continent’s myriad conflicts.
After meeting in closed session on the first day of a two-day summit, leaders or representatives of 32 of the 53 member states of the new African Union (AU) also agreed that the chairman would have the power to convene the council and other organs, AU legal counsel Ben Kioko told reporters.
Mbeki became chairman last July at a summit in Durban when the AU replaced the ineffectual Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which had been unable to deal effectively with conflict.
Under the OAU charter, its conflict-resolution body could only call on member states to end internal and external conflicts, and members had to agree to convene that body.
It was not clear where the financing would come from to underwrite intervention. The AU inherited a $40-million debt from the OAU.
Kioko acknowledged that financing was a major problem, saying “we need money between us and the OAU”.
Amounts ranging from $100-million to $500-million have been cited as necessary to meet the organisation’s annual operating budget.
And a committee has been set up to study the possibility of raising funds through a tax on all airline tickets issued in Africa as well as through a 0,05% duty on all imports into West Africa.
In a keynote speech to the special summit, Mbeki said he and his colleagues owed the creation of the council to “the impoverished Africans whose lives have been destroyed by war”.
Representatives went into special session later on Monday to discuss conflicts in the Ivory Coast as well as the 9-year civil war in Burundi, the nearly five years of fighting in Congo and the 20-year conflict in Sudan.
The rebellion in the Ivory Coast broke out a month after the AU was inaugurated in a splashy ceremony in Durban, South Africa.
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, who has not yet told Ivorians how or whether he plans to implement a controversial peace deal he signed with rebels in Paris last month, is not at the summit.
The Ivorian army says it will not respect the agreement that provides for rebels taking the key cabinet posts of internal security and defence, and thousands of government supporters have demonstrated against the deal with the rebels who control about half of the West African nation.
Amara Essy, a former Ivorian foreign minister and acting AU secretary-general, said the conflict in his homeland was “of grave concern”.
In Burundi on Friday, European Union representative Aldo Ajello said he would recommend the EU agree to an AU request for $1,2-million to fund the six-month deployment of a 36-member team to monitor a cease-fire in the central African nation that was supposed to have taken effect on December 31.
Tunisia, Togo, Gabon and Burkina Faso have reportedly agreed to supply the observers, but fighting continues between Burundi government troops and several rebel factions, some of which signed the cease-fire.
Mbeki also appealed to the leaders, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, who made a dramatic, late entrance, to back plans for an African parliament, but this item was not on Monday’s agenda.
The summit also agreed to seek financial and moral support from the African diaspora to make the AU work and added Spanish and Kiswahili, the lingua franca of eastern Africa, to the list of the AU’s official languages that already includes Arabic, English, Portuguese and French.
The extraordinary summit was called to resolve sticking points over the organisation of the new continental body, which Gadhafi, who appears to be its principal financier, would like to see turned into a union of African states eventually headquartered in Libya.
The next regular AU summit will take place in Maputo, Mozambique in July.
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