/ 2 February 2008

AU summit ends in shadow of conflict

African Union leaders condemned the latest unrest in Chad and Kenya on Saturday at the close of a summit overshadowed by new crises on the continent and which saw little headway achieved on older ones.

The pan-African body’s summit wrapped up even as military sources in Ndjamena said that rebels had seized control of the Chadian capital, where looting reportedly broke out after hours of heavy fighting.

”The assembly strongly condemns the attacks perpetrated by armed groups against the Chadian government and demands that an immediate end be put to these attacks and resulting bloodshed,” the summit’s final declaration said.

The 53-state body also announced that it had tasked Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi with spearheading efforts ”aimed at finding a negotiated and peaceful solution to the current crisis”.

Chadian rebels launched a massive offensive earlier this week from Sudan and were believed to be closing in on the presidential palace on Saturday, where officials said President Idriss Déby Itno was holed up.

The AU stressed it would reject any ”unconstitutional change” of regime in Chad.

However, it welcomed Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki among the ranks of the continent’s heads of state and government despite a bitter row over alleged mass fraud related to his December 30 re-election.

Kenya’s opposition had warned that accepting Kibaki’s presence in Addis Ababa would amount to endorsing election results it says were rigged.

The row has ignited violence across the usually peaceful East African nation that has killed nearly 1 000 in a month and sparked international fears that what was once a rare island of stability in the region could sink into chaos. Kenyan police said on Saturday that 44 people had been killed in the previous 24 hours.

The AU’s final declaration expressed ”deep concern” over the situation in Kenya and its potential consequences for regional stability.

Gabonese Foreign Minister Jean Ping, who will succeed Alpha Oumar Konare at the helm of the AU Commission in three months after winning a vote on Friday, had earlier insisted that the body would not simply stand by.

”We want to act, that’s for sure. In Kenya, there is already Kofi Annan for a mediation chosen by [outgoing AU chairperson John] Kufuor. This mediation is at work,” he told reporters.

Credibility and conflicts

AU leaders had been due to explore ways of boosting the body’s credibility on the international scene and more effective ways of solving the continent’s own conflicts.

”Our continent’s future is in our hands,” Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said on Thursday after being chosen as the AU’s new chairperson.

But the summit left the organisation grappling with two new crises and mounting challenges in its efforts to solve already existing problems.

The developments in Chad have delayed the deployment of a European peace mission tasked with protecting refugees from neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur region.

The fighting also raises new challenges for a joint United Nations-AU peacekeeping force being deployed in Darfur, amid mutual accusations between Chad and Sudan of support for the other’s rebels.

The final statement also called on member states to contribute more troops urgently to its peacekeeping mission in Somalia, which has not even reached half-strength yet, a year after it was authorised.

Also on the agenda on Saturday was the situation in the Comoros, where an AU mission has failed to rein in a rebel island and avert the growing risk of military action.

The Indian Ocean archipelago’s President, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, said on Friday that the AU had accepted that military intervention against the island of Anjouan was an option and vowed to take decisive action very soon.

During the summit, African leaders also studied an audit ordered a year ago into the organisation’s management, which had come under criticism during Konare’s five-year tenure.

The next AU summit will be held in July in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. — Sapa-AFP