Sunday, January 28, 2007

African Union Summit in Ethiopia

Sudan Under Pressure at AU Summit

The African Union (AU) summit opens in Ethiopia on Monday. Officially, the AU agenda will be headed by climate change and scientific development. However, the continuing crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur is predicted to dominate AU proceedings and headlines.

Nearly four years of fighting in Darfur, between rebels and government-backed militias, has killed some 200,000 people, and forced more than two million to flee their homes.

Visiting the AU summit on an African tour, the new head of the United Nations (UN), Ban Ki-moon, is meeting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and seeking a firm commitment that Sudan will open the door to UN peacekeeping forces in Darfur. The UN wants to insert 22,000 soldiers. Mr. Bashir has agreed to a joint UN-AU force to replace the current overstretched AU troops, but no formal deal has been reached.

Mr. Bashir is also due to assume the AU chairmanship - but human rights groups say that would be an outrage. Amnesty International said Sudan's scheduled assumption of the AU chairmanship, while the AU was trying to mediate in Darfur, would be "a glaring conflict of interest", and would damage the organization's credibility.

Sudan was lined up to take the chair at last year's summit, but was passed over because of international pressure over its role in Darfur. It was promised it would be given the chair in 2007. Chad, which borders Darfur, says it will leave the AU if Sudan takes over.

The instability in Somalia is also likely to be a prominent issue. Ethiopia has played a major role in ousting the Islamist forces that had taken control in Somalia and supporting the official interim government. Ethiopia says it will begin cutting its force levels in Somalia, making a proposed AU peacekeeping force for Somalia an even more pressing issue.

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