Da The Guardian del 31/01/2005

AU summit begins, leaders seek end to crises

di Oghogho Obayuwana, Martins Oloja

ABUJA - AS the fourth ordinary session and first mid-term assessment assembly of the African Union (AU) opened yesterday in Abuja, the body's Chairman, President Olusegun Obasanjo, has charged his fellow African leaders not to jeopardise the future of young Africans through needless crises.

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, also at the occasion, challenged the leaders to step up efforts at checking the proliferation of small arms in the continent.

"Let us not play around with history. Let us work harder for the future of our children," Obasanjo said, noting that he believed that African leaders were capable of ending the incessant crises in the continent.

He particularly pleaded with the political leadership in Cote d'Ivoire to help both the AU and ECOWAS to work for a final solution to the recurring problem in that country, and also generate needed support for them from the international community.

The AU chairman condemned the action of the Sudanese government over the recent bombing in Darfur region in which more than 100 civilians died.

He also reprimanded the rebels for provoking violence by "trying to gain territory," adding that they shared part of the blame for the ceaseless killing of innocent civilians.

Obasanjo said he had conducted a tour of the U.S., UK, India, Finland and Sweden on behalf of the AU and NEPAD programmes, pointing out that the international community was presently "more conducive, responsive and sympathetic to the African cause."

According to him, the two-day mid-term assembly, being attended by more than 30 African leaders, was convened to review decisions and declarations made, and keep track of development in the continent.

Leaders, Obasanjo said, needed to discuss such issues as the escalation of crisis in the DRC and Rwanda border, and the review of implementation strategies for tackling food scarcity, HIV/AIDS pandemic, malaria and other killer diseases prevalent in the continent.

Obasanjo said the UN millennium development goals and the planned reforms of the UN, especially its Security Council, should be of interest to the Assembly since the panel's report on the UN reform would be tabled before the General Assembly in March.

A minute's silence was observed for the victims of the December 26 Tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, and the late Palestinian leader, Mr. Yasser Arafat. A unique feature of the African leaders' assembly was the return of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, more than a decade after he was attacked during an Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit in Addis Ababa.

Annan on his part challenged the African leaders to work hard to check the proliferation of small arms.

"The proliferation of small arms is largely responsible for the incessant violence in the continent as even petty quarrels are settled with arms," the Ghanaian-born UN scribe said in Abuja.

Annan also expressed the UN and European Union (EU) desire to help Africa in that fight.

He called for collective measures against terrorism as well as the guidelines to control the use of force in the continent.

Annan reiterated UN's support for AU's efforts towards ending the wars in troubled states of Africa, especially Sudan, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire.

He decried the devastating effect of poverty in Africa, noting that a large proportion of the poor in the world were Africans.

The UN scribe also spoke on the HIV/AIDS scourge, which he described as "the greatest threat to international peace and security.

Africa, he noted, lags behind other parts of the developing world in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as it continues to suffer from the strategic consequences of deadly conflict and poor governance. Annan said member-states of the UN would hold a summit in New York to review the progress made in the past five years since the adoption of the millennium declaration.

On the report of the UN millennium project, Annan admitted that it represents an impressive intellectual achievement and a call to action. At its core, he said, "is a challenge to the international community to regain its ambition for poverty reduction- not through high rhetoric or theory but through specific investments and policies that can be readily applied over the coming decade on a scale large enough to make the difference".

The UN secretary-general then suggested that at least a dozen MDG fast-track countries be designated for a rapid scale-up of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) with more countries granted such status as soon as they are ready.

Also in attendance were observers from the European Union (EU), the United States and Great Britain.

Chairperson of the AU commission, Alpha Oumar Konare, made his submission on the need to first address the issue of security in the quest for achieving African solidarity, which according to the Guinean statesman, must never translate into "silence or blind pursuit of policies," but to humanism, justice and the rule of law.

Stressing yesterday that Africa needs to improve on the way its defence mechanism works to enable the deployment of troops more rapidly, Konare declared: "We must make it clear to some of our partners that they must dismantle their network of mercenaries and I repeat, make it very clear to certain countries to dismantle their network of mercenaries. We must clamp down on merceniarism."

Maintaining that total debt cancellation and the doubling of the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) will not provide a lasting and comprehensive solution to the problem of financing our development, the AU chairperson urged concrete action as defined under the NEPAD programme concerning the:

* the realisation of transport and energy infrastructure such as the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), The Darkar-Djibouti and Cape-Cairo highway and Railroad;

* production of generic drugs in Africa to combat AIDS, malaria and other endemic diseases;

* development of large agricultural production areas in the horn of Africa, Sahel, southern Africa, Madagascar and elsewhere; and

* creation of centres of excellence in the fields of research, training and education.`

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