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African Union summit to begin Monday as conflicts flare on the continent
By LES NEUHAUS
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Conflicts in Sudan and Somalia are among the crises competing for attention -- and troops and funds for peacekeeping operations -- at an African summit.
The new U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, is including next week's African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital on his first official tour, underscoring the importance global leaders place on helping the 53-member union address the continent's problems.
The U.N. has pressed for a 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force to be replaced by a more powerful, 20,000 U.N. force in Sudan's Darfur, where civil war has resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths and forced more than 2.5 million from their homes. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has resisted large-scale U.N. intervention, even as Darfur's four-year war spills over the border, aggravating rebellions in Chad and the Central African Republic.
Al-Bashir and Ban were expected to meet Monday, the opening day of the two-day summit.
The conflict also has created a delicate issue within the AU. Sudan is again due to assume the rotating AU presidency, after being forced to step aside because of Darfur. The Sudanese government is accused of unleashing an Arab militia against civilians in a campaign of killings, rapes and arson in Darfur. The government denies the allegations.
Several African diplomats in Addis Ababa said another country could be given the presidency, perhaps the Republic of Congo or the West African country of Gabon.
"Awarding Sudan the chairmanship would not only reward the sponsors of crimes against humanity in Darfur, it would irreparably discredit the A.U.," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at the international watchdog Human Rights Watch.
Somalia is vying with Sudan as the major issue before the summit.
The Horn of Africa nation is slowly emerging from 16 years of warlord-fueled anarchy, and its internationally backed government is struggling to assert authority. It needed Ethiopian help last month to wrest the capital from a movement that had vowed to bring Islamic rule to Somalia by force. The U.S. then carried out air strikes against accused al-Qaida terrorists the Islamic movement was believed to have harbored.
Ethiopian troops are withdrawing, and many fear that will leave the government vulnerable. The AU recommended deploying about 8,000 African peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the U.N. But so far, only Uganda, Malawi and Nigeria have volunteered troops.
South Africa was unlikely to commit to sending troops, but there could be "other means and ways by which South Africa can support this mission in Somalia," Defense Department spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said Friday.
South Africa says its military is overstretched, with 3,000 of its troops deployed as peacekeepers in various African trouble spots -- including Darfur. Other African countries have raised the same issue. There is also a reluctance to become entangled in a volatile country where U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping operations failed in the early 1990s.
Source: Associated Press