DRC, Mali conflict overshadow AU summit

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iol pic afr AU-Summit-Mali -conflict AFP Mali's president Dioncounda Traore attends the 20th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government during an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa.

Addis Ababa -

The collapse of a peace deal for troubled eastern DR Congo overshadowed a summit meeting of African leaders on Monday, as efforts continued to drum up support for military intervention in war-torn Mali.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged leaders from Africa's Great Lakes region to sign an agreement aimed at ending recurrent unrest in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where the M23 rebels control swathes of mineral-rich territory.

But a signing ceremony for the deal - the details of which have not been made public - was cancelled on Monday morning just 30 minutes before it was due to take place.

“This is a very complex issue, talks are still continuing,” said Eri Kaneko, a spokeswoman for Ban, without giving further details.

The presidents of Rwanda and Uganda - which UN experts have accused of backing the M23, a charge both governments deny - as well as DR Congo, Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo, South Africa and Tanzania had been expected to sign the deal.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni both refused to comment on the proposed deal, holding a discreet meeting on Monday on the sidelines of the AU summit, an AFP reporter said.

Ban urged regional leaders at the opening of the African Union summit Sunday to “endorse a Peace Security and Cooperation Framework to address the structural causes of the recurring cycles of violence” in the region.

The latest cycle of unrest in eastern DR Congo erupted in 2012. The rebels seized the key eastern city of Goma in November before pulling out 12 days later.

Peace talks have been held in Uganda, but have so far made little headway.

Other discussions at the AU summit - the second and final day of the 54-member bloc's biannual meeting - focused on Mali, including the scaling-up of African troops to help the Malian army battle Islamist militants who seized the country's vast desert north in April 2012.

On Sunday, outgoing AU chairman Thomas Boni Yayi, the president of Benin, told fellow leaders their response to conflict in Mali had been too slow, and thanked France, the country's former colonial ruler, for taking the lead in its military intervention there.

France's action, launched on January 11 after Islamists seized a central town and threatened to advance on the capital, was something “we should have done a long time ago to defend a member country”, he said, asking how it was “that Africa, despite having the means to defend itself, continued to wait”.

He appealed for “further commitment... for the financing of all the forces”.

The UN chief also told the summit he was “determined to do everything to help the people of Mali”, but urged the government to ensure “an inclusive political process”.

After the summit, African leaders are expected to stay behind for a donor conference on Tuesday to drum up support for the African-led mission in Mali, or AFISMA.

On Friday, the AU security council gave member states one week to commit troops to the force.

Tensions between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan and efforts to build peace in chronically unstable Somalia have also been discussed at the summit.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and his northern counterpart Omar al-Bashir met again Sunday after face-to-face talks on Friday ahead of the summit, but officials said no progress had been made.

The former civil war foes are yet implement stalled oil, security and border deals, which have not been rolled out despite agreements signed in September, months after bloody border clashes took the rivals to the brink of all-out war.

On Somalia, Ban said he welcomed the seizure of a string of key towns from Islamist insurgents by AU troops there, saying it had “opened space for peace-building.”

The country's al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants have been losing ground to a 17 000-strong AU force and Ethiopian troops who invaded in 2011 from the west. - Sapa-AFP


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