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POLITICS: Conflict Resolution Tops Agenda of EU-ACP Parliamentary Assembly

Brian Kenety

LIBREVILLE, Gabon, Mar 19 2001 (IPS) - Noting that armed conflict is the greatest threat to development, legislators from the European Parliament and their counterparts of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group meeting here this week have put conflict prevention and resolution at the top of their agenda.

“Over the last decade, central Africa has been the scene of some of the worst inter-ethnic violence to have blighted this continent,” said Euro MP John Corrie in his opening address Monday to the European Union (EU) – ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly, which runs from Mar. 19-22.

“Nothing else, not even natural disasters, so blights the lives of those directly affected [by armed conflict], while the indirect effects are devastating.”

Foreign investment avoids conflict zones, agriculture suffers and poverty almost invariably ensues, even in countries with enormous natural resources, said Corrie, who serves as co-president of the assembly, which brings together elected representatives from the 77 ACP countries and the 15 EU member states.

“Conflict is intimately connected with underdevelopment, poverty, and, above all else, discrimination and perceptions of victimisation and unfair treatment,” he said.

“Where poverty is disappearing, to be replaced with equity in access to economic resources, education and health, and the possibility of advance, there is rarely strife.”

The Joint Parliamentary Assembly, which was borne out of the Cotonou Agreement signed in June 2000 that governs trade and aid between the 92 countries, will now be playing an enhanced role in promoting political dialogue and conflict prevention.

Corrie said the assembly is in a position to influence EU development policy so that it can be directed towards problems and injustices that could become the root causes of conflict. A special workshop on peace-building policies, conflict prevention and conflict resolution is to be convened Tuesday, what he called the start of “a long, serious, ongoing preoccupation” of the body.

“I have no doubt that our workshop … will help us to develop our role in conflict settlement and peace maintenance, a role that will be more clearly defined in the light of practical experience”, said Corrie.

Good governance is also a vital factor in preventing conflict, said Corrie: “Where the rule of law is strictly applied and human rights are respected, there is little ground for violent discontent”.

He gave a clear signal that the assembly would not support “uncritically” regimes that spend an excessive amount on arms at the expense of social services and, emphasising the assembly’s role as watchdog over EU spending, Corrie said funding would cease if money was being misappropriated.

“It is our conviction that the EU must not continue to provide funding for projects or programmes if some of this is going directly into the pockets or bank accounts of middlemen or politicians. There must be rigorous control to ensure that all monies are used to benefit those for whom they are intended.”

Corrie said that strife on the continent could best be prevented by African heads of state, with financial and technical backing from Europe and from the major financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The time has come for a special conference of African heads of state on conflict prevention and conflict resolution,” he said, and called on the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, as well as the World Bank and IMF, to actively support such a meeting.

There will be two other workshops during this week’s assembly; one on basic health care and education in Central Africa; and one on EU aid to the region for agriculture and infrastructure. All will hear from local experts and representatives of civil society.

As the body develops, the three workshops are also to evolve into standing committees, each with its own chairperson and rapporteur, and replace the current ad hoc committees.

Reports from working groups from the first Joint Parliamentary Assembly, held in Brussels last October, will also be presented this week; on the use of renewable energy sources in the ACP countries; on the impact of sanctions and embargoes on the common people; and on the implementation of the Cotonou Agreement.

Other items on the agenda include food security, racism, management and control of EU aid, global communications for ACP countries as a contribution to sustainable development, and the implications of the Commission’s so-called ‘Everything But Arms’ proposal to open EU markets to trade from the world’s least developed countries (LDCs).

 
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