Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

POLITICS: Conflicts In the Spotlight at African Union Summit

Joyce Mulama

ACCRA, Jul 3 2007 (IPS) - The conflicts in Somalia and Darfur have come under discussion at the African Union (AU) summit underway in Accra.

One of the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) soldiers who turned out for U.N.-brokered peace talks in February 2007. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

One of the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) soldiers who turned out for U.N.-brokered peace talks in February 2007. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Pockets of instability in Africa cannot be left for Africa alone. Somalia is of international concern,” United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro told journalists Monday, in the Ghanaian capital.

While the AU has pledged 8,000 peacekeepers for the Horn of Africa country under the African Union Mission in Somalia, only 1,500 Ugandan troops have arrived there to date. The slow pace of deployment is attributed to lack of funding for the mission.

As reported recently by IPS, the United Nations may also send troops to the country: a contingency plan for some 20,000 peacekeepers is being drawn up by the world body (see ‘POLITICS: U.N. Unveils Plan for Peacekeepers in Somalia’).

“The deployment of the African Union Mission in Somalia in such a challenging and volatile security environment is a daunting task that requires and deserves the full support of the international community,” Migiro observed.

Somalia was left without a government for more than a decade after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991. A transitional administration, established in 2004, was only installed in Mogadishu last December after the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) was forced out of the Somali capital by Ethiopian forces with assistance from the United States. The UIC had been accused of having links with the Al Qaeda terrorist network, a charge the courts denied.

Intense fighting took place in Mogadishu during subsequent months – and the city remains volatile. A national reconciliation congress is planned for Jul. 15.

“We need to speed up political dialogue in Somalia. We must add to the number of troops. If we do not, we will have chaos,” Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the AU Commission, remarked at the opening of the summit.

Concerning the civil war in Darfur, delegates have described Khartoum’s recent approval of a joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping force for the western Sudanese region as a positive move. President Omar Hassan al Bashir had previously been opposed to the deployment of U.N. troops.

An AU force of 7,000 is already in Darfur, which is about the size of France. Migiro noted that the extended mission was expected to be 20,000-strong.

The region has experienced conflict since early 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms in protest against alleged governmental neglect of the area. Since then, the number of rebel factions has multiplied.

Sudanese authorities responded to the rebel offensive by staging aerial bombardments and supporting attacks by Arab militants known as “janjaweed” – or “men on horseback” – who are accused of numerous atrocities. Nomadic Arabs have long been at odds with settled ethnic groups in Darfur over control of land.

Over 200,000 have died in the conflict, and more than two million been displaced, according to the United Nations.

While the United States has said events in Darfur amount to genocide, a U.N. commission appointed in 2004 concluded that this was not the case – acknowledging, nonetheless, that serious human rights abuses had been perpetrated in the region.

Al Bashir refuted the allegation of genocide from Khartoum in a satellite press conference for journalists covering the Accra summit, describing the charge as U.S. propaganda spread with a view to allowing Washington to take control of Sudan and its oil resources.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun and a leader of the Janjaweed, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, in connection with war crimes in Darfur. Haroun was in charge of the region in 2003 and 2004, when he served as deputy interior minister.

Konare appealed to the Sudanese government to put an end to bombardments in Darfur. “The stability in Darfur is fundamental for peace in Sudan and the entire region,” he added.

About 30 leaders from the AU’s 53 member states are present in Accra for the summit, which concludes Tuesday. The meeting has been dominated by talks about political and economic integration of the continent to create a “United States of Africa”, administrated by a pan-African government.

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