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KHARTOUM, Dec 8 2006 (IPS) - Leaders of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States wrapped up their fifth summit Friday in the Sudanese capital, after two days of debate over controversial trade arrangements between the ACP and the European Union.
Leaders of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States wrapped up their fifth summit Friday in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum – this after two days of debate over trade relations between the ACP, a 79-member grouping that includes some of the world’s poorest nations – and the European Union (EU).
At issue were controversial trade arrangements known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs): these are scheduled to enter into force by the start of 2008 to make ACP-EU trade compatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
At present, ACP nations enjoy preferential access to European markets without having to provide similar access to EU nations. But with the WTO requiring a more equitable trade relationship, ACP nations will have to start opening their markets to EU goods from 2008 under the auspices of the EPAs.
During the summit, however, several countries said they were simply not able to meet the deadline of Dec. 31, 2007 for wrapping up EPAs – and in the summit’s final declaration member states called for more time to hash out details of the agreements.
“We agree that ACP regions should only negotiate these issues when they are ready to do so,” noted the ‘Khartoum Declaration’.
The situation in Fiji, which this week experienced a military coup, also came under discussion. Member states denounced the coup, which deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
“We strongly condemn the overthrow of the legitimate and democratically elected government of Fiji” said Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol, reading from another declaration handed out at the conclusion of the summit – the ‘Fiji Declaration’. “We demand that the military force restore Prime Minister Qarase and the legitimately elected government of Fiji.”
On Thursday, delegates identified the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur as being one of the most serious security threats facing ACP nations. But they were more circumspect about this Friday, despite the United Nations having declared the situation in Darfur to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The Khartoum Declaration condemned “genocide, denial of genocide, ethnic cleansing and all crimes against humanity”. However, it did not specifically mention Darfur.
The United States has said that genocide is being carried out in the region, where government forces and Arab tribesman known as the “janjaweed” (“men on horseback”) are accused of targeting various ethnic groups in response to an offensive launched by the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in early 2003.
These two rebel organisations, which took up arms to protest against the alleged neglect of Darfur, are believed to receive support from the ethnic groups under attack.
Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died in Darfur, while some two million more have been displaced by the fighting there.
But in a news conference following the summit, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir blamed rebels who have since united to form a new grouping for continued violence in the region, and accused Western governments of exaggerating the difficulties in Darfur.
“If there are any security problems in Darfur right now, it is simply because of the National Redemption Front,” Bashir said. “They have started the attacks and military action.”
The front is an umbrella grouping of rebels drawn from both the SLA/M and JEM who refused to sign a May 5 peace accord for Darfur brokered by the African Union in Abuja, Nigeria.
Only one faction of the SLA/M, led by Commander Minni Minnawi, endorsed the deal. Others claimed the agreement did not meet their basic demands for the sharing of wealth and power.
This week, Minnawi hinted that he may also return to war, following attacks by the janjaweed on the north Darfur capital of El Fasher.
In August, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved resolution 1706, which envisions replacing the struggling African Union peacekeeping force currently on the ground in Darfur with a U.N. force of some 22,000 peacekeepers.
Bashir’s government staunchly refuses intervention by the U.N., which has labeled events in Darfur ethnic cleansing, likening the world body to colonisers.
The summit also saw ACP states ask for additional funding from the EU, though the European body reportedly opposes including aid proposals in the EPAs.
In addition, they discussed the problem of migration from some of the world’s poorest nations into Europe, environmental sustainability, and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals – agreed on in 2000 in a bid to halve global poverty, achieve universal primary education, and reduce maternal and child mortality – amongst other objectives.
The ACP Group was formed in 1975, initially to improve co-operation between member states and the EU. A number of ACP nations are former European colonies.
The group’s objectives now include integrating its members into the global economy and reducing poverty in ACP countries.
KHARTOUM, Dec 8 2006 (IPS) - Leaders of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States wrapped up their fifth summit Friday in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum – this after two days of debate over trade relations between the ACP, a 79-member grouping that includes some of the world’s poorest nations – and the European Union (EU).
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