Southern African leaders meet in Tanzania to discuss peace, development
South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said major topic at the summit would be the possible signing of a Mutual Defence Pact, intended to counter coup attempts and civil wars in the region.
"South Africa is very keen for the defence pact to be submitted for a signature," he told reporters ahead of the gathering.
"Without this structure we will not be able to deal with conflicts and potential conflicts."
The pact will see the introduction of a regional peacekeeping force, with the new organ having two branches -- diplomatic and defence.
"A coup in terms of the SADC constitution in unacceptable. If there is a coup, SADC would try avert it first diplomatically and failing this, it would intervene militarily," Pahad said.
SADC groups Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The region has a combined population of nearly 200 million, and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 196 billion dollars (180 billion euros). It has set itself the objective of becoming an economic community and a common market on the lines of the European Union.
Angola has held the rotating presidency of the body since October last year, and will hand over to Tanzania this week.
The SADC leaders will discuss stabilising Angola and the DRC, where recent wars have been economically crippling, and Zimbabwe, where a political crisis has sent its once vibrant economy into freefall.
Influential SADC countries, like South Africa, have been criticised by western governments for their policy of "quiet diplomacy" towards Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government, which embarked on a violent land redistribution programme more than three years ago.
The Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, which will provide a blueprint for SADC development for the next 15 years, will be on the agenda, as well as the AIDS epidemic and famine.
About 14 million people are infected with HIV or AIDS in the SADC countries, while around 15.5 million people face starvation.
Copyright (c) 2003 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 08/25/2003 03:49:44
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