Côte d'Ivoire-Sudan: Darfur dominates AU summit, no progress on Côte d'Ivoire
ABUJA, 1 February (IRIN) - The conflict in Sudan's Darfur region took centre-stage at the twice yearly African Union summit. President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who was re-elected AU chairman for a further year, said AU-sponsored peace talks between the Sudanese government and the two main rebel movements in Darfur would resume in the Nigerian capital Abuja in mid-February.
The two-day summit attracted 40 heads of state from the AU's 53 member countries and ended on Monday night, several hours later than planned.
Peace talks between Khartoum and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the two main rebel movements in Darfur, have been taking place in Abuja since August, but the last round ended in deadlock in December.
Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail announced at the AU summit that further peace talks had been scheduled in the Nigerian capital in mid-February. This was subsequently confirmed by Obasanjo, who, as AU chairman, is the chief mediator.
Leaders of the SLA and JEM indicated to the French News Agency AFP that they would attend the talks.
They are being convened as fighting on the ground continues to intensify.
Obasanjo opened the AU summit on Sunday with a round condemnation of a bombing raid by the Sudanese air force last week that killed more than 100 people in Darfur, in violation of a ceasefire agreement.
"We can't but condemn such carnage no matter what excuse may be raised to try to justify it," Obasanjo said.
UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who attended the Abuja meeting, said the UN Security Council was likely to impose sanctions on Sudan in the light of human rights abuses documented in a new UN report on the Darfur conflict.
"Serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights have taken place," Annan told reporters.
"This cannot be allowed to stand and action will have to be taken," he added.
The UN report, released on Monday, recommended that unnamed government officials and militia leaders be referred to the International Criminal Court for widespread and systematic abuses, which may constitute crimes against humanity but which do not amount to genocide.
The United States said last year genocide had occurred in Darfur, but Annan refused to be drawn on the subject.
Rebels in Darfur took up arms against the Sudanese government two years ago, alleging it had neglected the arid western region. They accuse Khartoum of using the Janjawid, an Arab militia, to wage a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur.
According to the United Nations, more than 1.8 million people have been displaced from their homes by the conflict, including 200,000 who have fled across the border into Chad.
The AU summit made little progress towards resolving other conflicts in Africa, despite expectations that it might take a new stand on Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo said on his return to Abidjan on Monday night that he had held meetings with Obasanjo, Annan and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who was appointed as AU mediator in November, to try and relaunch peace talks with rebel forces occupying the north of the country.
Gbagbo told Notre Voie, the newspaper of his Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party that these discussions had produced "nothing new."
However, he noted that Mbeki was due to send a fresh mission to the rebel capital Bouake in central Cote d'Ivoire on Tuesday for further discussions aimed at getting the rebel New Forces movement to return to a broad-based government of national reconciliation and start the long-delayed process of disarmament.
The rebels have boycotted the government since Gbagbo's air force launched bombing raids on the north in early November to prepare for a ground offensive against the rebels. This was called off after French peacekeepers knocked out his small fleet of jet bombers and helicopter gunships on the ground.
Mbeki is struggling to persuade both sides to implement a two-year-old peace agreement in time for general elections to take place in October this year.
But time is running out, prompting Albert Tevoedjre, the outgoing UN special envoy to Cote d'Ivoire, to remark at the weekend that even if the two sides could not agree on who was eligible to run in the presidential election, the country might still be able to hold a parliamentary poll in eight months time.
The AU summit also discussed ways of securing a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for Africa, but the heads of state failed to reach agreement on a formula for allocating this.
Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are all vying for permanent seats on the council.
Africa has the highest number of UN peacekeeping missions of any continent, yet it is one of the least represented regions on the UN Security Council.
Proposals for improving food security in Africa and reducing the continent's death toll from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis had been billed as key issues for discussion at the summit, but they eventually took a back seat.
The Abuja summit agreed that the next meeting of AU heads of state should take place in the Libyan capital Tripoli in July. That would be followed by another summit in Khartoum in January 2006.
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