News and Information

AU talks finish in record time
January 11, 2005
Libreville - The African Union's Peace and Security Council wrapped up its inaugural meeting unexpectedly quickly here on Monday with a series of resolutions on the continent's main flashpoints, including Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan's Darfur region.

The meeting of 15 regional heads of state, including Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila, Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, had been scheduled to last two days but wrapped up after a long day of talks.

On the Ivory Coast, the regional grouping said a referendum on the country's controversial eligibility laws for the presidency was "one option" open to Gbagbo to ease tensions there.


Last month Ivorian deputies voted to overthrow the contentious Article 35, an amendment to the constitution that says both parents of a presidential hopeful must be Ivorians, eliminating many people of mixed parentage including popular opposition politician Alassane Ouattara.

One-quarter of Ivory Coast's 16.8 million people have foreign roots which, under an increasingly xenophobic national policy known as Ivorianness, prevents them from holding identity cards or owning land.

Gbagbo's opponents accuse him of blocking this crucial reform to end the two-year-old crisis in the world's top cocoa producer.

The Peace and Security Council, modelled on the UN Security Council, is a 15-nation wing of the African Union which was set up after the turn of the century in place of the moribund post-colonial Organisation of African Unity.

The 15 heads of state called for UN resolution 1572, which slapped an arms embargo on Ivory Coast and opened the way for other sanctions, to be deferred to give the involved parties in the country, which remains divided into rebel- and government-held areas, time to show their desire to adhere to a peace plan drawn up by Mbeki.

The leaders also called on the UN Security Council to reinforce its military presence in the country, council spokes-man Said Djinnit said.

They also tackled the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the east of which remains largely in the hands of rebels. Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of supporting mutineers against government troops.

Rwanda has threatened to move forces into eastern Congo, accusing Kinshasa of doing nothing about the presence in its territory of Rwandan Hutu extremists known as the Interahamwe and former elements of the Rwandan armed forces held responsible for the 1994 genocide there.

The African leaders recognised that the presence of such groups in eastern DRC posed a "serious security problem which necessitates courageous action by the AU".

They also "decided to help the DRC to disarm them," hopefully with support from the international community, said Djinnit.

Concerning Darfur, the Peace and Security Council agreed that a recent accord signed between Khartoum and Sudan's main rebel group in the south should be used as a blueprint for the western province where conflict has claimed at least 70 000 lives and displaced 1.6 million people since early 2003.

The heads of state called on Khartoum to draw its forces back to the positions they held before a major offensive in the area last month.

They urged the rebels to communicate their positions to the ceasefire commission and called for more African Union troops on the ground. - Sapa-AFP


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