July 1, 2006

Darfur and Somalia dominate Africa summit

By Barry Moody

BANJUL (Reuters) - A two-day Africa summit opened in Gambia
on Saturday with a call for urgent action to deal with
conflicts in Somalia and Sudan's Darfur region, but there
seemed scant change of a breakthrough on either issue.

"Today we are urgently and seriously called to address the
situation in Darfur and in Somalia," said African Union (AU)
Commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare in his opening address
to the 53-member body.

The official theme of the six-monthly summit is regional
economic integration, but the twin crises in northeast Africa
seemed uppermost in the minds of leaders attending the meeting
at a flag-bedecked beach hotel outside steamy Banjul.

Konare called for a May 5 peace agreement between the
Khartoum government and one Darfur rebel movement to be
implemented urgently.

The agreement has been undermined by its rejection by two
other rebel groups and bloodshed has continued in the huge
western region of Sudan, where tens of thousands of people have
died in a 3-year-old rebellion against Khartoum.

Konare said the AU must do everything possible to improve
relations between Chad and Sudan, saying their disputes
strongly contributed to the Darfur crisis.

Khartoum and Ndjamena accuse each other of supporting
rebels on their territories and Sudan said on Saturday it was
expelling all the Chadian members of an AU peacekeeping force
in Darfur.

But Libyan sources said Sudanese President Omar Hassan
al-Bashir and Chadian leader Idriss Deby held talks at the
summit on Saturday mediated by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In his speech, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called the
Darfur conflict "one of the worst nightmares in recent
history." He hopes to meet Bashir at the summit.


Konare said the AU should give "large-scale support" to
Somalia's weak interim government, and encourage dialogue with
Islamists now controlling Mogadishu and a large swathe of the
country after defeating secular, U.S.-backed warlords.

An audio message apparently by Osama bin Laden warned on
Saturday against sending international peacekeeping troops to
Somalia, which is supported both by the AU and the interim

Despite the strong desire of African leaders to deal with
Somalia and Darfur it was clear after the preparatory meeting
of foreign ministers earlier this week that there are big
obstacles to a breakthrough on either issue.

Bashir this week again rejected the AU's plan to hand over
peacekeeping in Darfur from its own under-resourced force of
7,000 troops to U.N. soldiers by September 30. Annan calls the
rejection "incomprehensible."

Western and African diplomats in Banjul said that despite
widespread revulsion over massacres, rape and pillage in
Darfur, the international community had hardly any leverage to
pressure Bashir, whose consent is needed for the U.N. force.

There seems little chance either of doing much at the
summit about Somalia.

Despite the power of the Islamists, the AU says it will not
deal directly with them. The Islamist side is apparently not
even represented here.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a special guest at the
summit, made a characteristically vituperative speech against
the United States and urged Africa to form closer ties with
Latin America to combat Washington.

He said Africa must seize greater control of its energy
resources, describing the low royalty payments made by some
foreign oil companies as "robbery."

(Additional reporting by Alistair Thomson, Daniel Flynn)