Home | News    Saturday 15 May 2004

Africa leaders hold one-day summit with Sudan, Ivory Coast conflicts on agenda

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By LARA PAWSON, Associated Press Writer

BAMAKO, Mali, May 15, 2004 (AP) — African leaders kicked off a one-day summit in Mali on Saturday of a regional bloc launched by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, with terrorism and conflicts in Sudan and Ivory Coast high on the agenda.

Over a dozen leaders attended the annual meeting of the Community of Sahel and Sahara States, including Gadhafi and host president Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali.

The 18-nation grouping, which was established by Gadhafi in 1998 with the aim of creating what he called the "United States of Africa," stretches from the war-ravaged nations of West Africa to lawless Somalia in the east.

Chad’s foreign minister, Nagoum Yamassoun, said establishing security across the volatile region was a primary goal.

Gadhafi wants to achieve that goal by creating a common army among members, "but many heads of state here disagree" with the idea, Yamassoun told The Associated Press before the meeting got underway in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

Gadhafi has proposed to set up a similar Africa-wide army for the 53-member African Union, but most countries on the continent view the idea as unrealistic.

The Bamako meeting marks Gadhafi’s first summit in West Africa since disavowing weapons of mass destruction programs last year, prompting warming relations with the West.

Gadhafi has long looked southward from Libya, seeking to bolster his international image by playing an active role in the world’s poorest region.

Also in attendance were Omar el-Bashir of Sudan, Idriss Deby of Chad and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was also in Bamako, though his nation, split in two since rebels launched a failed 2002 coup attempt, is not part of the regional bloc.

Regarding Sudan, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Shalgham said regional leaders aimed to ensure that the conflict there "does not get any worse."

Thousands of people are believed to have died since early 2003 when rebels took up arms to fight for autonomy and greater state aid in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where more than a million people have been displaced.

A statement issued by the office of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s envoy to West Africa Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who was also in Bamako, said the regional bloc "will discuss the need for a mechanism for conflict prevention, management and resolution."

Suspected terrorist activity in the vast, largely un-patrolled Sahara deserts will also be high on the docket, Shalgham said.

The grouping includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritria, Gambia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia.

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