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New AU chair calls for support for Sudans, Somalia

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

January 27, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - With Sudan and South Sudan failing to agree on key border security measures, the new chair of the African Union (AU), Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said on Sunday that more must be done to improve ties between the two neighbours.

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The new chair of the African Union, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn (World Economic Forum www.weforum.org/Photo Matthew Jordaan matthew.jordaan@inl.co.za)

“We should continue to assist Sudan and South Sudan in achieving the objectives of creating two viable states living side by side in peace and harmony,” he told the 20th AU summit in Addis Ababa.

Presidents Omer Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir failed to agree on the implementation of security measures, including the activation of a buffer zone, when they met on Saturday four months after they originally signed an agreement over the issue.

The impasse over the security elements of the September 2012 border deal has meant that oil production - stopped a year ago by South Sudan over a transit fee dispute - has not resumed. Other aspects of the deal have also not been implemented and the two sides have not agreed on how to resolve their contesting claims over areas such as Abyei on the largely undemarcated border.

Key to the stalemate is Khartoum’s insistence that Juba is harbouring and supporting rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. South Sudan has refused to discuss the issue of their former comrades in the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), describing the issue as an internal Sudanese affair.

As well as the tense standoff between the Sudans, which began shortly after Africa’s largest nation split in two in 2011, the AU submit is also addressing crises in Mali, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), and Somalia.

SOMALIA

Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, replaced the outgoing chairman of the AU, Benin’s president Yayi Boni, on Sunday.

In his acceptance speech Desalegn called on African leaders to concentrate their efforts on Africa’s crises and conflicts, noting achievements made in some areas, such as Somalia.

For the first time in two decades, Desalegn said, there is a glimmer of hope for Somalia’s peace and security as Somalia’s government, supported by Amisom - a joint AU and UN force - continues to strengthen its hold over the capital and other areas of the Horn of Africa nation from al-Shabab militants, who have links with al-Qaeda.

“We should therefore consolidate the recent gains that have been achieved in both politically and security fronts in Somalia”, Desalegn said. He also called for continued assistance to the Somali people to rebuild the war-torn East African nation.

MALI INTERVENTION

On Saturday, the AU announced that it plans to create “an African Standby Force” to be deployed in Mali, where the West African nation’s army is fighting Islamist insurgents alongside French forces.

So far only a small number of the nearly 5,700 troops, pledged by African states, have been deployed.

Ahead of a donor conference on Tuesday to finance the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), the European Union has pledged $67 million for the multinational force, with a further $336 million for development projects.

With regard to crises in Mali, the new AU chairman underscored the need for immediate action to restore constitutional order, to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, as well as address humanitarian crises in collaboration with the UN and West African regional bloc - ECOWAS.

DEMOCRACY, GOOD GOVERNANCE

Desalegn, who will serve a one-year term as AU chairman also called on African leaders to promote democracy and good governance. He called on African states set for presidential and parliamentary votes this year to conduct peaceful and smooth elections.

“We should consolidate the gains we have made over the past decade and deepen the roots of democratic governance so as to create propitious condition for our socio-economic endeavours,” he said.

The two-day continental summit is being held under the theme: “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance” and is being attended by 36 African leaders, as well as representatives from a number of international bodies.

(ST)