Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 6 News List

African Council quickly wraps up its first meeting

TALK SHOP The new forum, which is modeled after the UN Security Council, passed several resolutions on Africa's most intractable conflicts

AFP , Libreville

The African Union's (AU) Peace and Security Council wrapped up its inaugural meeting unexpectedly quickly in Libreville 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 Monday 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 national 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 Organization 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 so as 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 spokesman Said Djinnit told reporters after the meeting ended.

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

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