African leaders brought together the presidents of feuding neighbors Sudan and South Sudan on Saturday and fleshed out a plan for military intervention in northern Mali where they said al-Qaeda-linked rebels threatened the continent’s security.
After attending a summit of the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir met for face-to-face talks at a hotel in the Ethiopian capital.
It was the first encounter since their countries came close to war in April and it raised hopes for a negotiated settlement of oil and border disputes before an Aug. 2 UN Security Council deadline.
African peers had hailed their presence at the earlier gathering and their pledges to pursue negotiations and not conflict, as an -encouraging sign that the two former civil war foes could settle their disputes over border demarcation and sharing of oil revenues.
“Their statements persuaded us that there is good will,” Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who chairs the AU Council, told reporters after the closed-door session.
Landlocked South Sudan shut down oil production in January over a dispute with Khartoum about revenue sharing and fees for a pipeline through Sudan — the South’s only outlet for its oil exports.
The two countries’ armies clashed in April over the disputed border oil area of Heglig.
The African heads of state met at AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital to discuss ways to resolve messy aftermaths of military coups this year in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, which have put blots on the continent’s democratic credentials after advances in stability and governance in recent years.
In addition to backing reconciliation between the Sudans, they also threw their weight behind regional efforts to end a military rebellion in east Democratic Republic of Congo that has strained ties between Kinshasa and its Great Lakes neighbor Rwanda.
Focusing on Mali, where al-Qaeda-linked local and foreign jihadists have seized control of the largely desert north after hijacking a rebellion by secular Tuareg separatists, the leaders said Africa would “spare no effort” to reunite the country.
They laid out a political and military strategy that aims to secure a full return of power to a civilian government in Mali’s south following a March 22 coup, and also foresees an internationally backed security force whose mission will be to take back the north if the rebels there do not withdraw.
The AU Council “reiterates its call to all member states and all the international community for them to provide the necessary technical, logistical and financial support,” the continental body’s top security and peace official, Ramtane Lamamra, said in a statement to reporters.
African leaders are seeking UN Security Council support for military intervention in Mali to end the rebellion in the north and reunite the Sahel state. The Security Council has endorsed West African efforts to end the unrest, but has stopped short of backing a military operation until African leaders can clearly spell out its objectives.
“For the moment, nothing is ready,” a European diplomat who follows the region closely said.
Ouattara said AU military experts were in Bamako discussing a military intervention strategy with the Malian armed forces.