US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed into meetings with African leaders yesterday after expressing growing unease about deteriorating security and faltering peace deals in a number of countries on the continent.
"I am increasingly concerned about several crisis spots in Africa and this is a good opportunity to take stock of where we are and help move international efforts forward on each of those," Rice said ahead of her arrival in Ethiopia, where the African Union (AU) is based.
While in Addis Ababa, Rice is to see key players in some of those crises, from insecurity in Africa's volatile Great Lakes region to conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region, a fragile north-south Sudanese peace and chronic instability in lawless Somalia.
Rice also plans talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a US counterterrorism ally criticized for a crackdown on political opponents and whose country shares a tense border with arch-foe Eritrea.
"We don't need a use of force here to deal with what is obviously a significant border problem," Rice told reporters aboard her plane en route to Addis Ababa, referring to a feared resumption of the 1998 to 2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean war that killed tens of thousands of people.
The war ended with a peace agreement, but the border issue remains unsettled as Ethiopia never fully accepted the delineation of an independent commission that disbanded itself last week after the neighbors were unable to agree to mark the new frontier.
Rice is only the fourth secretary of state to visit Ethiopia and the first in a decade.
Before her, Madeleine Albright made a stop in Addis Ababa in 1997, the State Department historian's office said.
On Sudan, Rice said she would tackle elements of the Darfur conflict and the faltering peace deal that ended Sudan's long-running civil war, even though Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's government has signaled it will not see her.
Rice said she wants to focus on overcoming logistical hurdles in Darfur to deploying a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force for the vast region which has been ravished by years of conflict.
"We're just going to have to remove these obstacles and get on with it," Rice said.
As for the 2005 peace deal between al-Bashir's government and southern rebels, she said "it's time to refocus our efforts there."
"That is really an agreement that we cannot afford to let unravel," Rice said.
The deal has run into trouble with the former southern rebels pulling out of a unity government in Khartoum.
The former rebels have accused al-Bashir's government in the north of reneging on commitments, including sharing of political power and oil resources.
The State Department chief said she planned to explore how to get the southern Sudanese "to re-enter the government."
On Somalia, which has been locked in chaos without a functioning central authority since 1991, Rice said that she would impress on the new prime minister of the country's ineffective transitional government the need to be inclusive in his administration.
"It's not the easiest situation in Somalia, but when has it been?" Rice said.
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