African Union leaders have opened their biannual summit to discuss the
continent's hotspots including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali,
although elections for the bloc's top job overshadowed the agenda.
South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is challenging the sitting chairman of
the commission, Gabon's Jean Ping, after neither won the required two-thirds
of the vote at the previous summit six months ago, leaving Ping in the post.
Security issues are a top priority at the meeting, with leaders focusing on
instability in Mali, renewed violence in DR Congo and the ongoing crisis
between Sudan and South Sudan.
Ping opened the summit saying that the AU was ready to send troops to the
restive eastern DR Congo as part of a peacekeeping force.
Rwanda is accused by United Nations experts and by the Congolese government
of supporting a mutiny by rebellious troops in the Congo.
'The AU is prepared to contribute to the establishment of a regional force
to put an end to the activities of armed groups,' Ping told African leaders,
including DR Congo President Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame.
Rwanda has denied involvement and in turn accuses the government in Kinshasa
of renewing cooperation with Rwandan Hutu rebels, who have been based in
eastern DR Congo since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
But Ping also warned that other African hotspots remained a major concern,
with the ongoing crisis in Mali 'undoubtedly one of the most serious threats
to security and stability of the continent'.
The warning followed meetings by African leaders on Saturday, when they
called for a speedier political transition as Mali's interim government
struggles to tackle Islamist militants holding the vast desert north.
'The situation in the north of Mali ... is alarming and is a threat to the
region and beyond,' said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.
'We must also continue working together, as well as with the transitional
government, to restore territorial integrity and security.'
More hopeful areas include Somalia - where Islamist fighters are on the back
foot - and the disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, following fierce
border battles in April and March along disputed regions of their oil-rich
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir of South Sudan shook hands
warmly as leaders filed into meeting, following their first face-to-face
talks on Saturday since the border fighting took them to the brink of
Ping noted positive changes in war-torn Somalia, praising the nations who
had sent troops to battle the al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, including Burundi,
Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda in the 17,000-strong AU force, as well as
'The prospects for peace have never looked so encouraging,' Ping said.
However, the AU leadership race is expected to dominate proceedings later on
Sunday as both candidates issued strongly worded public statements ahead of
Earlier this week, Ping dismissed South African media reports that he was
quitting to allow Dlamini-Zuma to stand unopposed, prompting the Southern
African Development Community to accuse him of abusing AU resources in his
Analysts say unwritten tradition is that continental powerhouses do not run
for the post - leaving smaller nations to take the job - and that South
Africa's decision to override this rule has sparked bad feeling.
If no chair is selected this time around, Ping - who has held the post since
2008 - could legally be asked to stay on as leader until the next summit in