Monday, August 31, 2009

Qaddafi Hosts African Union Summit on Eve of Libyan Revolution Anniversary

Qaddafi hosts African summit on eve of coup anniversary

By Imed Lamloum / Agence France-Presse
First Published 8/31/2009

TRIPOLI--African leaders gathered in Libya on Monday for a special summit to discuss the continent's trouble spots, on the eve of celebrations to mark 40 years of Moammar Qaddafi's rule.

The conflicts in Somalia and Sudan are expected to top the agenda at the meeting, the third African Union summit so far this year.

"We'll try to focus on all conflict situations... We believe that we can move forward in terms of peace and discussions," the AU's Peace and Security Council chief Ramtane Lamamra said, singling out Somalia.

Hardline Islamist rebels launched a sweeping onslaught in Mogadishu in May against the government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, reducing his reach to just a handful of areas with the backing of AU peacekeepers.

The summit will examine ways to "further support the Somali transitional government, in particular by reinforcing its institutions and by improving security in the country," a summit document said.

The head of the African Union, Jean Ping, told reporters ahead of the summit that three African countries — Sierre Leone, Malawi and Nigeria — had agreed to reinforce the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM), but gave no further details.

AMISOM has a current strength of 5,000 men, against a desired force of 8,000, who are securing the presidency, the port and the airport in Mogadishu.

Focus will also fall on Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region and the AU's joint peacekeeping force with the United Nations, which has been plagued by funding and equipment shortfalls.

"The need to reinforce security (in Darfur) is paramount," the document said.

Some 300,000 people have died in the six-year conflict with 2.7 million displaced, according to the United Nations, but Sudan's government puts the death toll at 10,000.

According to Libya's state-run Jana news agency, Sudan's President Omar Al-Beshir was attending the summit, on his second visit to Libya since the International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The summit, which had by mid-afternoon not yet started despite a scheduled 0900 GMT opening, is also expected to review the political deadlocks in Guinea and Madagascar, where governments were toppled despite strong opposition from the AU.

African leaders are also expected to endorse a common stance on climate change, seeking billions of dollars in compensation from industrialized nations.

Monday's summit is being held in a festive atmosphere as Libya marks the 40th anniversary of the coup against the monarchy on September 1, 1969 that brought Qaddafi to power.

The self-proclaimed "king of the kings" of Africa, Qaddafi called the extraordinary meeting just two months after having hosted the 13th ordinary summit of the AU at the end of June in his birthplace Sirte.

"We are at about the same point where we were at the last summit in Sirte. There have been no major advances," an African minister told AFP on the sidelines of the gathering.

By calling the summit, "the Libyans want to guarantee a high level of representation at the festivities," the minister said on condition of anonymity.

After years as a pariah state, Libya and its maverick leader have since 2003 been enjoying improved ties with the West and growing influence in Africa.

A gala anniversary celebration on Tuesday will be attended by heads of state including outspoken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but a string of European leaders are staying away.

The festivities come as Libya fends off angry reactions for giving a hero's welcome to convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet Al-Megrahi after his release on compassionate grounds from a Scottish prison on August 20.

Libya ignored US warnings that any public celebration would damage relations that have been improving since Tripoli renounced terrorism and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

No comments: