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African Union Pledges Action On Ending Conflicts

The African Union has wrapped up a summit in Gabon, vowing to take more assertive action in ending lingering conflicts in Ivory Coast, Sudan's western Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The summit of a dozen African leaders ended in the early morning hours in Libreville Tuesday with several resolutions on helping stop the major conflicts in Africa.

Concerning divided Ivory Coast, the body's Peace and Security Council said a referendum on easing eligibility requirements to the presidency should be considered as an option.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, who made a surprise appearance at the summit, has been pushing for this solution, while lawmakers and northern-based rebels, such as spokesman Timithee Ali Baba, oppose this.

"The referendum is a nonsense thing because the deputies are there to vote for the country itself," he said. "It is nonsense and materialistically it is impossible for Ivory Coast to organize an election which will be transparent, which will be just. "

The change in eligibility requirements would ease the way for popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara to be a candidate in the scheduled October presidential elections. The proposal has already been passed by parliament, but Mr. Gbagbo now says it must be approved in a referendum before becoming law.

The African Union also asked the United Nations to boost its peacekeeping presence in Ivory Coast, while requesting the Security Council defer individual sanctions against those found blocking the peace process.

It said this was needed to give more time for South African President Thabo Mbeki to continue his mediation efforts. He has taken a lead role since violence resumed for several days in early November.

On the two other major conflicts in Africa, the African Union said warring sides in Sudan's western Darfur region should use a recent peace deal between the Sudanese government and southern rebels as a blueprint to reach their own accord. The summit also called for more African Union troops in Darfur by the end of the month.

Leaders also pledged to help the new D.R.C army disarm Rwandan Hutu extremists operating in the border area near Rwanda. Both Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese leader Joseph Kabila were present at the summit.

Mr. Kagame has warned he will move forces massively into eastern Congo if the militia group is not wiped out.