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African Ministers Meet Ahead of AU Summit


African foreign ministers in Nigeria are tackling the continents' ongoing trouble spots, including Sudan and Congo, in preparation for an African Union summit starting Sunday.

Foreign ministers Friday were determined to draw up an integrated plan to solve the problems of poverty and conflict. Of prime concern was the conflict in Sudan, where fresh violence reported this week resulted in the deaths of over a 100 civilians.

Several hundred AU forces are deployed in the Darfur region of western Sudan to monitor a cease-fire that was signed in April last year. There have been almost 100 confirmed violations of the cease-fire. African Union spokesman Desmond Orjiako told VOA that the 53-nation body would engage in fresh efforts to promote peace in the region.

"We believe that the ultimate goal is to use dialogue in place of a barrel of the gun to achieve peace in that country," said Mr. Orjiako, "because we believe that what affects Sudan, affects the whole continent. Sudan is at the heart of Africa, and borders with more than nine countries, and we look what is happening there with delicacy."

The AU has also been involved in peacekeeping and mediation efforts in the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but with limited success.

The Rwandan foreign minister said that he was still hoping that the African Union would send troops to its Congolese border to disarm ethnic Hutu rebels. The AU has a limited budget for peacekeeping and logistical capabilities in the region.

As well as focusing on Africa's conflict zones, heads of state will discuss Sunday problems of food security and poverty. The executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, stressed that conflict and poverty are related and need to be addressed together.

"The pervasive poverty in West Africa is a major cause of the instability which we have witnessed," he said. "There is a nexus between poverty and instability, political and social instability. So we believe that the focus of sub-regional organizations and of our continental organizations should shift more and more to tackling poverty."

Another important subject on the AU agenda is the issue of getting a permanent seat on the Security Council. None of the five permanent members is an African country. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to attend the discussions. Aides to Hosni Mubarak also confirmed that the Egyptian president will attend his first African summit in 10 years.

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