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African Union Summit Begins With Focus on Sudan

Sudan suffered two major blows Monday when it was overlooked for the chairmanship of the African Union and was told by the chief of the United Nations to get serious about ending the conflict in Darfur. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was expected to be named chairman of the African Union at the continental body's summit.

But in his opening speech, African Union commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare told the gathering that Sudanese government and rebel forces should, in his words, "stop the bombardments and massacres" of civilians in Darfur.

African Union officials subsequently announced that Ghanaian President John Kufuor was chosen to chair the African Union.

And when U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed the 53-member body the Darfur situation got even more attention. He pressed for approval of U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur.

"The partnership between the African Union and the United Nations is of central importance; we must persuade non-signatories to join while building consensus for the urgent deployment of a UN-AU force on the ground," he said. "I sincerely hope that we can reach agreement on this vital issue."

Later on Monday, Ban held talks with Sudanese president al-Bashir, urging him to resolve the bloodshed in the Darfur region, primarily by accepting a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to come into the volatile region.

Ban told reporters that al-Bashir agreed to proceed with a joint AU-UN peacekeeping force for Darfur, a move the Sudanese president has been resisting for a long time.

The U.N. estimates that at least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003 and millions displaced when rebels rose up to fight what they said was marginalization by the government.

The international community has been pushing the Sudanese government to resolve the situation. The European Union's Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, was at the summit. He said greater pressure has to be brought against those responsible for violence in Darfur.

"It is really very awful [referring to Darfur], and never before was the situation so difficult, and that's so sad for the moment in Darfur," said Michel. "So we really have to put the pressure on all the people, on all the parties, the rebels, also the Janjaweed, the government, all these people, all the actors have to deliver now."

The African Union summit began Monday in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Besides Darfur, it is also expected to address the security situation in Somalia and the deployment of peacekeepers there.