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African Union Summit to Focus on Zimbabwe

Over 30 heads of state and government are expected at the African union summit today (Monday) in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. Although today’s meeting is reportedly expected to focus on some of the numerous challenges facing the continent, the controversy surrounding the just concluded run-off election in Zimbabwe and the swearing in yesterday (Sunday) of President Robert Mugabe are likely to take center stage. Some political observers are skeptical President Mugabe would make an appearance at today’s summit after the international community widely condemned his election as illegal. VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein is covering the Sharm El Sheikh AU summit. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that there is high anticipation at today’s summit.

“I can tell you that there is going to be about 30 heads of states out of the 53, and of course as you know Zimbabwe is dominating this meeting Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe. The Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra, a veteran Algerian diplomat who is in charge of peace and security issues here has been trying to get the world to focus on some of the other issues in Africa. For instance the difficulties in Somalia, and the recent clashes between Eritrea and Djibouti, but everybody is talking about Zimbabwe and of course today would be no different,” Heinlein pointed out.

He said there is high level of skepticism about the likely presence of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe at today’s summit.

“It is going to be interesting to see whether President Mugabe walks into the hall here. Everybody is waiting and nobody is really sure what his plans are at this point. But the issue of Zimbabwe of course is on everybody’s lips,” he said.

Heinlein said it is unlikely that African Union troops would intervene in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs as demanded by critics of the ruling ZANU-PF party and former South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“I don’t think so, I think military intervention is one of those things that people talk about, but it is very difficult to do. The African Union really doesn’t have a credible military presence anywhere and I’m afraid that it’s one of those things people talk about, but the Peace and Security Commissioner, a serious diplomat aren’t really considering that as an option at this point,” Heinlein noted.

He said the focus of today’s summit would among other things be on potable water and good health care.

“This is a summit that is dedicated to issues of water and sanitation; these issues really are important in Africa. Aside from peace and security, water and sanitation issues are desperately important. There are also side debates on the HIV crisis in Africa, but these are being pushed aside by the security issues. Security issues are very paramount here. A few months ago at the last summit in Addis Ababa, the issues of Kenya, everybody was talking about Kenya. This time Kenya has settled down and there is a new leadership at the AU (African Union) and of course that is a very important issue too,” he said.

Heinlein said there is high expectation for the new leaders of the African Union to resolve some of the challenges facing the continent.

“The new leadership of the AU, can they meet the challenges of democratic change, can they meet the challenge to democracy that President Mugabe posses? That is a very difficult vexing question, and there are many different opinions. As you know, President Mugabe has a lot of friends, and there are only 43 democracies among Africa’s 53 countries and even those are having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that one of their own, one of the long time members of the African Union has flouted democratic norms,” Heinlein pointed out.