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AU Leaders Reject Libya's Union Government Proposal

A summit of African leaders has opened in Addis Ababa with a day-long discussion on a Libyan-backed proposal to form a union government. But, the Libyan-sponsored proposal encountered stiff resistance, and was effectively shelved.

The union government idea, sometimes billed as the United States of Africa, is Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's project. This summit has been expanded from two days to three to accommodate Mr. Gaddafi, who is due to be elected to the rotating African Union chairmanship at Monday's session.

Everyone at this summit appears to think there is merit to the concept of closer interaction among Africa's 53 countries, especially in infrastructure, which is the theme of this summit. But the question is, when to do it, and how.

Delegates attending Sunday's closed-door session say the overwhelming sentiment was for a go-slow approach. Many leaders said they are not ready to yield any of their sovereignty

Botswana's Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani says he can imagine a day when Africa would be ready for a European Union-style government, but not anytime soon.

"It is a good idea, and we should work on it, and probably the next generation would come to it," said Phandu Skelemani. "It is still being debated, as far as my delegation is concerned, not now."

Diplomats attending the meetings say Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was particularly outspoken in opposition to the union government concept.

In the end, the summit agreed on a small face-saving compromise. There would be no move to a union government. But as the outgoing AU Chairman, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete explained, the AU's. permanent secretariat will change its name

"We concluded that we will transform the African Union Commission into the African Union Authority," said Jakaya Kikwete. "Instead of calling it the African Union Government because of the specific realities of what makes a government. Governments govern. And when the structure at the moment leaves sovereignty with member states, then it is not easy to create a government that does not have sovereignty ceded to the government."

Mr. Gaddafi did not attend the end-of-session news conference, but President Kikwete said the Libyan leader supported the compromise that effectively ends his dream of a United States of Africa, at least for the time being.

Kenneth Mpysi of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Addis Ababa says several mostly poor countries still back Mr. Gaddafi's dream of a United States of Africa. But this summit debate showed it to be clear minority of the 53 African Union member states.

"It does have some support among a number of countries," said Kenneth Mpysi. "Figures keep changing, but anywhere between 18 and 22 countries would favor this approach, but on the other hand there is a large chunk of countries still favoring integration at a sub-regional level as a building block to continental integration at a much later stage."

The union government concept may be dead for the moment, but diplomats attending this gathering say they have learned never to count out the persistent and wealthy Mr. Gadddafi. His almost certain election to the AU chairmanship will give him a strong say in the direction of the continental grouping during the coming year.