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African Leaders Approve Peacekeeping Force - 2004-02-28

Leaders from across Africa have formally reaffirmed their intention to set up a multinational standby force to deal with crisis situations, as part of a common defense and security policy. The leaders also approved a continent-wide program to harness Africa's water resources and boost its agricultural productivity.

Under the new policy meant to encourage Africans to deal with crises on their own continent, the African Union will have the authority to intervene in border wars and internal conflicts.

A declaration was signed by all the African Union's 53 governments Saturday after a special two-day summit. It calls for the stand-by force, divided into five regional brigades, to be set up by next year, although diplomats said it would probably not be ready until a year later.

The first members of the multinational force are expected to come from such regional powerhouses as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt. The stand-by force will act in a peacekeeping or humanitarian role, but the declaration calls for it to intervene in countries threatened by genocide and a breakdown of legitimate order.

African leaders say they are determined to avoid any repeat of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, and other conflicts that have troubled Africa in recent years.