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UN Security Council Visit to AU Headquarters Kicks Off Week of High-Level Talks

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping (file photo)

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping (file photo)

The African Union (AU) is gearing up for a big week, beginning with a visit by the United Nations Security Council, followed by two continental summits, one focusing on Libya and another on trade. All the continent’s hotspots will be under review.

African Union headquarters is in a festive mood as it begins possibly the busiest and most significant six days in its history. A big crafts bazaar is attracting huge crowds to the sprawling campus, and banners are up to welcome the expected host of dignitaries.

The United Nations Security Council arrives first for a consultative meeting Saturday with the AU Peace and Security Council.

The two bodies will discuss a long list of issues of common interest. Among them is the conflict in Libya, as well as how to clear the remaining hurdles to ensure the smooth secession of South Sudan from the North in early July.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra says the timing of the meeting has raised hopes for bridging the gap between the Security Council’s authorization of air strikes on Libya and the AU call for a ceasefire.

"Expectations are always high when we have our yearly meetings with the UN Security Council," said Lamamra. "Obviously Libya this year will be at the heart of the exchanges and we certainly hope it will be action-oriented exchanges that would help us to work together to establish very quickly a ceasefire."

Lamamra says Africa remains firm in its belief that an AU-negotiated ceasefire would stand a better chance of bringing about the reforms needed to end Moammar Gadhafi’s rule than NATO airstrikes.

"Two months after the beginning of the air strikes we don’t see a solution," he said. "We see a military stalemate and we don’t see coordinated efforts aimed at establishing a ceasefire that we are calling for, and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions as well as our own resolutions call for an immediate ceasefire. "

After the UN Council flies off for Sudan, a host of African heads of state will arrive for a summit with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Those talks are to focus on improving India/Africa trade and investment ties.

And as soon as Prime Minister Singh leaves Wednesday, the African leaders will convene an extraordinary summit covering all the continent’s crisis points. Libya asked for the summit, but the AU Peace and Security Council President for May, South Africa’s Ambassador Lungile Pepani says the agenda is long.

"The extraordinary [summit] will be concentrating on peace and security matters in Africa, to look at the situation in Somalia, in Sudan, possibly Cote d’Ivoire, and currently some issues in North Africa, specifically Libya," said Pepani.

Ambassador Pepani on Friday was presiding over a Peace and Security Council meeting on difficulties facing successful completion of the 2005 peace agreement that ended Sudan’s civil war.

As word came in of fresh fighting during the day between Sudanese soldiers traveling in a UN convoy and southern forces in Sudan’s oil rich Abyei region, the Council was examining the disputes still outstanding between north and south.

Saturday’s joint meeting with the UN Security Council is to receive a briefing from former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who heads the AU high-level panel on Sudan. The UN Council will fly to Sudan later in the day, where it plans to visit the Abyei region.