— The African Union summit opened Thursday in Addis Ababa with a call for greater support to end the conflicts in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
In opening remarks, the outgoing chair of the AU, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said issues of peace and security have been a “major preoccupation” of the AU in the past year. He put particular emphasis on the crises in South Sudan and the CAR.
“We need to find urgent solutions to rescue these two sisterly countries from falling into the abyss. Failure to do so will have serious implications for peace and security in the region and indeed the whole continent,” he said.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf arrives for the opening ceremony of the 22nd Ordinary Session of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Jan. 30, 2014.
A general view shows the opening ceremony of the 22nd Ordinary Session of the African Union summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Jan. 30, 2014.
Somali's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud attends the opening ceremony of the 22nd Ordinary Session of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Jan. 30, 2014.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir at the opening ceremony of the 22nd Ordinary Session of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Jan. 30, 2014.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta attends the opening ceremony of the 22nd Ordinary Session of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Jan. 30, 2014.
Hailemariam urged both sides in South Sudan’s conflict to find a political solution to the crisis saying the problem “cannot be resolved through the barrel of the gun.”
A cease-fire deal signed by representatives of South Sudan’s government and the rebels last week has been threatened by reports of continued fighting.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called on South Sudanese rebels and the government to seek a permanent solution to their conflict.
"The cessation of hostilities agreement provides an opportunity, but it is a fragile one and it is extremely important right now that the leadership, political leaders in South Sudan make a choice to move toward full implementation of that agreement because the alternative is further mistrust and conflict and human suffering."
Turning to the Central African Republic, the Ethiopian prime minister called for “urgent action” to avoid the further escalation of violence in the country between Muslims and Christians.
“The situation in Central African Republic remains a matter of concern, particularly the senseless violence that has taken a heavy toll on the civilian population,” he said.
Burns said the situation in the C.A.R. is a "huge and growing challenge." He called for serious efforts to end violence between Muslims and Christians that has led to a humanitarian crisis.
On Saturday, the AU will host a donors' conference in Addis Ababa to raise money for the African-led peacekeeping force in the CAR.
Hailemariam is ending his one year term in the rotating chairmanship of the AU. He is being succeeded by the President of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
The summit has also welcomed back Madagascar to the AU, following its peaceful presidential elections in December.