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African Desert States Hold Summit in Ouagadougou

African leaders from the 21-member community of Sahel and Sahara states are in Burkina Faso to find better ways to tackle conflict, poverty and drought.

It was a festive mood as leaders arrived Wednesday for the start of the two-day summit in Ouagadougou. Among them was Togo's Faure Gnassingbe who is trying to form a national unity government following deadly violence and disputed elections in his divided country.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was also there, even though he has accused Burkina Faso of backing rebels who still control the arid northern part of Ivory Coast.

But the loudest cheers were for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who recently built a new major roadway and hotel in Ouagadougou.

Mr. Gadhafi initiated the grouping in 1998 as a prelude to what he sees as a more integrated continent.

Host, Blaise Compaore said he would do everything he can in his one-year rotating leadership of the group known as CENSAD to push for increased integration of member states. He said globalization, pushed by market forces, was plunging millions into despair and that it was the responsibility of such groups to help them.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said the grouping was full of promise, but that many questions remained.

"It is a regional organization that is growing everyday by leaps and bounds," he said. "How can we use CENSAD as an instrument of integration in Africa? How do we want to go about it? And how should we go about it?"

Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Youssouf Ouedraogo told VOA that African leaders are trying to resolve problems together now, and that subgroups to the continent-wide African Union are crucial.

"CENSAD is a subgroup," he said. "It is like ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], it is like the WAMU [West African Monetary Union], we are trying to work for the African Union. The subgroup work always for the big group. It is why the African Union has said the role of the subgroup, the regional integration organizations, are very important. Some of the problems cannot be solved directly by the African Union. Work always for the group it is the main and most important role of CENSAD."

The Burkina Faso foreign minister says certain cooperation projects spearheaded by Libya have already come to fruition.

"For example the hotels, for example the energy with the gas, for example the results in the agriculture area and water but we have to go ahead," he said.

Areas where he says quick progress is needed include a cloud seeding project to combat a drought devastating parts of northwestern Africa, eliminating the problem of crop-destroying locusts to ensure food security, and making the region's ailing cotton sector more profitable.

Restoring stability in Sudan and Somalia, two of the grouping's other members, as well as in Ivory Coast and Togo, is also on the agenda.