The African Union has barred delegates from Mauritania and Guinea from attending the continental summit, saying recent military coups had disqualified them from membership. The body is also warning against the pending International Criminal Court arrest warrant for the president of Sudan.
The chairman of the AU Executive Council, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe stood up at the opening of a pre-summit ministers meeting Thursday to announce that Mauritanian and Guinean delegations had been refused admission.
"According to the constitutive act they have automatically suspended themselves from the AU so we have two empty chairs, from Mauritania and Guinea," said Membe. "And I hope these chairs will remain empty until their issues are resolved."
Membe called on other AU members to impress upon the Guinean and Mauritanian delegations that the kinds of military coups once common in Africa would no longer be tolerated.
"Some delegates from those countries are outside this building, or in the hotel we are living in," he said. "I encourage my colleagues and members of the executive council to tell them there is no good coup or bad coup. A coup is a coup and it cannot be tolerated, and they can be admissible in the house if they would come with truly democratic elected representatives of those two countries, Africa has had enough."
In a hard-hitting speech marking the end of Tanzania's one-year AU presidency, Membe made it clear the continental body would oppose any move by the International Criminal Court to indict Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. He said the pending ICC action would undermine the work of peacekeepers soon to be deployed in Darfur.
"The solution we are seeking in Darfur must seek the government cooperation, and the government cooperation of Sudan cannot come if we are deploying our troops at the same time when President Bashir is indicted," he said. "It will bring a contradiction and the peace process will be brought to a halt."
Speaking in Addis Ababa, the Tanzanian minister praised the work of Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers in Somalia over the past two years. Ethiopia pulled its troops out this month, leaving a security vacuum that has largely been filled by Islamist extremists. Membe publicly chided other African nations that have failed to deliver on pledges of troops for the AU AMISOM force.
"We had countries that had pledged to send troops to Somalia in order to cover the gap," he said. "We had Nigeria, Ghana, Burundi, Malawi and Uganda. Uganda and Burundi have met their obligations, and we still have a deficit of 6,000 soldiers to make up the 8,000 that were required to be in Somalia, and I'm taking this opportunity to [request] my colleagues to fulfill their obligations so we do not create a vacuum after the Ethiopian troops have vacated Somalia."
AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping told reporters Wednesday that Nigeria and possibly others will announce troop contributions during the upcoming African heads of state meeting. But several diplomats and observers at this meeting say it may be too late. Islamist extremists have already taken over many positions held by the departing Ethiopians, including the provisional seat of parliament, Baidoa, and imposed strict Sharia law.
AU officials speak hopefully about the political process currently under way in Djibouti, where Somali lawmakers are meeting. They are expected to elect a new transitional president Friday, in time for him to attend the summit's opening session Sunday.
But they acknowledge that the new leader, whoever he may be, faces a monumental task in establishing the government's authority. Islamists currently control large areas of the Horn of Africa country, while 10,000 government troops and 3,500 African Union peacekeepers hold little more than a few blocks in the capital, Mogadishu.