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AU Summit Compromise Leaves Continental Authority in Limbo

Africa's leaders meeting in Libya have taken a step toward creation of a continental authority that would have enhanced powers to deal with matters of mutual interest. But a compromise reached after days of heated debate is short on details.

After a marathon negotiating session that ended at four o'clock Friday morning, Benin's Foreign Minister Jean-Marie Ehouzou said, "The states are ready to give up a little part of their sovereignty for the benefit of the [union]."

But Ehouzou suggested the compromise reached by heads of state on transforming the African Union's executive arm into a continental authority still faces a long, difficult road before it becomes reality. It would take effect only after the AU constitution is amended and ratified by all 53 member states.

A document seen by reporters envisions a revamped AU executive arm that would coordinate positions of member states during international negotiations. It would also coordinate implementation of a common African defense and security policy.

Diplomatic observers at the summit say the compromise is a face-saving device for the host, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Mr. Gadhafi has used this summit to relentlessly pursue his dream of a United States of Africa. But he has met stiff opposition from a coalition led by most influential member states, including South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Angola.

The compromise gives Mr. Gadhafi a little bit, by creating within the continental authority new portfolios of defense and foreign affairs. But African Union expert Delphine Lecoutre says the big AU powers have effectively prevailed by ensuring that the mandates of these new secretaries will be strictly limited.

"In fact the secretary of peace and security will be in charge of common defense, but limited to the management of multinational peace support operations, and the secretary in charge of of political affairs will deal with foreign policy, but strictly limited to the defense of the African interests in international negotiations in the domain of trade and climate," said Lecoutre.

Lecoutre, who has followed Mr. Gadhafi's crusade for a United States of Africa since it began in 1999, says he is unlikely to be satisfied with the compromise reached in Sirte.

"It will not end the story because Brother leader Gadhafi always comes back with new formulas and new ideas, so the story is just on the way forward, and the way forwards to what he wants in terms of the United States of Africa is very very far away," added Lecoutre.

The compromise deal clears the way for summit leaders to focus on more important issues on the agenda, such as Somalia, the war crimes indictments against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, and the continental food security crisis.