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Africa to Adopt Refugee/IDP Convention At Kampala Summit


Africa to Adopt Refugee/IDP Convention At Kampala Summit
Africa to Adopt Refugee/IDP Convention At Kampala Summit
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An African summit is being held in the Ugandan capital, Kampala this week to pledge help for the continent's 17 million refugees and displaced people. The heads of major international humanitarian agencies are attending, but most African heads of state will be missing.

The two-day meeting that opens Thursday in Kampala is billed as the "African Union Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons".

Among those attending will be the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, the Director General of the UN International Office of Migration, William Lacy Swing, and the International Red Cross President Jacob Kellenberger.

The host, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will address the opening session. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is also expected to speak in his capacity as holder of the rotating African Union Chairmanship.

But the hoped for show of support from other heads of state has failed to materialize. A summit organizer, who asked not to be identified, because he is not a spokesman, said plans to have five heads of state act as "champions of refugees and the displaced" probably would be scrapped, since it looks as if too few leaders will attend.

The main item on the summit agenda is adoption of an African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. The United Nations estimates 11.6 million Africans have been forced from their homes by wars and other conflicts. That figure represents nearly half of all the displaced people in the world.

Moses Okello, Addis Ababa representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the convention to be adopted is just one step in a process that was started three years ago, and still has a long way to go.

"The idea is to move the process forward toward resolving this question on the continent. It's not something that's going to happen overnight, but these are important steps African heads of state will be taking in addressing this enduring question on the African continent," he said.

A UNHCR statement issued in advance of the summit pointed to the global shift in recent years away from a focus on refugees, and to the more complex issue of people displaced within their own country. It said, "While refugee populations have declined in recent years, internal displacement continues to rise and the number of people uprooted from their homes is mounting."

Experts say the displacement is aggravating social upheavals, wars and food shortages in many parts of the continent. Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the African countries with the largest numbers of refugees and internally displaced.

The summit sidelines will feature a ministerial level meeting of the East African regional grouping IGAD to discuss developments in southern Sudan. Diplomats say the agenda will include a review of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and an attempt to mediate differences between opposition political parties in the south.

Sudanese diplomats say no decision had been made as of Tuesday on whether Sudan's indicted President Omar al-Bashir would attend the summit. Uganda is a signatory to the International Criminal Court, but President Museveni has made clear there would be no attempt to arrest the Sudanese leader on war crimes warrants should he visit Kampala.

Diplomatic observers at the summit say they will be paying close attention to the relationship between Mr. Museveni and Libyan leader Gadhafi. The two men are known to have clashed in closed-door African Union summit sessions, where Mr. Museveni is said to be a vocal opponent of the Libyan leader's efforts to use his AU chairmanship to further his dream of creating a United States of Africa.