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Candidates from Mali, Ivory Coast Vye for Top African Union Job

The governments of two west African countries, Ivory Coast and Mali, are waging a public relations battle to have their candidate elected head of the African Union. The election for a new leader of the pan-African body will take place July 10 during a summit in Mozambique.

The two candidates to head the commission of the African Union are long-time Ivorian diplomat Amara Essy and former Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare.

Both have been crisscrossing the continent to garner support since their candidacies became official in late March.

Mr. Essy, who has been heading the African Union commission as interim leader since July 2001, says his experience is an important asset. Mr. Essy says he now has valuable knowledge about the group's complicated bureaucracy, and that this was much more difficult to acquire than he first thought.

Another factor in favor of the former Ivorian foreign affairs minister is that, during his time as interim head of the commission, he oversaw the transition from the 39-year-old Organization of African Unity to the new African Union. The new group aims to replicate the success of the European Union in bringing African economies together. It also aims to have more of a role in ending wars on the continent.

Mr. Konare said the African Union needs a higher profile and a new dynamic that he can provide. He stepped down last year as Mali's president after serving two democratically elected terms.

Mr. Konare has the backing of African heavyweights South Africa, Nigeria and Libya, but most other African countries have yet to declare themselves one way or the other.

Mr. Konare also faces fierce resistance from Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr. Gbagbo has called on all Ivorian diplomats to wage a fierce campaign for Mr. Essy. He said high positions in international organizations should be awarded to long-time diplomats and not to former heads of state.

He also said two neighboring countries in west Africa, Mali and Ivory Coast, should not be competing for the same post.

Mali's president, Amadou Toumani Toure, denied it is a case of his country versus Ivory Coast. He said Mali is simply offering the services of its former president for the good of the entire continent.

Still, some African leaders warn this campaign battle could create unnecessary diplomatic divisions in a region repeatedly set back by cross-border rebellions.