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Conflict Tops Agenda at African Union Summit - 2003-07-11

African leaders met behind closed doors Friday on the second day of the African Union summit in the Mozambique capital Maputo.

Conflict remained on top of the agenda Friday as fighting raged in Liberia, Burundi, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere on the continent.

But attempts to make real progress toward settling those conflicts were hampered by the absence of key leaders. Among those not in attendance are Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was prevented from attending for the second consecutive year by rebel advances on his capital, Monrovia. Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo returned home early to meet with President Bush in their own countries.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had hoped to meet with parties involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war while in Maputo. But that meeting was cancelled due to the absence of Mr. Kabila and Mr. Museveni. An estimated 3.3 million people have died in fighting in Congo over the last five years. And the violence has continued in spite of the installation of a new transitional government.

On Thursday, Mr. Annan criticized African leaders, saying that unspeakable horrors are occurring on the continent and that peace missions are wasted without political will.

On Friday, more criticism piled up over Africa's handling of the Congo conflict. A European Union envoy to central Africa who is attending the summit told Mozambique's state radio that the region's leaders have no political will to solve the conflict there.

The summit, which is being held in a brand new Chinese-funded conference center, will continue through Saturday. But journalists, who have gathered from around the continent to cover the event are angry about the lack of access they have had to participants. Most meetings have taken place behind closed doors.