The president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has officially opened the African Union Summit, welcoming some 50 African leaders and the presidents of Iran and Venezuela to the capital, Banjul.
During the two day meeting, members of the pan-African body are expected to discuss the crises in Sudan's Darfur region and Somalia.
The agenda also includes talks on health and migration issues, and the development of regional economic communities.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is slated to address the AU Saturday, urging African leaders to convince the Sudanese government to accept U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.
The Sudanese government has rejected an offer for the peacekeepers to take over for African Union forces in Sudan's turbulent western region.
A U.N. spokeswoman said Thursday that Mr. Annan plans to meet with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe while at the summit. Mr. Mugabe has rejected international offers of assistance to deal with his country's political and economic crisis.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are in Banjul for the meetings.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's presence is seen as an attempt to garner support for Tehran in its standoff with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program.
Observers say Mr. Chavez's appearance at the African summit may be linked to efforts to gain support for Venezuela's quest for a U.N. Security Council seat, among other things.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.