Tuesday, February 02, 2010

African leaders urged to tackle al-Qaeda threat

African leaders urged to tackle al-Qaeda threat
AFP report by Helen Vesperini, Feb 02 2010 06:54 via Mail & Guardian:
(ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA) - Senegal's president urged African leaders on Monday to join forces in the fight against al-Qaeda's North African branch, saying the network's campaign was taking on "new and disturbing" forms.

Abdoulaye Wade's appeal came as African Union heads of state gathered to tackle the continent's crises and conflicts at the bloc's 14th summit.

"We must organise a round table with neighbouring countries to resolve the issue" of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the veteran Wade said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit in the Ethiopian capital.

"This desert terrorism is taking new and very disturbing forms ... But countries like Senegal, or Mali, can do nothing on their own. It is an international problem. Western powers will have to intervene too," he said.

The Senagalese leader also raised the alarm over arms trafficking in the African Sahel region, saying "Western powers should also get involved", without elaborating.

The North African branch of Osama bin Laden's terror network has threatened to execute a French hostage kidnapped in Mali in November. The group is also holding five other European hostages in the region.

Wade also said he hoped the military junta in Senegal's neighbour Guinea "will respect their pledge not to participate in elections" this year, insisting an accord brokered by Burkina Faso "is just a beginning and we must remain vigilant".

He was speaking as African Union leaders tackled rising tensions in oil-rich, secessionist southern Sudan and other African troublespots on the penultimate day of their summit.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi, who on the opening day had to relinquish the 53-state body's presidency to Malawi, warned Sudan could become "another Somalia".

Tension has been escalating in Sudan in the run-up to a 2011 referendum in which the south is widely expected to choose independence from Khartoum, only six years after signing a peace deal.

Many observers fear that a secession in oil-rich Sudan -- Africa's largest country, bordering nine others -- could further destabilise one of the continent's most volatile regions.

"If the South has a right to separate itself then there'll be danger for the South," Gadaffi told a press conference Sunday, arguing that secession could leave a weakened South vulnerable to outsiders who "covet" its oil resources.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the first day of the summit, also put special emphasis on the fate of Sudan.

"The UN has a big responsibility with the AU to maintain peace in Sudan and make unity attractive ... This year will be crucially important for Sudan with the election in three months and the referendum in a year," he said on Sunday.

"In the AU we believe that till the last minute we should work with all the Sudanese stakeholders to be sure we promote peace in the country," AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra, told journalists.

He said the AU respected the will of the Sudanese people but: "Nevertheless, we are making sure that unity is attractive."

But for Bona Malwal, a member of the Sudanese delegation and ambassador to the AU, south Sudan is already on a path towards secession.

"It is already too late. We have asked this help for a long time. But now the people of the south have made up their mind. They are in favour of independence. Time is running out," he said.

"The international community can still be involved to help the two parties to handle the aftermath of the referendum in a peaceful manner," he said.

"The Khartoum government will never stop the decision of the people of the South."

The African leaders were also to discuss the conflict in Somalia, where the bloc's embattled peacekeeping force came under fresh Islamist militia attacks late on Sunday, claiming the lives of 12 civilians. - AFP

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