ADDIS ABABA, Nov 23 – East African leaders met Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital to discuss beefing up the African Union force in Somalia and tensions in Sudan ahead of January\’s referendum on autonomy for the south.
The start of the six-member Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit was delayed for several hours when host Prime Minister Meles Zenawi mediated a separate meeting between Sudan\’s President Omar al-Bashir and south Sudan leader Salva Kiir.
Nothing filtered out from their discussion.
"It is my hope that this meeting will provide an environment that is conducive to brotherly and positive discussions so as to make progress at this critical stage of the peace process," Kenya\’s President Mwai Kibaki told the summit, according to his office.
"By the end of our session, it is my hope that both parties will commit themselves to resolve, in a timely manner, all the outstanding issues," he said.
Uganda\’s President Yoweri Museveni and Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh are also attending the summit, which is being held behind closed doors. Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is not attending.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told journalists ahead of the meeting that despite progress on the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, there were still pending issues.
"The issues which are pending are Abyei, which is under negotiation … the demarcation process and again citizenship," he said.
The January 9 referenda in south Sudan and oil-rich Abyei could partition Africa\’s largest country. The polls follow 2005 peace accords ending two decades of conflict that left two million dead, between the majority Muslim north and largely Christian south.
The Ethiopian minister added that some of the issues need to be solved prior to the referendum while others could wait until later.
IGAD, a regional development bloc, was instrumental in brokering the 2005 peace accord that ended the war between north and south Sudan.
The Ethiopian minister described the situation in Somalia, where an African Union force of some 7,500 Ugandan and Burundian troops is propping up the transitional government, as "still worrisome".
He confirmed that the addition of an extra Burundian battalion to the AU force within the next few days would bring the total number of AU troops to 8,000.
Desalegn noted the AU troops in Mogadishu are now fully paid by the European Union and said this had eased funding pressure. But he said the United Nations has not given enough support.
"The UN has not been quick enough to intervene to solve problems in Somalia," he said, adding that the AU and the IGAD countries had expected the UN to support a series of recommendations they made last October, including a no-fly zone, and a sea and air blockade.
Ramtane Lamamra, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security called on the UN Security Council to immediately authorise the increase of AU troop numbers in Mogadishu to 12,000.
"This is an urgent matter because it\’s a precondition for that force to be deployed," he said, adding the extra troops would come mainly from Uganda.
Desalegn also cited political fears on Somalia, saying that while lawmakers have approved the new prime minister they have not yet endorsed his government.