ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia African leaders met in the Ethiopian capital Sunday for talks dominated by the conflict in Mali as well as lingering territorial issues between the two Sudans.
The African Union says it will deploy a force in Mali, where French troops are helping the Malian army to push back Islamist extremists whose rebellion threatens to divide the West African nation.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is attending the two-day summit in Addis Ababa, where Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took over from President Yayi Boni of Benin as chairperson of the African Union.
With Mali at the top of the agenda, African leaders hope they can make quick progress in deploying a substantial number of African troops there. As the African leaders met, French special forces fighting alongside Malian troops were pushing farther north into the Malian desert in an offensive against al Qaida-linked Islamists who took control of northern Mali more than nine months ago.
Africa’s economic boom is threatened by violent conflicts across the continent, African Union officials said at the summit.
“While we are proud of the progress made in expanding and consolidating peace and security on the continent, we also acknowledge that much still needs to be done to resolve ongoing, renewed and new conflict situations in a number of countries,” said African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma said the Peace and Security Council of the African Union will report to the summit on efforts to resolve conflicts in countries ranging from Mali to Madagascar.
The Peace and Security Council of the African Union said in a statement Saturday that it wanted “the early operationalization of the African Standby Force” in Mali. The council also said it fully supports Mali President Dioncounda Traore but urged him to put in place a roadmap to free and fair elections. It also said the African Union is committed to preserving the unity of Mali and would “spare no efforts” to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity.