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AU Summit Opens with Focus on Peace, Unity
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The sixth summit of the 53-member African Union (AU) opened on Monday morning in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, focusing on peace, unity as well as education and culture.


AU chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, declared the opening of the summit that has drawn more than 30 African leaders, including South African President Thabo Mbeki and Moamer Kadhafi of Libya.


Obasanjo said in the last year Africa has demonstrated unprecedented capacity to champion the cause of peace, unity and development, especially the achievements, although modest, in areas of peace and stability.


"The events and developments in Guinea Bissau, Togo, Burundi, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire mark positive developments in our collective and renewed determination to build a continent free of conflicts and instability," he said.


However, he admitted that the situation in Sudan's Darfur remains a matter of deep concern. He called on negotiating parties in the ongoing inter-Sudanese Talks to try to "come up with solutions that will help restore peace to the region."


In his welcome address, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir pledged to work with Sudan's neighbors and other African countries to maintain peace and stability on the continent.


He said as one of the founding members of the Organization of African Unity, AU's predecessor, Sudan has played an important role in the continent's unity and integration, adding that with its unique geographical location, it can also act as a link between Africa and the Arab world.


Al-Bashir also called for the continuation of the AU mission in Darfur, saying that only in this way can Africa prove its capability in resolving internal conflicts.


AU has more than 7,000 troops in Darfur where violence broke out in early 2003 when ethnic African tribes took up arms, accusing the Sudanese government of neglect. Thousands have died since and over a million others have been displaced. Negotiations on reconciliation have not made much progress.


During the two-day meeting, with the theme of "Education and Culture," in addition to convocation of bilateral summits between member states, delegates are to mainly discuss issues on education, culture and science, reports on the activities of the AU Security and Peace Council, and proposals forwarded by some member states about political, economic and cultural integration in the continent.


AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa and Mohamed Sahnoun, representative of the UN Secretary-General, also addressed the summit.


In his message delivered by Sahnoun, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomes the decision to make "Education and Culture" theme of the summit, saying that sustainable development depends not only on economic investment, but also on human resources.


Speaking of the situation in Sudan's Darfur region, Annan promised that the UN will continue to work closely with the AU in efforts to improve security, ensure humanitarian access and energize the peace process.


After the opening ceremony, an Exhibition on Education and Culture organized by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was inaugurated.


In a following close session, the elected Executive Office of the 6th ordinary session will approve the agenda for the summit. And according to local media reports, the session will also choose the new AU chairperson, with Sudan's al-Bashir the possible candidate, despite split opinions on this issue due to current situation in Darfur.


The AU, modeled on the EU, succeeded the Organization of African Unity in 2002 to adapt itself to the globalization trend and march toward peace and prosperity.


(Xinhua News Agency January 24, 2006)


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