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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: African Union Launches Security Council

The pan-continental African Union on Tuesday launched a new Peace and Security Council (PSC), which it hopes will become a robust guarantor of stability in Africa, much like the United Nations Security Council.

Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano, the current chairman of the 53-member African Union, formally inaugurated the council at a ceremony at the organisation's headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The ceremony was attended by the heads of state and government from eight countries, including South Africa, who was represented by deputy president, Jacob Zuma.

"It is with joy, pride and great honour that I solemnly declare the Peace and Security Council of the African Union formally launched," Chissano said in Portuguese.

"Peace and security are the indispensable conditions for Africa's socio-economic development," he said.

Chissano went on to express his hope that the continent's "crises and conflicts will be substantially reduced, if not eliminated, thanks to the PSC".

The AU chairman described the official launch, held on Africa Day, as a "symbolic ceremony during which the African Union writes a new golden page in its glorious history... another step in its efforts to change the destiny of Africans".

Officials have vowed that the new council will act to intervene in African conflicts, setting the two-year-old AU apart from its largely toothless predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

"In the past, the OAU was accused of complicity. We are replacing the principle of non-interference with the principle of non-indifference," AU Peace and Security Commission Said Djinnit told journalists in Addis Ababa.

"That doesn't mean we will solve (all) the problems, but that we won't remain indifferent," he added.

"The object is not to replace the blue helmets (UN peacekeepers) with AU missions. We maintain that the UN has a primary role to play in peacekeeping," he said, while promising that the AU would not hang around while the UN decided whether or not to act.

The 15-member PSC - which in fact has been meeting regularly since March - is empowered to mandate peacekeeping missions in conflict areas where ceasefire accords have been signed.

The council has already met on the issue of Darfur, a war-ravaged region in western Sudan where forces allied to the Khartoum government stand widely accused of targeting civilians.

In all, about 10 countries in Africa are in the throes of conflict and there are currently six different UN peacekeeping missions deployed on the continent.

By 2010, the African Union hopes to have its own standby rapid reaction force of 15 000 men.

Note: Edited by Duane Heath for the SA news service

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

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