African Leaders at the 50th session of Africa Union Meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia have elected the Malawi Leader, Joyce Banda, to be the champion of Malaria, HIV and AIDS in the SADC Region

Malian president Dioncounda Traore and his Malawi counterpart Joyce Hilda Banda attend the AU summit/AFP

ADDIS ABABA, May 26 – African Union leaders met on Sunday to tackle ongoing conflicts on the continent, a day after the pan-African bloc threw itself a lavish birthday party celebrating everything positive in its 50 years of existence.

Long-running unrest in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo dominated the start of the two-day AU meeting, as leaders from the Great Lakes region met for the first time since signing an agreement in February aimed at restoring peace in the region.

“A lot of progress has been made… I think we will be able to fix it, the Congo is going to be fixed,” Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said after the meeting, on the sidelines of the main summit at AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

Tanzania is sending 1,280 troops to join a new United Nations brigade with a mandate to conduct “targeted offensive operations” against rebels in DR Congo’s mineral-rich east.

However, UN chief Ban Ki-moon was more hesitant, saying that while progress was being made, promises on paper must be enacted on the ground.

“We will need the test of implementation,” said Ban, who visited the flashpoint Congolese town of Goma last week as part of a regional tour.

Leaders were also discussing a proposal to urge the International Criminal Court to back off the trial of Kenya’s leaders on charges of crimes against humanity.

The proposal, agreed by AU foreign ministers on Thursday, would ask the ICC to refer the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto back to their home country.

The proposal would have no legal impact on ICC proceedings if passed, but would significantly boost Kenyatta’s standing on the continent.

Kenyatta and Ruto, elected in March, both face trial in The Hague for their alleged roles in orchestrating deadly violence after previous elections in 2007.

However, after hours of talking, diplomats said members were divided on the proposal.

If passed, it would be first time the pan-African body has moved formally against the ICC, even though Kenyatta is the second African leader to face trial after genocide charges were brought against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Amnesty International has urged leaders to throw out the proposal it said was a “worrying attempt by the Kenyan authorities to avoid justice”.

The rights group called on the 34 AU members who have signed the ICC’s founding Rome Statute – including Kenya – to “protect the international justice mechanism they have committed to”.

Mali is also expected to be discussed at the summit: it is about to receive a UN peacekeeping force to support French soldiers who have been fighting Islamist rebels in the country’s desert north since January.

War-torn Somalia, where an AU force is battling Islamist insurgents, is also being discussed, including the thorny issue of a breakaway southern region, which threatens to create rifts between the central government in Mogadishu and neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, both with troops inside the country.

Despite optimistic rhetoric at Saturday’s anniversary celebrations praising the spirit of pan-Africanism, the continent and the 54-member bloc is riven with divisions.

Splits revealed by the 2011 conflict in Libya – when members squabbled between those wanting to recognise rebels and those backing leader Muammar Gaddafi – showed its disunity and lack of global clout.

Gaddafi’s death also stripped the AU of a major source of funding. Leaders will discuss finding backers for the cash-strapped body at the summit meeting opening Sunday.

Africa remains the world’s poorest continent and its most war-prone, but development indicators – including health, education, infant mortality, economic growth and democracy – have improved steadily in the past 50 years.

The continent is also home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund, and has attracted huge amounts of foreign investment in recent years.

Brazil announced on Saturday it was cancelling $900 million (700 million euros’) worth of debt in 12 African countries as part of a broader strategy to boost ties.

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