African nations launch continental security council

Latest peace bid includes sending troops to conflicts

May 26, 2004|By Laurie Goering | Laurie Goering,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- African nations, long reluctant to intervene in each other's crises, launched a new continent-wide security council yesterday with powers to send African peacekeeping troops to conflict zones.

The new African Union Peace and Security Council, formed on the model of the United Nations Security Council, follows a string of failed pan-African peace efforts since the 1970s. But Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a member of the new council, promised this one would be different because "we have learned from our own experience that peace, security and stability are necessary for sustainable development."

"Africa," he said, "is poised for action."

Security analysts, however, questioned whether the body will have sufficient political will or troops to make a difference in stubborn and often politically complicated conflicts from the Ivory Coast to Sudan.

"It comes down to two things: political will and capacity," said Kathryn Sturman, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Johannesburg. To succeed, the continent's leaders "must change the political culture that came from the [now-defunct] Organization of African Unity, which is noninterference."

Organizers of the new body said yesterday that they are ready to swap their "noninterference" creed for one that Seid Djinnit, the African Union's peace and security commissioner, called "nonindifference." The council took up a discussion yesterday of conflicts in Somalia, Ivory Coast and Sudan at its first closed meeting.

"We shall not shrink from decisive action to overcome the challenges facing the continent," Obasanjo promised. "Henceforth, there shall be no conflict on our continent considered out of bounds."

As part of the new security council effort, African nations will contribute troops to five regional peacekeeping bodies, expected to be in place by next year and fully prepared by 2010. Security council members, drawn from the continent's five regions, will vote on dispatching troops to conflict zones.

Council members emphasized that the African peacekeepers are not a substitute for larger U.N. forces but will complement them. The African peacekeeping force would include a rapid-reaction component that would enable the security council to move soldiers into conflict zones within 30 days.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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