ADDIS ABABA – African Union heads of state focused on rising tensions in oil-rich, secessionist southern Sudan on Monday as they reviewed their response to the continent's many crises and conflicts.
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who on the 14th summit's opening day had to relinquish the 53-state body's presidency to Malawi, warned that Sudan could become "another Somalia".
Tension has been mounting in Sudan in the run-up to a 2011 referendum in which the south is widely expected to choose independence from Khartoum, only six years after signing a peace deal.
Many observers fear that a secession in oil-rich Sudan -- Africa's largest country, bordering nine others -- could further destabilise one of the continent's most volatile regions.
"If the South has a right to separate itself then there'll be danger for the South," he said, Kadhafi said at press conference late Sunday.
"The outbreak of war will not be between the North and the South, it will be within the South itself. The South itself is not united," he said.
"It could become fragile and coveted by its neighbours (with a view to) taking the resources, oil or something else," he warned.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the first day of the summit, also put special emphasis on the fate of Sudan.
"The UN has a big responsibility with the AU to maintain peace in Sudan and make unity attractive... This year will be crucially important for Sudan with the election in three months and the referendum in a year," he said Sunday.
"In the AU we believe that till the last minute we should work with all the Sudanese stakeholders to be sure we promote peace in the country," AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra, told journalists.
He said the AU respected the will of the Sudanese people but: "Nevertheless, we are making sure that unity is attractive".
For Bona Malwal, a member of the Sudanese delegation and ambassador to the AU, it is too late to do that.
"It is already too late. We have asked this help for a long time. But now the people of the south have made up their mind. They are in favor of independance. Time is running out," he told AFP.
"The international community can still be involved to help the two parties to handle the aftermath of the referendum in a peaceful manner," he said, adding: "The Khartoum government will never stop the decision of the people of the South".
At his press conference, Kadhafi, who was replaced as the chair of the organisation by Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, complained that the "AU president has no prerogatives".
He also bemoaned the lack of progress on his own pet project: intensifying the political integration of the billion-strong continent to achieve a "United States of Africa".
But he firmly ruled out any idea of reducing Libyan funding or commitment to the body.
"There's no question of going backwards," he said.
Relief was palpable in the corridors of the AU headquarters, after a year during which Kadhafi and Jean Ping, who heads the body's executive arm, publicly expressed contradictory views on some of the continent's main crises.
In their meetings on Monday, African leaders were also expected to review the situation in Somalia, where a weak internationally-backed government is struggling to fend off an Islamist insurgency.
They will also review the performance of the AU's peacekeeping mission there, almost three years after it was deployed.
Among other issues on Monday's agenda are climate change and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The AU's relations with the ICC have been fraught since the court slapped Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir with an arrest warrant over the atrocities committed in Darfur since 2003. Beshir arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Friday.
In a report released around two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch pilloried the AU for supporting the embattled Sudanese leader, arguing that such a move was a blow to the entire institution's credibility.
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