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Sudan to Dominate First-Ever African Security Forum
Voice of America
Saturday, April 14, 2012
One hundred influential Africans, including several current and former heads of state, are gathering for a weekend retreat on the shores of Ethiopia's Lake Tana for informal discussions on vexing security issues.
A hoped for sideline summit between the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan has been cancelled as the two countries edge closer to war.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is expected to attend the Tana High Level Security Forum Saturday and Sunday in the Ethiopian town of Bahir Dar. But organizers say Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir abruptly cancelled his attendance after southern troops crossed the border this week and captured the strategic oil center of Heglig.
The cancellation dashed hopes that the two leaders might meet to avert the conflict that is already breaking out along the border. Military analysts say hostilities appear to be spreading into Sudan's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where food shortages are threatening a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Lake Tana security forum was organized before Khartoum broke off African Union-mediated peace talks with the south. The original two-point agenda did not include Sudan. But with President Kiir expected to be there, along with AU mediation panel chief Thabo Mbeki, Sudan is likely to dominate the discussions.
Organizer Andreas Eshete says the format of the forum is flexible to allow talks on whatever topic is on people's minds. "There will be two set sessions, on weak states and on diversity, and if there is a desire to discuss the situation in Sudan there will be a third meeting," he said. "Whether there is such a meeting or not, there will be plenty of occasions to discuss Sudan because there will be enough participants from Sudan and South Sudan as well as from all neighboring countries."
Andreas says the confirmed guest list includes heads of state and government from Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, as well as former leaders from South Africa, Mozambique and Nigeria. Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, a prime mover behind the creation of the Tana Forum, will preside over the conference.
African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra will also be there.
Andreas, a former president of Addis Ababa University, says one of the main topics at the forum will be managing the diversity that is at once one of Africa's strengths and a cause of so many conflicts.
"Religious diversity, ethnic diversity. It's clear ethnic diversity has figured prominently in African conflicts. There are signs now that there is growing differences and in some cases confrontations over religious diversity as in Egypt, even in Syria over different followers of Islam or different sects of Islam. Nigeria of course, so that's another dimension. We're leaving it open about what kind of diversity people wish to talk about," Andreas stated.
Andreas says the Tana High Level Forum is based on the annual Munich security conference, where policy makers gather annually for an informal conversation about security trends and challenges in Europe.
Plans for an African forum began to take shape after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi attended the Munich conference last year.
Andreas told VOA the idea caught on with other leaders immediately because, as he put it, “Africa's peace and security situation has its ups and downs, as anyone who follows Somalia or Sudan knows."
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