The AU Commission chairman said that Mali's conflict is one of the most serious challenges facing Africa. A group of nations has said it is ready to send 3,300 troops to help restore order if it has UN backing.
When AU heads of state met on Saturday, discussion focused on fears of a new haven for extremists in Mali's vast desert north in the aftermath of a March military coup in the southern capital Bamako. The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) is an armed group presented as an offshoot of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
"The situation in Mali is one of the most serious situations our continent is confronted with," Jean Ping, a diplomat from Gabon and the commission chairman, said at the start of a closed-door meeting. The conflict, he said, "imperils the very existence of Mali as a nation."
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouatarra, the chairman of the AU Peace and Security Council, said the conference "condemns the aim of the terrorist groups to turn northern Mali into a sanctuary and a coordination center for terrorist groups on the continent such as AQIM, MUJAO, Boko Haram and al Shabaab."
Since 2009, Nigeria's Boko Haram has increased attacks on government and Christian targets. Somalia's Shebab Islamists, fighting to overthrow the weak Western-backed government, still stage guerrilla attacks despite having lost ground to African Union troops in recent months.
Ouatarra said the groups "constitute a serious threat to regional and international peace and security." Ouatarra reiterated an earlier call by West African leaders to the UN Security Council "for the speedy adoption of a resolution authorizing the deployment of troops in Mali under Chapter Seven of the UN charter."
The two Sudans
On the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan - the other issue on the agenda for the meeting in Ethiopia - Ping said progress at AU-backed peace talks between the two countries "has been slow and maybe even a little uneven." He said Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president and AU lead mediator between the two Sudans, would present a report to the summit.
The AU and UN have passed resolutions urging the rivals to reach deals on security, oil sharing revenues and border demarcation by August 2.
Even as African leaders consider the region's problems, their work has been overshadowed by the AU Commission leadership race, currently deadlocked between current Chairman Ping and South Africa's Dlamini-Zuma.
mkg/msh (AFP, Reuters)