African, Arab world to hold first meeting since 1977


African and Arab nations will hold their first summit in more than thirty years at a time when Islamist militant cooperation is spreading across the Arab world and Horn of Africa, the African Union said.

AU diplomats told Reuters the summit would focus on growing worries about ties between Arab and African rebel groups and Islamist militants.

The AU’s predecessor, the OAU, and the League of Arab States last met in Cairo, Egypt in 1977. The 53-nation AU said Gulf States had also committed to attending the summit but it did not name individual countries.
“We believe the hurdles have been overcome and before the end of the year we will have a second summit between our organisations,” Julia Dolly Joiner, the AU’s commissioner for political affairs, told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital.
“The summit hasn’t met for thirty years. We are all anxious to let our leaders have this platform to exchange and to look into the future,” she said.

Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based branch became a global security priority after it said it was behind a failed Dec. 25 attack on a US airliner, and concerns have been raised about its ties to like-minded militants in nearby Somalia.

Somalia’s al Shabaab are an al Qaeda-inspired Islamist group waging a rebellion against the country’s UN-backed government.

The groups in Somalia and Yemen say they regularly beef-up each other’s fighting forces.
“We will be looking at conflicts that affect both Africa and the Arab world,” said Joiner, speaking on the sidelines of the AU’s annual summit. “We are looking at areas like Somalia, like Sudan, the Yemeni problem.”

The West has said it is concerned the countries could turn into al Qaeda training camps and launch pads for international attacks a role played by Afghanistan in the run-up to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Joiner said the meeting would be hosted by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in October 2010 and the countries attending would also be looking to forge stronger economic ties.

Gaddafi spent three decades preaching Arab unity before turning his attention to Africa, saying the world’s poorest continent was closer to him than Middle Eastern countries who had rebuffed his attempts to forge a political union.

The controversial leader was elected chairman of the African Union last year and has used his role as a platform to promote his long-held plan for a “United States of Africa”. Diplomats say he will run for a second term, despite protests.

Pic: AU building