(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Sahelo-Saharan states agree on conflict resolution mechanism

Member countries of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States [CEN-SAD]) have agreed to set up a mechanism for preventing, managing and settling conflicts within the 18-member community. A protocol to this effect was adopted at the fifth annual summit of the CEN-SAD [in French, Communauté des Etats sahélo-sahariens], held on 14-15 March 2003 in Niamey, Niger.

At the meeting, CEN-SAD heads of state and government expressed their commitment to seeking peaceful solutions to existing or future conflicts between member states or with third-party states. They said they would promote conflict prevention and the culture of peace and dialogue as a means of managing internal conflicts within the community, according to the meeting's final communique, issued on Saturday.

Participants in the meeting also agreed to develop those approaches and mechanisms for conflict prevention and the promotion of a culture of peace that already exist within their respective societies and to create a framework for exchanging experiences in that sphere.

"Security is an essential issue," Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi said at the summit. "We cannot go from underdevelopment to development if there is no peace and stability. Therefore, peace and stability are necessary to achieve the aspirations of our peoples. We shall be making a big mistake if we ignore this reality."

Africa's conflicts stem from poverty, poor governance

According to the CEN-SAD heads of state and government, the main causes of the crises and conflicts that have plagued Africa are the extreme poverty of its populations and poor governance. These crises and conflicts aggravate poverty and condemn governments to emergency management of daily problems of survival, they said in their final declaration. By the same token, the heads added, they prevented the conception of medium and long-term policies and jeopardised the results expected from states' economic and social development plans, as well as regional and subregional integration efforts.

CEN-SAD was created in 1998 with the main aim of establishing an economic union based on a development plan that would be complementary to the national development plans of member countries. Its aims include eliminating all restrictions to the free movement of persons, goods and capital, and freedom for nationals of member states to own property and carry out economic activity anywhere in the community.

Malian President Amadou Amani Toure noted that from six states at its creation in 1998, the community now had 18, occupying a total area of 12,424,000 km2 with a combined population of 320 million inhabitants. "In the space of a few years, our community has been able to resolve and face the most crucial challenges of the subregion, whether this had to do with synergizing our efforts, our economic, social and human resources to improve the living conditions of our populations, or whether it was a matter of efforts to ensure the free circulation of persons and goods for a more harmonious integration and a better asserted solidarity within the CEN-SAD area."

Protocol on free movement of people

The results of the meeting included the opening a protocol on the free movement of goods and people for signature by member states. Once that instrument enters into effect, nationals of a CEN-SAD country would no longer need entry visas and residence permits to visit or live in another member state.

Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi urged his peers to encourage the free circulation of know-how, human resources, capital, goods and services within CEN-SAD by creating airlines and intensifying transport and communication links.

"We shall be making a mistake to believe that hampering the circulation of goods and people would be in our peoples' interest," he said. "On the contrary, the interests of our peoples will be achieved through concrete measures which require the elimination of all obstacles that could hamper the circulation of goods and people."

The conference also adopted the principle of the creation of a free trade zone and requested CEN-SAD's secretary-general to continue discussions with other regional groupings such as the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA, which groups Francophone West African countries) so as to ensure harmony and complementarity.

Food insecurity

The heads expressed concern about the fact that some member countries continued to be affected by food insecurity caused by factors such as drought, other adverse climatic conditions, poor harvests and production costs. They welcomed the establishment within CEN-SAD of a special food security programme and thanked Qaddafi for contributing US $9.3 million to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Sudan.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf attended the meeting, as did the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention Against Desertification Hama Arba Diallo. Fourteen countries were represented by their heads of state and two by prime ministers.

The heads also instructed CENSAD's secretary-general to pursue a partnership with the Lake Chad Basin Commission in order to contribute to the implementation of a project to fill Lake Chad, which has been shrinking in recent years, with waters diverted from the Oubangui-Chari river.

Cote d'Ivoire and Iraq

Cote d'Ivoire and Iraq were among other issues which retained the summit's attention.

On the Ivorian crisis, the heads appealed to all parties to focus on dialogue and expressed support for the president of a contact group on Cote d'Ivoire set up by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

They also expressed their attachment to the sovereignty and integrity of Iraq as well as [their] respect for the independence, territorial integrity and security of the states of the region, in keeping with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations. Further, they "welcomed Iraq's acceptance of [UN] Resolution 1441" on weapons inspections and "urged it to continue giving its full cooperation to the United Nations inspection mission".

The heads expressed support for action taken by the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to implement the resolution and called on all African and Arab states, especially those which are members of the UN Security Council, to support the principle of a peaceful disarmament in Iraq.

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