UN urges peaceful end to Madagascar crisis

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Addis Ababa - United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has voiced concern over the deadly unrest in Madagascar during an address to African leaders gathered at the African Union (AU) Summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Monday.

He further urged all parties to address the issue peacefully and utilise constitutional mechanisms.

At least 68 people have been killed in clashes between supporters of Madagascar's president Marc Ravalomanana and the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, in a power struggle that has overshadowed the AU summit.

Mr Rajoelina led protests in the capital city last month during which demonstrators accused the president of running a dictatorship. In January Mr Rajoelina proclaimed himself head of the Indian Ocean island, laying out plans to call for Mr Ravalomanana's resignation.

While the summit's theme is infrastructure development, attention has mostly focused on the tragic list of crises and conflicts on the continent, highlighted by an unfolding political drama in the island country of Madagascar, whose president and top mayor are locked in a bloody power struggle.

Mr Ban also called for a return to democracy after coups in Guinea and Mauritania and a failed coup in Guinea-Bissau and urged Sudan to do more to end a bloody civil war in Darfur, calling on the warring parties to stop immediately all kinds of violent activity which jeopardise the peace process and threatens the lives of civilians.

The secretary generla urged the AU to do more to bring stability to those countries in Africa struggling with conflict while tackling crises that have erupted elsewhere in recent months.

"In Africa, its negative effects will not only be on growth, trade and financial flows, but also the fight against poverty and the likelihood of reduced official development assistance," Mr Ban said.

The AU has agreed to lobby for a one-year suspension in the case against President Omar al-Bashir, saying a trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) could threaten Sudan's peace process.

The 53-nation bloc is seeking to "mobilise support from the international community to suspend for 12 months the process launched against President al-Bashir, to give a greater chance to the peace process," AU Commission chief Jean Ping said during a summit meeting here.

"At the same time, we encourage the Sudanese authorities to continue their efforts to find a definitive solution to the problem of impunity," Mr Ping added.

In July last year the ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo laid an application for the indictment of President al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

According to Sudan's interim Constitution, the President and Vice-President have immunity from prosecution during their tenure in office.

On a positive note, Mr Ban noted that the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo had taken "a dramatic turn for the better" following a joint offensive by government and Rwandan forces which led to the arrest of a key rebel leader last month.

He hailed moves toward forming a new government in Somalia, following the election of a new president last week, and praised Zimbabwe's progress toward forming a unity government to end months of political crisis.

"All of us can take pleasure from the progress in political settlements in Somalia," he told the delegates. "We have all worked hard to get to where we are, but there is much more to be done to eliminate the suffering of Somalians."

In Zimbabwe, he said the formation of a unity government is "the first step towards full democracy, but there is still a long way to go."

"I urge all sides to build on the hard-won breakthrough" and to ensure that the world can bring aid to ease the plight of Zimbabweans who are struggling against devastating food shortages and a worsening cholera epidemic, Ban added.