Abuja- Nigeria (PANA) -- The fourth ordinary session of the assembly of the African Union (AU) and the first mid-term assembly opened in Nigeria's capital of Abuja Sunday, with most of the 53 heads of state and government attending the gathering.
Host Nigeria President and AU chairman Olusegun Obasanjo formally opened the meeting at the cavernous International Conference Centre in the modern capital.
Leaders at the meeting include Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Abdelaziz Boutelflika of Algeria and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
Others are Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, Mathieu Kerekou of Benin, John Kufuor of Ghana, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who is attending his first AU/OAU meeting since 1995 when he escaped an assassination attempt in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, himself a son of Africa, led other international organisations to the summit.
In his comments at the opening session, Annan urged a closer relationship between the UN and the AU "as one way to succeed.
" He hailed the AU for making great strides "in promoting conflict management in Africa, especially in Darfur, where AU forces are deployed and making important contributions.
" Annan said the UN would continue to support the AU and urged African leaders "to make 2005 a year of renewal for the UN and hope for Africa and the world.
" Though some of the leaders rode to the venue in their allocated Peugeot 607 cars, most chose to make the trip from their hotel to the venue of the mid-term assembly in two luxury buses.
Top on the agenda of the meeting is the issue of food security in Africa, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis and other infectious diseases ravaging the continent and the reform of the UN Security Council.
The preceding meeting of the AU executive council, comprising foreign ministers of member states, agreed Saturday to push for two slots for the continent on the UN Security Council, the organ responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security.
Obasanjo said the developments on the continent since the last meeting in July last year, especially the resurgent crisis in Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo/Rwanda, had made the current session imperative.
The AU chairman condemned the recent bombings of civilians in Sudan's western Darfur region by the country's air force, saying there was no excuse for the action that left many dead.
He also slammed the rebels for their acts of "provocation" which he said led to the attack.
But Obasanjo hailed the recent peace agreement that ended years of civil war in the Sudan, describing it as "cheering news.
" He also said the current meeting would enable African leaders to take a common position on the planned reform of the UN Security Council.
Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt are the leading countries to represent African in an enlarged Council.
The Nigerian leader charged African leaders to work harder for peace, harmony, development and democracy on the continent, adding: "Let us show the world we in Africa can solve our problems.
I hope our deliberations will yield positive results in the interest of Africa.
" The two-day summit was preceded by the meetings of the Permanent Representatives Committee comprising African ambassadors and that of the Executive Council made up of foreign ministers.