Taylor, Conte absent from ECOWAS Summit

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- ECOWAS leaders began their 25th ordinary Summit in the Senegalese capital of Dakar Thursday without Presidents Charles Taylor of Liberia and Lansana Conte of Guinea, whose restive Mano River Union countries are top on the Summit agenda.
Although President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, the third country in the Union, was at the opening, delegates see the absence of his two colleagues as a major drawback to regional efforts to solve the lingering crises in area.
ECOWAS has been dogged for more than 10 years by security and political conflicts, especially within the Mano River Union countries, which are accusing one another of harbouring or supporting dissidents, who are destabilising their territories.
Taylor has cited the "prevailing situation" in his country as reason for his absence, a reference to renewed fighting between government forces and dissidents in the north of the country.
Diplomatic sources said not even separate flying visits to Monrovia by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the outgoing ECOWAS chair, could persuade Taylor to attend the Dakar meeting.
In his address, Lansana Kouyate, outgoing Executive Secretary of the 15-nation Organisation said "although the situation at the southern, south-western and south-eastern borders of Guinea has considerably improved, hostilities have resumed in the Lofa region of Liberia.
" He expressed the hope that the "oft-repeated desire of the Liberian government to institute inter-Liberian dialogue, and the strengthening of relations between the three countries of the Mano River Union, in conjunction with the continued backing of ECOWAS, will succeed in resolving this conflict on Liberian soil.
" "At all events, our region must continue to explore ways and means by which to put an end to the formation of armed bands which create so much havoc in West Africa," Kouyate, told some 10 Heads of States at the opening of the Summit.
He also urged effective implementation of the different protocols on non-aggression and mutual assistance in defence, the functioning of all components of the mechanism for conflict prevention, and the strict application of the moratorium on the importation, exploitation and manufacture of small arms adopted by the Community.
While noting some progress in the Sierra Leonean peace process, Kouyate, however, said that complete success depended on the availability of financial resources.
He appealed to "all African countries and to the international community at large, to give the Sierra Leonean government the assistance it needs to complete the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a message read by his representative Ibrahima Fall, also touched on the need for stability in the Mano River Union.
Pledging the UN's continued support to ECOWAS and the New Partnership for Africa's Development initiative, he said the world body has decided to set up a sub-regional office in Dakar, to assist the governments and people of West Africa in their peace and development efforts.
The two-day Summit ends Friday in Dakar, from where many of the leaders would proceed to Banjul for the inauguration of re- elected Gambian President Yayah Jammeh.

20 december 2001 18:50:00




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