January 2, 2004

African Union: Security Pact enters into force

The African Union (AU) has gained the power to intervene militarily in national conflicts

on the war-torn continent after a security pact won the backing of a majority of the body's members. The pact establishes a Peace and Security Council, seen as a crucial step towards boosting the relevance of the AU, the successor of the Organisation of African Unity, in tackling wars hampering economic growth across Africa. Under the pact, the AU can set up an African Standby Force drawn from member countries and use it to prevent conflicts, restore peace or intervene to stop war crimes. But the body will also need to lean heavily on its members to fund the force's activities.

The Peace and Security Council will also handle the AU's policy on defence and security against common threats, including terror attacks, external aggression and interference. The AU's 53 members agreed the pact at a summit in July 2002, but a majority needed to ratify it for to come into force. That majority came when Nigeria became the 27th member state of the AU to endorse the agreement. One of the pact's dedicated proponents was South African President Thabo Mbeki, who told the AU in July that he wanted the pact to come into effect by the end of this year.

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