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African Union calls for 7,500-strong force to fight Boko Haram

The African Union called on Friday for a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops to defeat the "horrendous" rise of Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamist militants.

world Updated: Jan 30, 2015 14:27 IST
Boko Haram,African Union,Africa

The African Union called on Friday for a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops to defeat the "horrendous" rise of Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamist militants.

The call for urgent action came as leaders of the 54-member bloc opened their two-day annual summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where they will address a string of crises across the continent.

Conflict elsewhere, including civil war in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, as well as a new offensive launched on Thursday by Democratic Republic of Congo against Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebels in the east of the country, plus the Ebola epidemic are also expected to be discussed.

"Boko Haram's horrendous abuses, unspeakable cruelty, total disregard for human lives, and wanton destruction of property are unmatched," AU commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement after the bloc's Peace and Security Council met overnight Thursday, ahead of the summit opening.

The AU Peace and Security Council called for a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops to deploy to stop the "horrendous" rise of the insurgents.

More than 13,000 people have been killed and more than one million made homeless by Boko Haram violence since 2009.

As the summit opened, African leaders were also expected to elect Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to the organisation's one-year rotating chair, replacing Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Mugabe, a former liberation war hero who aged 90 is Africa's oldest president and the third-longest serving leader, is viewed with deep respect by many on the continent -- but he is also subject to travel bans from both the United States and European Union in protest at political violence and intimidation.

Ebola, risky elections

African leaders will also discuss the economic recovery of countries affected by the Ebola virus, setting up a "solidarity fund" and planning a proposed African Centre for Disease Control.

The worst outbreak of the virus in history has seen nearly 9,000 deaths in a year -- almost all of them in the three west African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone -- and sparked a major health scare worldwide.

With over a dozen elections due to take place this year across Africa, the focus at the talks will also be on how to ensure peaceful polls -- likely leaving little time for discussions on the official summit theme of women's empowerment.

The Institute for Security Studies, an African think-tank, warns that many of these elections "are being held in a context that increases the risk of political violence".

South Sudan's warring parties met Thursday in the latest push for a lasting peace deal, with six previous ceasefire commitments never holding for more than a few days -- and sometime just hours -- on the ground.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in more than a year of civil war, with peace talks led by the regional East African bloc IGAD due following the summit.

Also topping the agenda is the question of financing regional forces, amid broader debates on funding the AU, a thorny issue for the bloc, once heavily bankrolled by toppled Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

First Published: Jan 30, 2015 14:23 IST