BANJUL — Fifty three African leaders come together in Gambia on Saturday, July 1, to discuss crises bedeviling the continent, with the situation in Sudan's Darfur region and Somali topping its agenda.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who set to address the summit, will urge African leaders to convince the Sudanese government "that it is in their interest to cooperate with the international community," Reuters reported.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has rejected calls to deploy UN peacekeeping troops in the war-torn region of Darfur to take over from the under-resourced 7,000-strong African forces.
"We will not allow international troops under the UN to deploy in Darfur," Bashir said in an open-air speech attended by thousands of people in Khartoum.
The African Union is due to pull out its peacekeeping force from Darfur by September 31.
The Khartoum government and the main rebel group, Sudan Liberation Army, signed a peace deal in May to end a three-year conflict that has claimed up to 300,000 lives and displaced some 2.4 million others, according to UN estimates.
Three Darfur rebel groups that have refused to sign up to the AU-mediated peace deal formed a new alliance to fight Khartoum on Friday.
Officials from the groups created the National Redemption Front (NRF) after talks in the Eritrean capital and reaffirmed their opposition to the Abuja peace agreement.
The front is made up of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a holdout faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance (SFDA), according to a "founding declaration" released in Asmara.
The situation in war-torn Somalia will also feature high on the summit agenda.
The African leaders are expected to ask the UN to temporarily lift an arms embargo on Somalia to allow the eastern African regional bloc, IGAD, to deploy peacekeepers there.
The seven-nation east African grouping has been planning to dispatch a peacekeeping force to Somalia.
But it has run into problems ranging from an existing UN arms embargo on Somalia to opposition from the Islamic Courts, which has controlled a large swathe of Somalia after defeating the US-backed warlords.
Both the African Union and United Nations support the transitional federal government, which has been unable to enter the once warlords-controlled Mogadishu.
The African country of 10 million has lacked almost all the trappings of a functional state, such as national systems of education, healthcare and justice.
The two-day summit is also expected to see anti-US rhetoric from two special guests Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Gambia's invitation to the two presidents has caused consternation among Western diplomats present as observers in Banjul.
They said the invitation may reflect a drive by Africa to show its independence of the West and assert a more strategic world role.
The theme of the summit is regional integration with a view to establishing a "united states of Africa."
The African leaders are also to tackle the problem of illegal migration and HIV/AIDS.
They are also to decide on the fate of former Chad's president Hissene Habre being held in Senegal and accused of crimes against humanity after a panel of jurists submitted various recommendations on the possible venue for his trial.
Progress in upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to crown a three year transition process, will also be examined while the delayed and fragile peace process in Ivory Coast will also be formally brought to the attention of heads of state.