Afro-Arab summit wraps up meetings by agreeing on overall strategy, insistence on Sudan unity

Mubarak urges serious tackling of regional, Sudanese and Somali issues

Summit approves key project for joint action and cooperation

Libyan leader proposes summit every three years

The leaders of Libya and Saudi Arabia voiced strong opposition to a divided Sudan at the second Arab-African summit, which took place in Libya.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaffi, who was hosting the summit that last took place 30 years ago, said the division of Sudan could spread like a "contagious disease" and serve as a model for other African nations reeling from internal turmoil.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal also called against the secession of Southern Sudan.

"In our opinion neither the interest of Sudan nor those of the rival parties can be achieved by the dangerous move of division," said al-Faisal at the opening of the summit.

Al-Faisal called for joint Arab-African cooperation and action on the issue of Sudan, warning that what happens there would affect the rest of the region.

Also present at the summit was Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose leadership is at odds with Southern Sudan.

Sudan's official news agency (SUNA) reported that al-Bashir told participants at the Afro-Arab summit that outstanding issues such as border demarcation, citizenship and water issues must be resolved before the referendum, scheduled for January, takes place.

Al-Bashir warned that going through with the referendum before these issues are resolved could lead to armed conflict between the North and South.

The issue of border demarcation is key because it will largely decide who controls much of Sudan's oil. A second referendum is scheduled to take place at the same time in the oil-rich Abyei, in which the state will decide if it goes with the North or South.

For his part, Arab League chief Amr Moussa was cautiously diplomatic in his remarks at the summit, saying that the organization had invested in infrastructure projects in Southern Sudan. He stopped short of saying, though, what the League's position would be after January.

Moussa said the Arab League was committed to peace and success in Sudan "because the country's stability and security affects Africa and the Arab region."

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that cooperation between African and Arab States can boost United Nations efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts in the two regions, promote tolerance, combat drug trafficking, terrorism and corruption, and strengthen the campaign against unemployment and climate change.

In a message to the second Afro-Arab summit that brought together members of the League of Arab States (LAS) and the African Union (AU) in the Libyan city of Sirte, Ban commended the efforts by African and Arab countries to promote peace and development in countries emerging from conflict in Africa, particularly Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Sierra Leone.

"Your Summit is an opportunity to explore ways to strengthen ties with each other in support of United Nations goals and ideals," the Secretary-General said in the message, delivered on his behalf by the head of the UN Office to the AU, Zachary Muburi-Muita.

He welcomed the recent rapprochement between Chad and the Sudan, which he said had reduced tensions along their common border.

Ban also expressed the UN's gratitude to the Arab League and the AU for their continued support to the people of Somalia.

He said while Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) faces considerable challenges, it has made progress in its outreach to a broad range of Somali groups with respect to joining the reconciliation process.

"I am counting on you to provide more political and financial support for the TFG in this final year of the transition. The United Nations will continue to provide the logistical support package to AMISOM [AU Mission in Somalia] and technical expertise to the AU for the planning, deployment and management of AMISOM," Ban said.

On Sudan, the Secretary-General urged both parties there to resolve all outstanding issues before the referenda on the self-determination of southern Sudan and the Abyei area, scheduled for January, and to ensure that the process is credible.

"The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel led by former [South African] President [Thabo] Mbeki and the United Nations Mission in Sudan [UNMIS] are working closely together to facilitate negotiations on post-referendum arrangements.

"I have also established a Sudan referenda panel, headed by former President [Benjamin] Mkapa of Tanzania, to encourage the holding of credible referenda," the Secretary-General said.

On Darfur, Ban voiced concern over the deterioration of the security there, but noted that the joint AU-UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) is working hard to protect civilians, while the joint AU-UN meditation is working to secure a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar.

"The international community, including the AU and the LAS, must deliver a unified message to the parties [in Darfur] to immediately cease all hostilities and commit to the political process," Ban said.

On the Comoros, he said it is important that the LAS and the UN continue to actively support the AU's mediation efforts and the electoral process in order to ensure the implementation of the recently signed political agreement.

Turning to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the internationally agreed targets to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015, Ban said much more remains to be done, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable populations, despite considerable progress in both African and Arab States.

"I reiterate the abiding commitment of the United Nations to strengthening our partnership with the AU, LAS and the people of both regions to realize the widely held aspirations for peace, stability, dignity, democracy and well-being for all," the Secretary-General added.

Meanwhile, Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi warned ahead of a vote on possible independence for south Sudan that a partition of the country would be a "contagious disease" that could spread to other African states.

Gaddafi was speaking at a one-day Arab-African summit that wrapped up its work by establishing a strategic partnership between Arab and African states in the areas of energy, environment, water resources, agriculture and food security.

The Libyan leader told the opening of the summit in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte that "what is happening in Sudan could become a contagious disease that affects the whole of Africa."

"We must recognize that this event is dangerous," he said of the planned Jan. 9 referendum on southern Sudan independence which could see Africa's largest country split in two.

A simultaneous referendum is to be held in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, straddling north and south Sudan, on which part it wants to belong to.

"The partition of Sudan is likely to change the map of the country. But other (African countries) will change too," the Libyan leader told the gathering, which was attended by Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

Gaddafi issued in his speech an apology for what he said was the Arab world's shameful history of trading African slaves.

Historians say Arab traders seized millions of sub-Saharan Africans and sold them into slavery in the Middle East and North Africa, a practice that went on for hundreds of years and continued in some forms into the 20th century.

"I regret the behavior of the Arabs...They brought African children to North Africa. They made them slaves. They sold them like animals. They took them as slaves and traded them in a shameful way," said Gaddafi.

"I regret and I am ashamed when we remember these practices. I apologize for this," he said.

Gaddafi had called in March for Nigeria to be partitioned between the Christian and Muslim communities to solve its problem of sectarian violence.

He proposed that it should follow the model of Pakistan, which was born in 1947 after the Muslim minority of predominantly Hindu India founded their own homeland.

Most of Africa's borders are arbitrary, resulting from colonies carved out by European empire-builders that often divided tribal or linguistic groups between one or more territories. Any effort to change that could lead to a radical redrawing of the continent's maps.

In Sudan, vote preparations are way behind schedule and tensions remain high.

Last week, clashes erupted during a visit to the capital by U.N. Security Council ambassadors between separatists and opponents of Sudan's potential breakup.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade proposed that a delegation of five African and Arab heads of state travel to Sudan in a bid to defuse tensions there, Bashir advisor Mustapha Othman Ismail said.

For his part, the chairman of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, told the summit that the "referendum for both southern Sudan and the Abyei region in 2011 continues to be a source of concern, given the complexity of pre- and post-referendum issues which need to be resolved."

The referendum is a central plank of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of civil war in Sudan, a north-south conflict in which two million people died.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa voiced concerns over "the referendum's impact on security and stability on a large region of Africa and the Middle East."

He said the League was working with Khartoum to resolve outstanding issues over the referendum, and stressed the need for "good preparation."

Moussa called for "a credible and transparent ballot that reflects the will of the people of south Sudan and the Abyei region."

The summit adopted a declaration in which the leaders stressed the need to "respect Sudanese sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence."

The "Sirte Declaration" also affirms their "complete rejection of any attempt to undermine (Sudan's) sovereignty, unity, security or stability."

"The importance of completing negotiations on questions pertaining to issues in post-referendum south Sudan" was also underlined.

The leaders also "reject resolutions by the International Criminal Court against the Sudanese president," the declaration said.

Bashir, the first sitting head of state to face arrest warrants issued by the ICC, denies masterminding war crimes and genocide in Sudan's war-wracked western region of Darfur.

Speaking of the strategic partnership, Ping said the wealth of the Arab world could help lift Africa out of its "economic marginalization" through greater investment and trade.