Security Council to focus on African hotspots

The U.N. Security Council is heading to Africa for a series of meetings and visits focusing on the continent’s hotspots ? the war in Darfur and its spillover into neighboring Chad, fighting in Somalia and efforts to bring peace to eastern Congo.

Ambassadors and diplomats from the 15 council nations will begin the eight-day, four-nation trip in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Friday evening. They will then head to Rwanda, Congo and Liberia.

While Darfur is a prime topic on the agenda of a meeting Saturday with the African Union in Addis Ababa, the Security Council is skipping Sudan this year.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador John Sawers said it wasn’t “appropriate” to stop there after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in March on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

“We’re not going to meet with someone who is an indicted war criminal,” he said.

The council is going to discuss the political, humanitarian and security challenges in Darfur and the spillover of the conflict into neighboring Chad with the AU Peace and Security Council. It will also look at the performance of the 18,000-strong joint AU-U.N. peacekeeping force now in Darfur and prospects for getting the full 26,000 deployed.

The AU-U.N. meeting will also discuss efforts to end the fighting and promote political reconciliation in Somalia and combat piracy off its coast.

On Sunday, the council heads to Rwanda to promote the growing rapprochement between the governments of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Joseph Kabila. The council will visit the memorial to the victims of the 1994 genocide and a camp where former Rwandan Hutu rebels who operated in Congo for 14 years are now being rehabilitated.

Council members on Monday head to Goma in eastern Congo ? the scene of major fighting this year ? for a first-hand look at the U.N. peacekeeping operation and a visit to a hospital where victims of sexual violence are treated. The council then flies to the capital, Kinshasa, for meetings Tuesday with Kabila and other officials to promote government efforts to establish peace and ensure that civilians are protected.

The last stop ? late Tuesday and Wednesday ? is Liberia which the council is expected to reaffirm its support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s efforts to rebuild the country after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 that left 200,000 people dead and displaced half the country’s 3 million people. The council will also assess the 13,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, whose mandate expires in September, to determine whether it should be further reduced.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.