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July 27, 2017

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AU summit to discuss conflict, leadership

ADDIS ABABA--African Union leaders opened their biannual summit on Sunday to discuss the continent's hotspots including DR Congo and Mali, although elections for the bloc's top job overshadowed the agenda.

South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is challenging the sitting chairman of the commission, Gabon's Jean Ping, after neither won the required two-thirds of the vote at the last summit six months ago, leaving Ping in the post.

Security issues are a top priority at the meeting, with leaders focusing on instability in Mali, renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the ongoing crisis between Sudan and South Sudan.

Ping opened the two-day summit saying that the AU was ready to send troops to the restive eastern DR Congo as part of a peacekeeping force, where Rwanda is accused by U.N. experts and Kinshasa of supporting a mutiny by Congolese troops.

"The AU is prepared to contribute to the establishment of a regional force to put an end to the activities of armed groups," Ping told African leaders, including DR Congo President Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's Paul Kagame.

Rwanda has denied involvement, and in turn accuses Kinshasa of renewing cooperation with Rwandan Hutu rebels, who have been based in eastern DR Congo since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

But Ping also warned other conflicts remained a major concern, describing the crisis in Mali — where authorities are struggling to tackle Islamist militants — as "one of the most serious threats to security and stability of the continent."

"The situation in the north of Mali ... is alarming and is a threat to the region and beyond," said Jan Eliasson, the U.N. deputy secretary general.

More hopeful areas include Somalia — where Islamist fighters are on the back foot — and the disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, following fierce border battles in April and March along disputed regions of their oil-rich frontier.

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