South Sudan violence tops African Union summit agenda

Kigali (AFP) - Renewed fighting in South Sudan that has claimed more than 300 lives dominated discussions at an African Union summit that opened Sunday in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

A shaky ceasefire has held since late Monday following the fighting that raged for four days in Juba, leaving hundreds dead and forcing 40,000 to flee their homes.

The violence in the South Sudan capital echoed the fighting that triggered the civil war and marks a fresh blow to last year's deal to end the bitter conflict that began when President Salva Kiir accused ex-rebel and now Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

The unrest has also plunged into doubt a peace deal struck in August 2015 between the two sides.

After meeting with the UN Secretary-General on Saturday night leaders of the regional bloc IGAD supported Ban Ki-moon's calls for an arms embargo, targeted sanctions and a strengthened peacekeeping mission and called for "the deployment of a regional protection force to separate the warring parties".

AU Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma praised IGAD for acting "swiftly" in holding a meeting on South Sudan's crisis.

"We shall not be indifferent and shall act in the belief that, when the power of love for fellow Africans overcomes the love of power there shall be peace within our lands," she said in an opening address.

- Numerous crises -

South Sudan is just the most recent crisis on the continent that African leaders will address during the summit.

The AU will also seek to hammer out a solution to the crisis engulfing Burundi where a spate of killings have rocked the country since President Pierre Nkurunziza's announced in April 2015 that he would seek a third term.

Also on the agenda is the ongoing fight against the Boko Haram jihadist group that has its roots in northern Nigeria but has carried out attacks across the Lake Chad region.

Recent violent incidents in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also expected to feature in the talks.

Efforts to secure peace in South Sudan and elsewhere, however, will be complicated by divisions over who should succeed Dlamini-Zuma, ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, to become the AU's new commission chair.

Several countries on the continent have indicated that they do not back any of the leading candidates for the job, arguing that they "lack stature".

Now all three of the leading candidates look like they may fail to get a majority of votes from the African Union's 54 members.

If that happens the vote could be abandoned and re-run at the next AU summit in Addis Ababa in January 2017.

- 'African self-reliance' -

The AU, meanwhile, announced a plan to work towards funding itself. Currently foreign donors pay for 73 percent of the $781 million (708 million euro) budget but on Sunday a plan was adopted to levy a new 0.2 percent tax on imports and use the funds to pay for the AU.

Rwanda's Finance Minister Claver Gatete said it could bring in as much as $1.2 billion (1.1 billion euros).

Dlamini-Zuma welcomed the "historic landmark decision" as "an unprecedented leap forward for African self-reliance and dignity".

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, hosting the summit, said the plan, "puts responsibility and ownership in our hands".

"We need to start doing things differently, and better," he told delegates at the opening ceremony.