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Sudan Tribune

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Arab summit faces financial demands for conflicts

Mar 27, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Arab heads of state meet in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Tuesday for an annual summit dominated by financial and other demands from three Arab governments grappling with regional conflict.

Eight Arab leaders, from the 22 Arab League members, arrived on the eve of the two-day summit, but diplomats said the turnout might disappoint Sudan which wants a show of solidarity against criticism of its handling of conflict in its Darfur region.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the most populous Arab state and an active mediator in Arab disputes, is sending Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in his place, a senior ruling party official said. His absence will reduce the impact of the summit.

Foreign ministers completed most of the preparatory work on Saturday and Sunday, agreeing to maintain Arab aid to the Palestinian Authority at $50 million a month and recommending their governments forgive Iraq debts worth billions of dollars.

Sudan, anxious to avert U.N. military intervention in the western region of Darfur, is seeking Arab money to support the 7,000-strong African Union peace force already deployed there but crippled by financial and logistical problems.

The opening of the summit coincides with Israeli elections expected to return interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to office with a mandate to define Israel’s permanent borders without consulting the Palestinians on the other side.

The Arab ministers, in resolutions the heads of state are expected to endorse, criticised such unilateral Israeli plans and reaffirmed the 2002 Arab peace plan, which Israel rejects.

The plan offers normal relations with the Jewish state in return for Israeli withdrawal to the borders as they stood on the eve of the Middle East war of June 1967.

Palestinian ministers, about to lose office when Islamist Hamas takes over the cabinet, told their Arab counterparts the Palestinian Authority would need more than $130 million a month if Western donors cut off aid in response to a Hamas government.

DEMANDS OF HAMAS

The European Union (EU), a major donor for the past decade, said on Monday it would not abandon the Palestinians but could only work with “those who seek peace by peaceful means” — a clear threat not to finance a Hamas-led cabinet.

“Those who will make up the new Palestinian Authority have a responsibility to make good choices in the interests of their people,” said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who will appear at the summit.

The Europeans, along with Israel and the United States, have demanded that Hamas recognize an Israeli right to exist, renounce violence and accept past agreements with Israel.

But a U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said the European Union and other donors were trying to find ways to maintain basic government-run services in the Palestinian territories, such as public health and education.

The Arab promise of $50 million a month, though well short of the total needed, could turn out to be more than Arab governments have paid in the past. Palestinian officials said the Arabs have been meeting only 60 percent of their pledge.

An Iranian offer to cover the Palestinian Authority’s budget shortfall could stimulate the Arab governments to be more generous, for fear of Iranian influence, diplomats say.

In the conflict in Iraq, the Arab leaders have little influence and their main proposal is that the Arab League hold another reconciliation meeting of Iraqi politicians in June.

The ministers have also given the Iraqi government a promise to open diplomatic missions in Baghdad as soon as security conditions allow. But the violence in Iraq has deterred them from meeting such promises made in the past.

The leaders present in Khartoum on Monday evening were from Algeria, Djibouti, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Qatar, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, plus President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. Others are expected on Tuesday morning.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said last week he expected 20 to attend but that would be unusually high. The last two annual summits have drawn about 12 or 13 heads of state.

(Reuters)

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