George Osodi  /  AP
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, left, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan attend the African Union Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, on Sunday.
updated 1/30/2005 5:02:19 PM ET 2005-01-30T22:02:19

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo implored dozens of fellow African leaders Sunday to work together to overcome the poverty, disease and conflict afflicting the world’s poorest continent.

War took center stage at the opening of the African Union’s two-day conference, where leaders planned to discuss ways they could help end fighting in Ivory Coast, Congo and Sudan’s western Darfur region.

“Let us show to the world that we can really tackle and solve African issues,” said Obasanjo, who holds the group’s rotating leadership.

While most of the world has grown wealthier in the four decades since the majority of African countries won independence, the continent mostly has grown poorer. Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the Ethiopia-based AU Commission, blamed Africa’s persistent conflicts.

“If the security of our continent doesn’t improve, no development is possible,” he told leaders of at least 40 of Africa’s 53 nations.

Darfur incursion condemned
Citing reports from AU observers on the ground in Darfur, a United Nations spokeswoman said Friday that nearly 100 villagers in the region’s south had been killed or wounded when a Sudanese warplane attacked a town.

The governor of North Darfur state said the report was fabricated by foreigners, according to a statement published Sunday by the official news agency.

Obasanjo condemned the attack Sunday. “We can’t but condemn such carnage, no matter what excuse may be raised to try to justify it,” he said.

The Darfur conflict began two years ago when two groups rebelled against the Arab-dominated government, saying Sudanese of African origin had endured years of neglect and discrimination. The government responded with a military campaign in which an Arab militia was accused of committing widespread abuses.

Some 1.8 million people fled their homes to escape violence in Darfur, the United Nations said in calling the conflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the time.

U.N. reform to be discussed
The African leaders also are expected to discuss reform of the United Nations. The continent has been pushing for more say in U.N. affairs, which long have been dominated by the Security Council’s five permanent members — the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France.

Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation and a regional political and military heavyweight, is angling for a permanent seat on an expanded Security Council.

The leaders also are likely to consider a Libyan proposal to abolish customs duties on trade between African countries, a move intended to speed economic integration on the continent and encourage greater political cooperation.

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