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African summit: progress at last

The Organization of African Unity closed its 19th annual summit able to live up to its name for the first time in 15 fractious months. Formal closure of the session by Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam ended a period in which two attempts to hold the summit broke down. Some Africans worried that the organization itself might dissolve. The withdrawal from the meeting last week of the Polisario front, which is fighting with Morocco for control of the Western Sahara, allowed the summit to open.

In return for withdrawing, the Polisario gained a concession. Allies of Morocco agreed to a resolution that calls on Morocco to negotiate a cease-fire with the Polisario directly, before setting up an internationally supervised referendum on the territory's future by the end of the year.

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Morocco has always refused to negotiate with the Polisario. It views the rebels as mercenaries backed and armed by Algeria and Libya. Moroccan Foreign Minister M'Hamed Boucetta said he could not rule out direct talks, but did not say they would definitely start.

Outlining the summit's main resolutions, Mengistu attacked South Africa for what he called its ''inhuman policies against its people and terrorism against front-line states.'' Reference to the United States was absent from a resolution attacking South Africa's ''destabilization tactics'' in southern Africa.

An impasse over who would be the OAU's next secretary-general postponed the closing of the summit. In the end, Peter Onu, a longtime OAU official from Nigeria, was appointed interim secretary-general. The next summit is to be held in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, in May next year.

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