The two year old African Union, which vowed at its founding to abandon member nations' long aversion to intervening in each others' wars, finds itself on the spot at its annual summit as a result of violence involving attacks on civilians in Darfur.

"We cannot close our eyes to catastrophes," said the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin of Darfur, which the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"Without peace Africa cannot pursue health, education and investment."

The AU wants heads of state of its 53 members at the July 6-8 gathering to agree innovative ways of keeping the peace on the continent, but at the same time to kick the habit of taking far-reaching decisions without paying for their implementation, a failing of the AU's ineffectual predecessor, the Organisation of Africa Unity.

There is doubt about whether member governments struggling to pull themselves out of poverty can pay the steep bills peace efforts could entail  not only in Darfur, but also potentially in other troubled countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic and Somalia.

"We have to dig deep in our pockets, according to capacity," Leonardo Simao, Foreign Minister of Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries, told reporters.

"The will is there, but not necessarily the ability."

War is a preoccupation of the cash-strapped AU because its ambitious plans for the continent's economic rebirth are dependent on stabilising a continent that has seen 186 coups and 26 major wars in the past half century.

"The will is there, but not necessarily the ability"

Leonardo Simao,
Foreign Minister of Mozambique

Tongue in cheek, veteran AU-watcher Tajudeen Abdul Raheem asked how it is that African leaders who do not seem to have a problem finding the money to go to war ask foreign aid agencies to help feed and educate their people.

"I can neither believe nor accept a situation where our governments can fight unjust wars without going to donors or the IMF/World Bank, but cannot find the resources when it comes to building a peaceful and united Africa," the Uganda-based Nigerian said.

Fully implemented, the AU's proposed programmes, including an elaborate network of peace-making institutions, could eventually cost up to $600 million a year, officials say, way above its current annual spending of about $40 million.

The UN estimates Africa would have to double its average annual growth rate to seven percent to halve extreme poverty on the continent by the year 2015, one of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

A million people are believed to have
been displaced

Darfur will loom large in an address UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will make at the meeting after visiting Sudan and neighbouring Chad last week to assess the situation.

Sudan pledged on Saturday to disarm militias, known as Janjaweed, who have allegedly driven more than one million people from their homes in west Sudan's Darfur region and to accept human rights monitors in the area.

The United Nations says thousands could die of disease and hunger during the coming rainy season unless a massive aid operation is set up.

Long conflict between nomadic tribes and farmers over scarce resources in Darfur intensified when a revolt broke out last year.

Rebels accuse Khartoum of arming the Janjaweed, a charge the government denies.

The AU is deploying unarmed observers and says that if all parties agree it is necessary, it will send armed peacekeepers to protect the monitors.