Together with representatives of 13 other African nations, the summit is all set to get under way in the Libyan city of Sirte on Monday.

The summit, among other things, is expected to try to unite and push for at least one permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

It is also expected to discuss conflicts in Africa, particularly the Darfur crisis.

Leaders were expected to issue an international appeal to help the continent battle disease and famine during the two-day summit.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa are also attending the meeting.

The Darfur issue will also be high
on the summit's agenda

The 53-nation African Union (AU) was created in 2002 as the successor to the Organisation of African Unity.

Modelled after the European Union with an executive commission, a pan-African parliament and a court of justice, the AU is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Its focus is to spread democracy, human rights and economic development across the African continent.

Somali mechanism

Meanwhile, AU foreign ministers gathering in Libya ahead of Monday's summit, have announced plans to set up a "mechanism" to help Somalia's fledgling institutions.

"The Executive Council has decided to set up a follow-up mechanism made up of the AU and of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development)," an AU resolution said of the two bodies that are deeply involved in the Somali peace process.

The mandate of the mechanism is to "mobilise institutional support for the transitional federal institutions and their efforts to consolidate peace and to provide assistance for social and economic reconstruction".  

"The Executive Council has decided to...[help]mobilise support for the [Somali] transitional institutions and their efforts to consolidate peace and social and economic reconstruction" 

AU resolution  

The resolution added that the AU should also help the transitional institutions "work out strategies for disarming, demobilising and re-inserting" Somali militiamen.

IGAD, which groups together Somalia and its neighbours Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, plans to deploy a peacekeeping force, known under the acronym IGASOM, in this Horn of Africa country as it emerges slowly from 15 years of civil war.

AU peacekeeping

The AU announced in May that it would take over from the IGAD force as soon as possible.

The foreign ministers also called on the international community to provide financial support for Somalia's reconstruction.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, elected in Nairobi in October last year, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, their government and the Somali parliament have started to relocate from Kenya to the Somali town of Jowhar as part of a move to start working in their home country, despite persistent insecurity in Somalia.

The country has been in the hands of rival regional commanders ever since the overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.