"We are even talking about ethnic cleansing. We are even talking about genocide. We cannot sit with our hands folded.

"If Kenya burns, there will be nothing for tomorrow."

At least 250,000 have also fled their homes in Kenya since the disputed re-election of Mwai Kibaki as president in a December 27 poll.

Konare's comments came as Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, warned of catastrophe in Kenya.

He said: "Violence continues, threatening to escalate to catastrophic levels."

Ban also urged and "encourage the leaders and people of Kenya to calm the violence and resolve their differences through dialogue and respect for the democratic process".
 
He is expected in Kenya on Friday to meet the opposition leader Raila Odinga.

'Regional peacemaker'

Until a month ago, Kenya was more used to attending summits of the 53-nation AU as a respected regional peacemaker and a refuge for those fleeing wars in neighbouring countries.

Now it is Africa's biggest crisis, torn by a cycle of ethnic bloodshed that threatens to destabilise a key regional ally of the West and damage the economies of several neighbouring countries that are landlocked and rely on the Kenya port of Mombasa for the delivery of much needed supplies.

Japan, a special guest of the summit and represented by Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister, also voiced its concern over the  spiraling crisis in Kenya.
  
He urged Kibaki and Odinga to "work together with the African Union and the international community to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict".

Africa's other conflicts

Also on the agenda are Africa's other conflicts and how to solve them.

Leaders and international diplomats plan to address issues surrounding peacekeeping operations in Sudan's Darfur region and Somalia, along with upcoming elections in Zimbabwe, which is also mired in a political and economic crisis

The African Union was established in 1999, supplanting the Organisation of African Unity.

The AU currently has peacekeeping activities, social and economic projects and considers itself the arbiter of African governance.