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26 May, 2004 - Published 14:27 GMT

New security council for Africa launched

After the opening session, the Commissioner of the new Council, Said Djinnit, told journalists that it would not be possible to solve all of Africa's problems, but at least it would now have a mandate to try. What distinguishes the African Union from its predecessor - the Organisation of African Unity - can be found tucked away in Article 4 (h) of its charter - the Constitutive Act. This allows the AU to intervene in a member state in what are called 'grave circumstances' - where there have been war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity. This is the political justification that now overrides the old cry - that any action without the permission of a member state would be interference in its internal affairs.

The real question now is whether the AU will have the muscle to put this into practice. The answer is - only slowly. Getting a robust force to back the African Union's political decisions will be some time in coming. Until then the United Nations will have to fill the void.

Martin Plaut, BBC

a mandate
the authority

distinguishes
makes it different

its predecessor
the body which had its role before

grave
very serious

overrides
cancels and replaces

the old cry
the usual comment (colloquial)

the muscle
the strength

a robust force
a strong group of soldiers

to back
to support

fill the void
fill the space - here, step in to solve the problem