Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is the new African Union chairperson, taking over from Mr Thomas Boni Yayi, the Benin leader.
Mr Desalegn, elected yesterday in the capital Addis Ababa, called for peaceful solutions to the conflict in Mali.
Mr Boni Yayi on his part, told African leaders that their response to the conflict in Mali had been too slow, and thanked France for taking the lead in its military intervention in the country.
He told leaders at the opening of the 54-member AU summit that the body’s response had taken too long, and that France’s action was something “we should have done a long time ago to defend a member country”.
The conflict in Mali, including the scaling-up of African troops to support the weak Malian army battling Islamist militants, dominated the opening of the two-day summit, although flashpoints elsewhere on the continent were also a concern.
“Much still needs to be done to resolve ongoing, renewed, and new conflict situations in a number of countries,” AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in her opening speech.
Unrest in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, tensions between former civil war foes Sudan and newly independent South Sudan, and efforts to build peace in chronically unstable Somalia, are also being discussed in the talks.
United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon told the summit he was “determined to do everything to help the people of Mali”, but also urged the government to ensure “an inclusive political process” and the “full restoration of the constitutional order”.