ADDIS ABABA - African leaders brought together the presidents of feuding neighbours Sudan and South Sudan on Saturday and fleshed out a plan for military intervention in northern Mali where they said al Qaeda-linked rebels threatened the continent's security.
Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir did not shake hands at the African Union Peace and Security Council summit in Addis Ababa, but they did commit to resolving differences through dialogue, not conflict.
Their African peers at the meeting hailed this as an encouraging sign that the two former civil war foes could resolve their disputes over border demarcation and oil revenues before an August 2 deadline and so avoid threatened sanctions from the United Nations Security
"Their statements persuaded us that there is good will," Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who chairs the AU Council, told reporters after the closed-door session.
The presence of the two leaders from Khartoum and Juba at the AU Council session was the closest encounter between them since they met in March, before Sudanese and South Sudanese forces clashed over the disputed Heglig oil zone in April.
Landlocked South Sudan shut down oil production in January over a dispute with Khartoum about revenue sharing and fees for a pipeline through Sudan - the South's only outlet for its oil exports.
The African heads of state met at AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital to discuss ways to resolve messy aftermaths of military coups this year in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, which have put blots on the continent's democratic credentials after advances in stability and governance in recent years.
Besides backing reconciliation between the Sudans, they also threw their weight behind regional efforts to end a military rebellion in east Democratic Republic of Congo that has strained ties between Kinshasa and its Great Lakes neighbour Rwanda.