African leaders opened talks on Tuesday in South Africa to discuss the formation of a rapid-deployment emergency force to swiftly intervene in crises on the continent.

The idea of the new force is to bridge the gap pending the coming into operation of the long planned fully-fledged peacekeeping African Union's African Standby Force.

The aim of the summit being attended by a handful of leaders -- including those of Chad, Tanzania and Uganda is "to enable Africa to act swiftly and independently in response to the urgent security challenges this continent faces", said host South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.

"This decision came about due to the realisation that independent and swift African responses to crises that arise on our continent could not wait while the building blocks of the African Standby Force are carefully being put in place," he said.

The AU's standby brigade has made little headway since preparations for a proposed force of 32,500 troops and civilians drawn from the continent's five regions started a decade ago.

"We believe that the time has come that African leaders must be able to act in the interim – swiftly, decisively and when needed," said Zuma.

The AU was criticised for not responding fast enough to the crisis in Mali after the military seized power in a coup in March 2012.

"We need to ensure that we are not helpless or slow to respond without the help of external partners," said Zuma.

"Africa can, and has the capacity and the means to act swiftly and decisively," he added. "All what we need is to better organise ourselves."

He expressed the hope that by end of this year there will be "a mechanism that can breathe life into our aspirations for African ownership and leadership in immediately and urgently responding to security challenges faced by this great continent".

The meeting is being attended by countries that have said they are willing to contribute to the force. It was not immediately clear how many countries have so far pledged troops to the new force.

The new force will go by the name the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC).

 

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