HARARE, May 8 — Zimbabwe will host a special African Union (AU) meeting on defence and security which will focus on progress made to establishing a continental standby force, says Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi.

Sekeramayi told the media here Thursday that the meeting, to be held on under the auspices of the AU Commission for Peace and Security, would run from May Monday to Saturday in the resort town of Victoria Falls.

“The meeting is very important to Zimbabwe because this is the first time in the history of the African Union that it is being held outside the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,” he added.

Sekeramayi said nearly 1,000 delegates from all the 54 AU member countries are expected to attend the five-day meeting to be graced by AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma and AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ambassador Smail Chergui.

“This meeting is expected to receive updates on progress so far made in the operationalization of the African Peace and Security Architecture in general, but most importantly the African Standby Force and its rapid deployment capabilities,” said Sekeramayi.

The AU has said the force must be set up before the end of this year. Sekeramayi said establishment of the force was critical to avoid reliance on external security forces in dealing with defence andsecurity challenges within the continent.

Modalities such as the cost of establishing the force and its size will also be discussed at during the meeting, Sekeramayi said.

The absence of a standby force has in some cases seen Western countries deploying their troops in some troubled African countries which has given rise to cases such as human rights abuse. Currently, a case in which French soldiers are accused of sexually abusing young African boys in the Central African Republic is under investigation.