US will help Africa set up peacekeeping force - Obama

Washington - The United States will help African nations set up a rapid response force to support United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.

Obama, closing a summit with 50 African countries in Washington, said the force could be dispatched rapidly in support of UN-backed missions on the continent.

"We will join with six countries that have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers," Obama told a news conference.

"We're going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa," he said.

Obama said that the six countries involved in the effort would be Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.

Ethiopia and Rwanda have both taken an active interest in conflicts in their neighbourhoods, although the United States has criticised both countries on human rights grounds.

Obama did not specify how the peacekeeping force would relate to existing missions of the African Union. The regional bloc has deployed the 22 000-strong AMISOM force to Somalia on a UN-authorised mission to bring stability to chaotic Somalia.

Obama said that the United States was also working with Africans to develop an "early warning and response network" to identify emerging crises.