Europe, Africa seek new relationship
LISBON, Portugal – Debates over Zimbabwe and Darfur caused friction Saturday at a summit of European and African leaders attempting to build a new alliance on economic and environmental issues.The two-day summit in Portugal’s capital drew leaders of the 53-member African Union and 27-nation European Union for their first such meeting in seven years.It was intended to culminate in new agreements Sunday on more trade, climate protections, eased migration and better African transportation and energy production.”We can’t waste any more time,” said Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency. He called the talks “a summit of equals” among the 80 nations represented, some of them former colonial powers in Africa.But other concerns kept popping up.”We cannot turn a blind eye when human rights are being trampled,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who described the EU as “united” in condemning Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for economic mismanagement, failure to curb corruption and contempt for democracy. “The situation in Zimbabwe taints the image of the new Africa.”British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stayed away in protest against Mugabe’s attendance. Mugabe, granted a temporary visa, attended the Lisbon summit but made no comment to the media.South African President Thabo Mbeki, a mediator between Mugabe’s party and its main opposition, had threatened to skip the Lisbon talks if Mugabe was not invited. He indicated European meddling in African leaders’ human rights efforts was unwelcome because the African nations were taking steps on their own to protect rights.”We are doing this of our own accord,” he said, “having drawn the necessary lessons from our own experience.”Plans for a summit four years ago fell through when some African nations balked at the EU’s refusal to invite Mugabe. His government is subject to EU sanctions, including a travel ban, over its human rights record.The conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur was another point of contention. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has so far refused to allow non-Africans into a 26,000-strong U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping force planned for Darfur.EU nations, meanwhile, have failed to come up with the needed military hardware to support the operation.EU diplomats had “a very frank meeting” with al-Bashir to express their concerns, Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Joao Gomes Cravinho said. Al-Bashir told them there was progress in negotiations with the U.N. on the makeup of the force and he would provide details in the coming days, according to Gomes Cravinho.Sudan and U.N. officials reported making some progress Saturday. In a joint statement, they said they met at the Lisbon summit to speed the deployment of AU-U.N. peacekeeping troops and that “clarification had been provided in some areas.”Both sides, however, said there was “serious concern that there were critical gaps in the force capabilities, particularly military aviation and called upon the international community to provide these capabilities.”U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned last week that the new peacekeeping force could fail unless it gets 24 critically needed helicopters. Ban lamented the U.N.’s failure to get a commitment for even one helicopter.Despite the tensions, the EU is eager to lock Africa, a continent that is set to become one of the world’s big new markets, into a closer trading relationship. China has invested heavily in Africa and is challenging Europe’s place as the continent’s preferred partner.Africa, for its part, wants more European investment to raise the continent’s standard of living. About two of every people in sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $1 a day despite some recent economic growth.Ghanian President John Kufuor, who chairs the AU, said leaders should set aside the past, which included the “abominable” slave trade, European colonization and apartheid.New accords on trading and other areas will “correct this historic injustice and inhumanity,” he said. “For almost 500 years the relationship between our two continents had not been a happy one.”—Associated Press Writers Daniel Woolls and John Heilprin contributed to this report.