, TRIPOLI, Nov 29- Leaders from Africa and Europe head into tough talks to seal a "new, equal" partnership between the two continents Monday after narrowly averting a last-minute diplomatic rumpus over Sudan.
Hosted in the high-rise seaside Libyan capital by leader Moamer Kadhafi, Sudan is boycotting the two-day Africa-EU summit in retaliation for the exclusion of President Omar al-Bashir, who faces an international arrest warrant.
The eve-of-summit boycott, which Bashir blames on the Europeans, comes as the two continents face off on fractious issues such as trade and immigration, while striving to put the burden of history behind in a new partnership of equals.
But concerns that a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court would join the gathering of 80 nations, only the third in two decades, had worried some nations, diplomatic sources from both continents said.
Notable summit absentees include the European Union\’s "big three" — British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — though the Sudanese issue was never publicy cited.
The Sudanese pull-out Sunday came 24 hours after former South African president Thabo Mbeki reported Bashir was indeed headed for the oil-rich desert nation\’s palm-fringed capital.
"Mr Bashir will not attend," Khartoum\’s Foreign Minister Ali Ahmad Karti retorted. The no-show was "to avoid embarrassment to Libya" and was taken "under pressure from Europe".
Bashir was indicted in March 2009 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in July 2010 on charges of genocide, linked to atrocities committed by Khartoum\’s forces in Darfur.
In a statement, he accused Europeans of "hypocrisy" for urging him to implement Sudan\’s 2005 north-south peace accord while attacking his legitimacy.
Europe\’s stand was "an attack on the African Union and Sudan while also undermining the idea of real dialogue and cooperation between Africa and Europe," the Sudanese leader said Sunday.
At the last Africa-EU summit three years ago in Lisbon, leaders representing more than 1.5 billion people pledged to turn a page on the old-era donor-recipient relationship and instead propel ties to "a new, equal and strategic level".
In Tripoli, where a massive police presence cordoned off the heart of the city on the eve of the summit, a draft of the joint 2010 declaration seen by AFP states that the two continents are "determined to seize together new opportunities for broader and mutually beneficial initiatives."
Africa\’s leading aid donor, the 27-nation EU remains its top trading partner but risks being elbowed aside as Brazil, India and other emerging giants join China in chasing the spoils of the resource-rich continent.
And African leaders, frustrated after almost a decade of failed efforts to seal trade deals with the EU, are heading into the summit determined to air their grievances.
"This is an extremely important question where we still have differences," African Union Commission president Jean Ping said ahead of the talks.
After years of wrangling over Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the two continents, the prickly issue was studiously left off the summit agenda.
But Africans complain the EU is setting conditions for the EPAs that will throw up new hurdles for poor countries striving for economic progress.
China on the other hand has pumped billions in investments in oil, mining and manufacturing while winning hearts and minds with soft loans and aid in infrastructure and energy, geared to lift the world\’s most destitute continent out of poverty.
Africa, currently clocking up the world\’s highest growth, is setting its heart on new private investment initiatives — in fields such as renewable energy, adding value to natural resources, and developing infrastructures.
Another bone of contention is how to deal with the ticking migration bomb — a question close to Khadafi\’s heart due to the millions of migrants flooding into a Tripoli bottleneck.
"It would be difficult not to discuss this," Ping said.