EU team to meet with Mugabe in attempt to end Zimbabwe’s isolation

The guardian reports that a European Union team of government ministers and senior officials is to travel to Zimbabwe this weekend to meet President Robert Mugabe and to explore the prospects for the country’s gradual international rehabilitation after years of isolation, sanctions and blacklists.

The Swedish and Spanish development ministers and the European Commission’s top aid official, Karel De Gucht, are to push Mugabe to come good on his pledges to Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister and former opposition leader, under the power-sharing national unity pact struck last February. The sensitive EU mission, which Sweden, the current EU president, sought to keep under wraps, is the most senior to go to Harare since sanctions were slapped on the Mugabe regime seven years ago. It follows demands on Tuesday from southern African leaders for all international sanctions on Zimbabwe to be lifted.

EU officials stressed that it was too early to talk of lifting penalties. The British government, the harshest EU critic of Mugabe, is believed to support the Swedish-led attempt to gauge the scope for better relations, but would not yet back a relaxation of the sanctions.

“There is an urgent need for all parties to fulfil their obligations. By doing this, the EU can once again fully re-engage with Zimbabwe and help the country in its return to normality and prosperity,” said De Gucht. “This is a critical time for Zimbabwe and the weight of responsibility falls squarely on the country’s leaders to deliver urgent political, economic and social progress.”

The EU is the biggest donor to Zimbabwe, supplying around ¤90m a year, a figure that could rise steeply if the country’s human rights and rule of law records were improved, as intended by the February pact that put Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in a power-sharing administration with Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.

European governments believe there has been some improvement on the economic front in Zimbabwe, but progress in the political and human rights spheres is inadequate.

In 2002, in a policy pushed by Britain, the EU put Mugabe and many of his associates on a blacklist, proscribing travel to Europe. When the Portuguese invited Mugabe to an EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in 2007, Gordon Brown boycotted it.

More than 200 Mugabe associates and 40 companies linked with his regime are on the blacklist or subject to financial, trading and bank account sanctions.

The European officials are to meet Mugabe on Saturday in Harare after seeing Tsvangirai in Bulawayo. Zimbabwe’s prime minister visited Brussels in June in an attempt to restart relations with Europe.

Sweden’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, is to hold a Europe-South Africa summit in Cape Town on Friday where President Jacob Zuma is expected to press for an end to European sanctions on Zimbabwe.

European diplomats stressed that it was too early to speak of “big offers” to Harare. A summit of southern African leaders in Kinshasa on Tuesday demanded that “the international community remove all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe”.But a European diplomat in Brussels said: “We’re not going there offering concessions at this stage.”

The southern African leaders argue that the power-sharing deal in Zimbabwe will not be properly implemented until sanctions are lifted while the Europeans say they cannot be lifted until the pact is properly observed.

Feuding between the rival sides in Zimbabwe is imperilling the February pact and holding up chronically needed foreign aid in a country whose economy was driven to complete collapse by the Mugabe regime.

In a further sign of an end to isolation, however, the International Monetary Fund last week released more than half a billion dollars for Zimbabwe, the first such funds in a decade.

The Tsvangirai camp is worried that the money could be purloined by the Mugabe side, particularly since the head of the central bank, Gideon Gono, is a close Mugabe aide identified with the economic meltdown. Among other demands on Mugabe, the Europeans are to demand that Gono be replaced along with the country’s attorney-general.

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