Summit cancelled after Britain bans Mugabe henchmen

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The Independent Online

A summit of international leaders in London next year, due to be opened by the Queen and addressed by Nelson Mandela, has been cancelled after the Government barred members of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwean regime.

A dispute in the Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU), set up in the 1890s to promote world co-operation and peace, has led to the withdrawal of next year's annual conference from Britain in March, after several years of planning.

The Foreign Office refused to break an EU travel ban on named members of Mr Mugabe's disgraced regime. Officials said they would not grant visas to associates of Mr Mugabe, including his right-hand man, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mr Mnangagwa, a former head of the state security services, helped to plan an invasion of Matabeleland to crush opposition Zapu rebelsin which some 50,000 people died.

Also in the delegation was the Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, an architect of the land reform programme.

Invitations to Mr Mandela and Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, have been withdrawn, and bookings of Westminster Hall, where the opening ceremony was due to be addressed by the Queen, have been cancelled.

Hundreds of leading parliamentarians and heads of state were due to attend the event, which has not been held in Britain since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

The dispute revives memories of February's Anglo-French fall-out, when Jacques Chirac invited Mr Mugabe to attend the 22nd Franco-African summit in Paris.

The British delegation to the IPU, led by the Labour MP John Austin, argued it would be unethical to break the EU travel ban, and any meeting would be seen as sanctioning human rights abuses by the Mugabe regime. "I think the entire British group of the IPU will be extremely disappointed by this decision to withdraw the conference, but there are certain principles you have to stick by," Mr Austin said last night. "The UK Government is absolutely right to adhere to this ban."

African nations threatened to boycott the conference if it was held in London, and France condemned Britain for adhering to the EU travel ban, which applies to 78 members of Mr Mugabe's regime and was renewed in February.

After a row at the IPU's headquarters in Geneva on Friday, in which Britain was called an imperialist, members voted against holding the event in London without the banned Zimbabweans.

Organisers are drawing up plans to hold the summit elsewhere, possibly in Thailand.

Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, spent months trying to keep the conference in London. "We did everything in our power to accommodate the IPU's concerns, but at the end of the day we could not breach our international legal obligations," he said.