EU imposes sanctions on Mugabe and his cronies

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The Independent Online

The European Union imposed punitive sanctions on Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe last night after the intimidation and expulsion of the head of Europe's election observer team.

EU foreign ministers imposed a European travel ban on President Mugabe and 19 of his top-ranking associates. It also froze the financial assets of Zimbabwe's political and military élite and banned EU countries from the "sale, supply or transfer of arms and technical advice, assistance or training related to military activities" or the export to Zimbabwe of "equipment that could be used for internal repression".

The sanctions go into effect immediately and the EU has asked Washington to impose a similar set of measures. The decision was triggered after Pierre Schori, the Swedish diplomat who was thrown out of Zimbabwe at the weekend, told a meeting of EU foreign ministers there could be no credible EU observer mission for next month's elections.

There has been mounting concern over harassment and intimidation of the media, including the arrest of The Independent's correspondent, and attacks on opposition parties before the presidential poll scheduled for March 9 and 10.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said the "outrageous" treatment of EU monitors showed Mr Mugabe intended to "steal the election" and his claims to want a free and fair contest were bogus.

Mr Straw said: "We have made many accommodations to the government of Zimbabwe but today was the end of the road. Given the unilateral and unique conditions imposed by Zimbabwe, there was no future for an EU mission with credibility and respect."

Mr Straw appealed to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, for immediate action against Mr Mugabe. The EU's "smart sanctions" are expected to bring a similar decision from Washington. The remaining EU observers – a total of 26 from France, Ireland and Norway among others – will now be pulled out of the country.

Yesterday's decision was taken despite the reservations of several countries, including France, Portugal and Greece.

Mr Schori's report to ministers seems to have been swayed the decision. Ministers heard how conditions had been placed on the movement of election monitors and some had barely set foot outside their hotels.

Ministers were not prepared to allow Zimbabwe, in effect, to decide the make-up of an EU observer mission, because it would have set a dangerous precedent. Harare had tried to stop Britain, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark from supplying monitors.

Despite the sanctions, Europe's assistance for health and education projects, including those to combat Aids and HIV, will not be severed but extra effort will be made to ensure the money goes to non-governmental organisations.

Not all international monitors will leave Zimbabwe. The EU will still give €700,000 (£420,000) to an observer mission from SADC, the Southern African Development Community. The Commonwealth is sending a team of 40 people.

The Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock said: "The EU foreign ministers have made the right decision. Our presence there had ceased to have any purpose. It had no credibility. It was time to pull the plug."