EU won't let Mugabe off

Delegation ends visit to Zimbabwe with pledge that sanctions against regime will not be watered down
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The Independent Online

The first high-level European Union delegation to visit Zimbabwe in seven years left the country yesterday, insisting they would not water down EU sanctions aimed at the Mugabe regime.

The EU mission, which followed an appeal from southern African leaders to lift the sanctions, has caused concerns that Brussels would ignore problems in the power-sharing government and reward Mugabe loyalists.

But Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party is locked in the precarious power-sharing deal with Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF, moved to reassure his allies yesterday. He told a rally that he would not stand by as his foes continued "to violate the law, persecute our members of parliament, spread the language of hate, invade our productive farms [and] ignore our international treaties".

During the visit, the EU delegation raised the treatment of MDC members with President Mugabe. The Swedish International Development Minister, Gunilla Carlsson, said relations were "entering a new phase" but acknowledged the problems raised by Mr Tsvangirai, and said that targeted sanctions would remain until rights abuses ended. "The restrictive measures were there because of [human rights] violations," she said in Harare. "We cannot fully re-engage until we see the Global Political Agreement [the power-sharing deal signed by both parties] is being implemented fully. There's more that needs to be done here."

Mr Mugabe, who has regularly blamed Zimbabwe's ongoing economic crisis on the imposition of Western sanctions, said that he welcomed the EU visit with "open arms". After the meeting on Saturday, he added: "We established a good rapport; it was a friendly meeting. Obviously, they thought the GPA was not working well."

The veteran autocrat regularly uses the embargo as a propaganda tool, insisting it is aimed not at his corrupt inner circle but against the country.

The seven-month-old power sharing arrangement is beset with difficulties. Mr Tsvangirai's MDC believes a hard core within Zanu-PF is still trying to wreck the unity government and blame it on the former opposition.

Critics of the power-sharing deal point out Mugabe loyalists guilty of war crimes, embezzlement and looting the treasury will be among the first to profit from any re-engagement with international development donors.

In spite of these concerns, the IMF announced this month that it was partially restoring Zimbabwe's credit line. The international community has continued to fund humanitarian work in Zimbabwe. The EU has spent $829m since 2002, and the UN feeds nearly half of the population.

Zimbabwe, once known as "the bread-basket of Africa", now has an annual inflation rate af about 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion per cent – 65 followed by 107 zeros.